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Showing posts from February, 2013

Für Hildegard Von Bingen - Devendra Banhart

from the forthcoming album Mala (2013)

I am not certain which is more exciting, that a new Devendra Banhart album is being released in two weeks or that he has written a song for Hildegard Von Bingen.

Hildegard Von Bingen was an amazing woman who thrived in the 12th century.  She wrote books on botany and medicine.  She composed beautiful music that has survived to this day.  She was a strong advocate of holistic medicine, as well as the empowerment of women.  She accomplished these things as a Benedictine Nun, and was put on the path to sainthood by the pope in 2012.

For those not familiar with Devendra Banhart, you need to check him out.  He is a kind of freaky folk dude who got into low-fi recording as a student at the San Francisco Art Institute in the late 1990's, dropped out, and realized success in the music industry. He has made some great records. Carmensita, Long Haired Child, and Chinese Children are my favorites.

This song is all about the vibe.  It has a downtempo bea…

Long Time Gone - The Civil Wars & T Bone Burnett

from the original motion picture soundtrack A Place At The Table (2013)

The Civil Wars and T Bone Burnett are "two great tastes that taste great together" as evidenced by the song Long Time Gone.  I became a fan of The Civil Wars in 2011 with the release of their album Barton Hollow.  The quality of Joy Williams and John Paul White's vocals and songwriting is some the best stuff to come out of Nashville in the past decade.  Their song Poison & Wine is the most beautiful example, demonstrating the incredible ability of their voices to hit soaring harmonies.

T Bone Burnett is simply a master of the music from the American south.  His body of work as a producer and musician is beyond compare.  Check out Killing The Blues by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, One Time One Night by Los Lobos, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean by B.B. King, Lovable by Elvis Costello, or I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow by The Soggy Bottom Boys (from the film O' Brother Where Art Thou) to hea…

Where The Whippoorwills Are Whispering Goodnight - The Black Twig Pickers

from the album Rough Carpenters (2013)

Inevitably, we reach an age where the people we love begin to die. It starts with our parents generation, then slowly obtrudes into our own.  Several of my friends are at a stage where their friends and lovers are passing.  It is a sad cycle, made uplifting by the way they embrace those they love.  What comfort it must bring.

Everything has its cycles.  Life.  Business.  Weather.  Music has many cycles.  There are some genres of popular music that last only a few years; while other, more rural styles, span centuries. Across these sylvan settings, people play and listen to their ancestral music.  It is a tie that binds.

The Black Twig Pickers are an Appalachian String band from southwestern Virginia.  What sets this group apart is its musicianship and ability to make the old sound new.  Their music has roots dating back to the early settlers.  Listening to them puts me on a mountain road, winding thru trees and time, past ghosts that dance to fami…

Planet Phrom - Ducktails

from the album The Flower Lane (2013)

Sometimes the song picks you.  Last week, I was in an indie music store and was drawn to The Flower Lane by Ducktails.  The store manager gave a smile of approval and asked if I wanted to take a listen.  I did.  As the disc loaded, I subconsciously jumped to Track Five, Planet Phrom.  It hooked me from the opening notes.

It is a straight forward indie rock tune: bass, guitar, drums, keyboards, & vocals.  However, I kept listening to it wondering why I was so hooked.  Then I realized that this song does just about everything right.  The restrained tempo.  The hazy twang of the rhythm guitar.  The steady crack of the snare.  The semi-spoken vocal stylings. The restrained choice of notes in the guitar solo. The almost invisible bass groove.  The sustain on the keyboard that rises in the mix as the song fades.

But most of all, I dig the song's theme.  Planet Phrom seems like a pretty chill place, where you can hang with your alien wife under t…

Cave Man - La Big Vic

from the album Cold War (2013)

A bass player friend of mine once shared his perspective on why people dance to some bands and not others:  "People don't choose to dance, they are commanded to it."  He continued along the lines of ... "It all starts with the beat.  When the drummer locks into a steady beat at the right tempo, you notice that the people start to tap their feet.  Too fast or too slow and it doesn't happen."

"Once they have the beat, the listener picks up on the groove.  This is typically established by the bass player (in his genre).  A repetitive, incisive groove anchored by the right beat turns the foot tapping into body swaying.  From there, the bass player and drummer add the right bounce and accents and people are instructed to dance.  All it takes from there are the right hooks and embellishment and you have a room full of leg shakers."

Cave Man is a new dance tune from Brooklyn-based La Big Vic that will certainly incite leg sh…

Shuggie - Foxygen

from the album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic (2013)

Over the past few days, I have listened to the song Shuggie by Foxygen several dozen times.  I dig this tune and just can't stop playing it.  My lady friend even dropped in with a "What is that song you keep playing?" inquiry.

I deeply respect musicians who have a command of tone.  With Foxygen, it is a group with command of vibe.  This band has a fascinating ability to perfectly capture a vibe and then pivot to another and another, staying locked together as a unit the entire way.  Bands with this ability are far and too few between.  This only comes with after long hours of playing as a unit.

Foxygen matches its mastery of vibe with superior songwriting capabilities.  The chord structures, the arrangements, and the lyrics intertwine to create a music that lures you inside and then holds you with an intriguing blend of nuance and texture.

Another thing I dig about this group is their honesty.…

The Po-Po - Spanglish Fly

from the single Me Gusta Mi Bicicleta B/W The Po-Po (2012)

Spanglish Fly is a Brooklyn band largely responsible for the boogaloo revival that is steadily gaining traction across NYC.  The band came about when Jonathan Goldman (a.k.a. DJ Johnny Semi-Colon, who also serves as bandleader and trumpet player) noticed how audiences grooved to the old Latin Boogaloo records he would spin in the clubs.  So he put together this 11-piece outfit that now records for Electric Cowbell Records.

