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Showing posts from November, 2012

Whiplash - The Branford Marsalis Quartet

from the album Four MFs Playin' Tunes (2012)

Most of the drummers I know are pretty strange dudes or dudettes. Why should I expect anything different?  After all, they make a living by beating a skin with a stick.  Pretty primitive stuff.

That said, there are few things that I find more exciting than watching or listening to a great drummer.  They have an ability to lift a band to a higher level, making every other player that much better. It is an incredible gift and whenever a great, new drummer emerges, it is time to celebrate.

Today, we celebrate Justin Faulkner.  As an eighteen year old high school senior,  he was selected as the new drummer for the Branford Marsalis Quartet, one of the finest jazz quartets in the world today.  Three years later, he makes his recording debut on Four MFs Playin' Tunes, my favorite jazz record of 2012.

On a record packed with outstanding performances by the long standing quartet members, it is Justin Faulkner's drumming that draws me in…

Earlie Grace Jnr - Ian Siegal and the Mississippi Mudbloods

from the album Candy Store Kid (2012)

The 1993 film Kalifornia did not do well at the box office.  In fact, it was considered a bomb.  However, I thought it was a pretty good flick.  In the film, a couple decides to drive from Pennsylvania to California with plans to visit serial murder sites along the way for a book they are researching.  Low on cash, they post a note for riders to help share expenses.  The couple that signs on for the trip includes Early Grayce - played by Brad Pitt - who just happens to be a practicing serial killer.

Ian Siegal is a British blues musician.  He is a real good songwriter with a gruff voice that I dig.  I enjoy listening to the way he crafts his tunes around his vocals and lyrical imagery.  It is well suited to dark subject matter, so a song inspired by the Brad Pitt character from Kalifornia is right in his wheelhouse.  This rendition changes the spelling of the title and adds the "junior" to prevent it from being confused with a different …

Laisse Le Vent Souffler - Zachary Richard

from the album Le Fou (2012)

Once upon a time, I was a college student spending spring break on South Padre Island, Texas.  As the week wound down, the weather turned nasty, and three of us decided to pack up the car and start the journey back north.  With plenty of time on our hands, my brother suggested "Why don't we drive to New Orleans?"  My strange love affair with the Crescent City began about 10 hours later.

We arrived on a Saturday night and parked the car somewhere just outside the French Quarter.  The details of the night are forever fuzzy, but somehow each made it back to the car before the sun rose (we did not have enough money for a motel).  I passed out - seat reclined - behind the wheel, with my brother on the passenger side and our friend across the back seat.

We did not realize that we were parked directly in front of an African-American church.  As parishioners arrived for Sunday morning service, a crowd surrounded the car, looking thru the windows at w…

Isn't It A Pity - Jonathan Wilson

from the EP Pity Trials and Tomorrow

I believe in a simple formula:  Great Songwriting + Great Performances = Great Music.

Based on this formula, The Beatles could not miss.  It started with the greatest songwriting team of the 20th century, Lennon & McCartney.  This was coupled by four very accomplished musicians, working with a world-class producer, all dedicated to capturing the best performances.  Mix in a whole lot of charisma and a savvy marketing juggernaut, and you get Beatlemania.

There is another simple formula:  Success + Not Screwing It Up = Even More Success.

The realities of this formula must has been suffocating to the other great songwriter in The Beatles, George Harrison.  Although he was only allowed to contribute one song to most Beatle albums (he was later allowed two) his songs are some of the finest ever recorded. Think of Something, Here Comes The Sun, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  Somehow, it doesn't seem fair.

When The Beatles parted ways, George …

Frisson Two Step - Louisiana Rhythm Devils

from the album Devil On a String (2012)

There are still places on this earth where music comes-a-bubblin' from the soil.  This is sacred ground.  Its music has an authenticity that cannot be matched, even by satellite radio.

This week, I'm driving down to the Gulf Of Mexico for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I dig the drive and tend to choose the by-ways over the interstates.  Passing tin roofs and cotton fields reminds me of my personal hero, John Lomax, rambling across the American South with his recording gear.  I think of him, as I drive thru towns like Georgiana, Alabama ... home of Hank Williams.

Somewhere near Mobile, I feel a magnetic pull.  It's the cajun call. Banshees of the Bayou scream my name.  Come here Mr. Gigolo. Come here.  Oh, the temptation.