The Po-Po by Spanglish Fly is a boogaloo party tune that is mostly an instrumental, except for the a lot of "street chatter" and singers who intermittently chime in with great lyrics about police harassment, centering around the catch line: "The Po-Po they're coming."  That line has been bouncing around my brain since before the holidays.

Last week in Memphis, I was with a group of friends drinking beer and doing Crown shots in a soul food restaurant.  A gaggle of police entered and to…

Sneak Out The Back Door - Ron Sexsmith

from the album Forever Endeavour (2013)

"In a world of workaday singer-songwriters mired in vacuous self-regard, news of a Ron Sexsmith record can only gladden the heart of those who care about deftly poetic, gently affecting songs that perfectly distill the pitfalls of being human."  -  taken from www.ronsexsmith.com

I agree.  Forever Endeavour, the latest album by this Canadian singer-songwriter, is filled with quiet songs that each touch a different part of the human spirit.  Of the songs on this record, I particularly enjoy Sneak Out The Back Door.  It is a simple tune about remaining unassuming in a world of embroidered hyperbole.  I dig that.

The song consists of acoustic guitar and vocals.  Nothing else.  This gives the listener a chance to absorb the key components of any great song:  the songwriting, the vocal, and the instrumental performance.  The song begins with a nicely finger-picked introduction followed by the first verse:

Well I've never been good at good…

Don't Get Too Comfortable - Ruthie Foster

from the EP Keep It Burning (2013)

With every release, Ruthie Foster builds a legacy of great American music.  Her magnificent voice has an amazing quality to cross genres without skipping a beat.  Regardless if its Folk, Blues, R&B, or Gospel, this West Texas native has a very special gift.  If you are not familiar with her, please check out the songs Phenomenal Woman and Death Came A-Knockin' (Travelin' Shoes) for a quick introduction.  You will hear shades of Aretha Franklin and Odetta in these records.

Her album Let It Burn is nominated for Best Blues Album at the Grammy Awards this weekend.  Last month, she released an EP titled Keep It Burning that consists of four tracks that were omitted from the Grammy nominated release.  It includes Don't Get To Comfortable, a duet with Stax music legend William Bell.

It is great to hear Ruthie Foster's voice over a soul vibe.  Her phrasing sounds excellent in this genre.  I particularly like the way it helps convey the m…

Will You Dance, Charlie Boy? - Richard Thompson

from the album Electric (Bonus Disk version only) (2013)

There is little I can add to the long list of accolades that accompany any description of Richard Thompson, except to say that I believe he is about the finest songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist in music today and that two of his songs - Wall Of Death and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning - rank amongst my favorite songs ever.

Add to that list the song Will You Dance, Charlie Boy? from Electric, his most laudable album this millennium.  Here is why:

--> The song has a ramblin', uptempo, country shuffle.  The kind I imagine hearing at a country fair.  I find this sound very refreshing, particularly when it it so well played.

-->  The drummer - Michael Jerome - establishes and maintains the galloping beat throughout the entire song.  I have a affinity for drummers who can work a snare like that.

-->  I enjoy the storyline of an older fellow returning to his old town, with the lingering question "Will he whoop it up l…

Flim Flam - Lee Fields

from the album Let's Talk It Over (2013)

Last week, I visited the Stax Records Museum in Memphis.  If you ever the chance to go, please do.  It is filled with the history of the quintessential soul label that brought us Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MGs, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, The Staples Sisters, Wilson Pickett, and so many more.  Stepping into the studio where Sitting On The Dock Of A Bay and Green Onions were recorded gave me goosebumps so big you'd have thought I was a Longleaf Pine.

The tour also touches on race in America.  Stax was a place where race did not matter, instead it was all about your talent and perfecting your craft.  All that changed when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.  Seven years later, Stax was gone.

But the soul music created there will live forever, as will the music of those it has inspired.  One of those artists is Lee Fields, who records for Truth and Soul Records in Brooklyn.

Lee Fields makes music that drips soul.  H…

Please Love Me - Liam Bailey

from the single Please Love Me (2012)

I enjoy putting together eclectic mixes of music.  I like to cut across several sub-genres and find the threads that tie great songs together.  Whenever I finish a new mix, I invite my funky friends over for a good listen.

As a result, I am always on the lookout for good tunes that cross genres.  Please Love Me is one of those songs.

Liam Bailey is a British musician who creates a fresh musical vibe by mixing elements of R&B and Soul with a hint of early Jamaican ska.  I find the sound to be a hip London vibe that I quite like. Last year, he released the single Please Love Me in the United States on Truth and Soul Records, yet another Brooklyn-based indie music label that continually puts out great music.

This song hooks me from the introduction.  The lead guitar picks a catchy, vintage guitar riff over a tight country shuffle.  A reggae rhythm guitar track enters along with the mellifluous falsetto of Liam Bailey.  This is topped off by simpl…

You Found Another Lover - Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite

from the album Get Up! (2013)

I am in Memphis this week, supporting a good friend who is competing in the International Blues Challenge.  The drive put me in striking distance of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  Who could imagine that such a small town could fill the world with its sweet soul music?  Then I crossed into Mississippi, where the ghosts of Muddy Waters, R.L. Burnside, and Elvis Presley are never far away. Finally, I am walking in Memphis, hallowed ground for the music lover.

To make things sweeter, I arrive on the day that the revived Stax Records releases Get Up!, a new album from Ben Harper with blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite.

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite have been flirting with a record since first hooking up as sidemen on a John Lee Hooker record a decade or so ago.  Persistence paid off with this record.  The song I've been digging most is You Found Another Lover.

I gravitate towards the more acoustic side of Ben Harper.  I think it because of the conne…