I believe that in the swamps, west of New Orleans, music rises, spreads across the delta, and travels around the world.  But people from these parts don't look far beyond their neighbor's porch for a good tune. …

Drop Down - Sean Hayes

from the album Before We Turn To Dust (2012)

Sean Hayes is a San Francisco Singer / Songwriter who I have been digging for the past five years, or so, ever since hearing his song Turnaroundandturnmeon on the fantastic Big Change: Songs For FINCA compilation.

You may best recognize him for the song Powerful Stuff, that appears on a Subaru commercial currently running across the United States.  But do your self a favor and check out the songs Calling All Cars and F****d Me Right Up from his previous albums. Great songwriting and vocal performances over cool grooves.

His new album, Before We Turn To Dust, is largely the lament of a man balancing his lives as a troubadour and a family man.  All the songs are heartfelt and well written.  His use of subtle syncopation and the percussive elements of the piano tracks really let his vocals soar.

There are four or five songs on the record that I've been grooving on lately.  Drop Down is one that particularly stands out.  It is a downtempo s…

Drifting Dreams - Bruce Foxton

from the album Back In The Room (2012)

Once upon a time, I used to sit in a room with my good friend Fred, spinning vinyl of new music performed by bands that our friends never knew existed.  Fred's older cousin, who played bass guitar in the NYC punk rock scene, turned us on to these groups.  It seemed like we were in on a secret, and that secret fueled our dreams.

Of all these groups, we really connected with The Jam.  Fred used to grab his guitar and play Standards, trying his best to recreate Paul Weller's vocals and guitar tone.  I can see him now, singing "We make the standards and we make the rules / And if you don't abide by them you must be fools."  Those were very special times.

Fast forward to today.  I'm sitting in a room listening to the new album by Bruce Foxton.  Bruce was the bass player for The Jam. The record puts me back in that room.  Part of it is the songwriting. Then there is singer Russel Hastings, with a voice and guitar style similar…

Kitchen Floor - Madness

from the album Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da (2012)

For the new music lover, every Tuesday is like Christmas morning, with dozens of new releases sitting under the tree, ready to play. Some are from new artists, longing to be discovered.  Others are from artists in their prime, cranking out their body of work.  And then there are the blasts from the past.  These songs fill me with the most angst, hoping that the artists remain relevant and are not cheap retreads of dated glory.

This week was full of angst, with new music from bands like The Rolling Stones, Soundgarden, and one of my personal favorites, Madness.  Will Suggs and company stand tall like Mr. Potato Head? Or, will the new release sink their Battleship?  One can only hope.

Fortunately, all is well with Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da, an album filled with enjoyable ska ditties that put a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.

Kitchen Floor is a song that I particularly dig.  It has that familiar ska groove you can slide right…

Emanuel Ciccolini - The Cactus Channel

from the album Haptics (2012)

The Cactus Channel is an 10-piece instrumental R&B/Soul band from Melbourne, Australia.   Their debut album, Haptics, is an end-to-end jam that I really dig.  I plan to invite some of my funky friends over for a cocktail party, so they can groove to their musical stylings.  Then I will share that the band members just graduated high school.  The reactions should be stupendous.

How do a group of teenagers learn to lay down such a hot, funky, soul vibe?  Where did they get the chops?  Who turned them on to James Brown, Issac Hayes, or Rufus Thomas?  Did Melvin Van Peebles move to Australia and start hanging out in school yards? Probably not.  My guess is that this album is the result of fine parenting.

Emanuel Ciccolini is the first track on the album.  The song starts with a 60's bass groove ... drums and rhythm guitar enter ... the full rhythm section gels ...  welcome the keyboard with its "mystery" tone ...  now, let's drop back and…

My Revolutionary Mind - Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, & Yim Yames

from the album New Multitudes (2012)

Imagine discovering a treasure chest.  What might you find inside? Gold?  Coins?  The King's Cutlery?  For Nora Guthrie, it was lyrics. Notebooks and pages filled with lyrics written by her father, the great folk singer, Woody Guthrie.

Knowing that great lyrics deserve great music, Nora Guthrie has sought out the best modern songwriters, with folk sensibilities, to bring her father's words to life.  The first projects were the Mermaid Avenue recordings by Wilco and Billy Bragg.  Named for the street on Coney Island, Brooklyn where Woody Guthrie wrote many of these songs, the recordings are modern masterpieces.  If you have not heard California Stars from Mermaid Avenue Volume 1, please stop reading this immediately and have a listen.

To commemorate Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday, Nora enlisted Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar to record a collection of songs with some fellow singer-songwriters, all using her father's lyrics.  The result …

Bonnie & Clyde - Lulu Gainsbourg

from the album From Gainsbourg to Lulu (2012)

Lulu Gainsbourg comes from a fine lineage of French musicians. His sister Charlotte's 2009 album IRM - produced by Beck - is a personal favorite.  I have a friend who alway plays it when I am over for cocktails.  His father, Serge, was a famous singer / songwriter / actor / poet / author, known for his "scandalous" works.  Current artists, including Beck and Dan The Automater, consider him an influence.  Lulu's mother was the French model Bambou.

Bonnie & Clyde is a cover version of his father's late-60's duet with Brigitte Bardot.  For a duet partner on this song, Lulu chose actress Scarlett Johansson.  I really dig how good their two voices sound together.  Lulu provides a hushed vocal sung in French, Scarlett's vocal is semi-spoken in English.  Combined, it creates a cool, sexy vibe.

The music adds additional texture to this vibe.  The bass guitar provides a slow groove that is up front in the mix.  I al…

12:01 - Patterson Hood

from the album Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance (2012)

Although it is November, I am pretty confident that Heat Lightning Rumbles Across The Distance will be my pick for Best Album of 2012.  Patterson Hood has made a record that connects with me on too many levels to describe.  I've spent the past few nights trying to dissect it, and the songwriting and storytelling are what separates this album from the rest.

The other thing that these songs have is space.  This space allows listeners to appreciate the lyrical imagery and the fantastic tone of the instrumental performances.  It also allows the textures of Patterson Hood's imperfect vocals to express a sincerity that is uncommon in most recordings.  One of my music pals called this "a poor man's Wilco."  But this album touches me more than any Wilco album. I dig it that much.

12:01 kicks off the record.  It is a tale about hitting the liquor store just after midnight, when the Sunday blue laws expire. The ly…

Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance - Patterson Hood

from the album Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance (2012)

A few weeks ago, I took my mom back to the place where she and my dad raised our family.  Family. Memories. Cemeteries.  On the way out of town, we drove down the road where we used to live. Stopped for a minute across the street from the old house.  A new family lives there now.  It looked like a happy home ... all decked out for Halloween.

This song reminds me of that.

Click Here to view a live version recorded at The Bell House in Brooklyn.

Love On Ocean Boulevard - Christian Luther

from the album Time To Travel On (2012)

My inner anarchist revels in the perpetual change and disruption to the music industry created by technology.  Today, I have access to more music, from more artists, wherever I go, thanks to all the whiz bang stuff in my backpack.  Meanwhile, the record companies, who charged exorbitant pricing for years, claiming the funds helped "discover" new artists, are crumbling as artists and audiences discover each other directly.  There is nothing like democracy.

At the same time, new companies rise, offering value propositions that embrace this new normal.  One such company is YouTunez.com from Berlin.  YouTunez is a music distribution service that allows quality independent artists to affordably subscribe to a service to digitally distribute their music globally via iTunes, Amazon, and dozens of other outlets.  Pretty cool stuff.

Thanks to YouTunez, I came across a Christian Luther, a German blues artist who created Time To Travel On, a new …

Walking In The Green Corn - Grant Lee Phillips

from the album Walking In The Green Corn (2012)

For better or worse, my life runs at a blistering pace.  This year, I will spend another 150+ days on the road.  Multi-tasking has given way to mega-tasking.  I dream that someone develops an app for me to smell the roses.  This morning I am blogging from Los Angeles ... I think.

When you are moving this fast, it is almost impossible to slow down.  This affects the music I listen to.  I run on songs with a fast tempo.  It is audio caffeine.  Tempo has become a driving force in my life.

But on occasion, I manage to close my eyes, exhale, put on the noise-canceling coconut shells, and get lost in a peaceful, melodic tune.  It rejuvenates me.  Then its back to the rave.

Walking In The Green Corn is a song I really dig when these moments of zen strike.  The song is pure and simple.  Acoustic guitar, violin, and a beautiful vocal.  The lyrical imagery is liberating. It is as refreshing as a swim in a cool, northern lake.  Thanks to Grant Lee P…