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Showing posts from March, 2013

Whistle And A Light - Mama Kin

from the EP Talisman (2013)

After a long journey, the ukulele is finally becoming hip.  My earliest memories come from old movies, where stars like Don Ho, Bing Crosby, and Elvis Presley crooned to a backdrop of hula girls and swayin' palms.  As cool as that was, the ukulele remained something of a novelty instrument.  Then came Tiny Tim and Tiptoe thru the Tulips...

It took a while to bounce back, but then Israel Kamakawiwo'ole began recording incredibly beautiful music using this native instrument.  His rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow is a masterpiece.  Maybe that's what turned it around for the ukulele.

In recent years, it has found crazy, commercial success with Hey, Soul Sister by Train.  It has also found a more alternative audience, with artists like Eddie Vedder releasing an entire album of Ukulele Songs.  Nice comeback for the punchy, little, four-stringed dude!

So when I first stumbled across the song Whistle And A Light by Mama Kin, I was attracted to th…

Corazón Tatú - Los Amigos Invisibles

from the album Repeat After Me (2013)

Los Amigos Invisibles are a Venezuelan band who play a cool brand of Latin funk that mixes in a Talking Heads meet Bootsy Collins vibe.  It is infectious and fun.  Filter Magazine once described their sound as "One part '70's crime-drama keyboards, two parts porno flick bass-lines, a dash of groovy funk guitar riffs, and a glaze of hip shakin' Latin beats."  Nicely put.

I am digging the tune Corazón Tatú.  It is modern and fresh but has enough punk-eyed funk to remind me of the Bush Tetras or the Tom Tom Club.  It makes me want to roll down the windows and head for the beach.  Someone pick the parking field...

Check these guys out, they'll make you feel good.

Click Here to watch a live version of the song.  The sound quality of the recording is poor, so do your self a favor and check it out on iTunes, et al.

Coming Out Of The Fog - Arbouretum

from the album Coming Out Of The Fog (2013)

So, I have been having this yin-yang relationship with tempo lately. My obsessions have me running at a wicked pace, and I find myself perpetually wired when awake.  Part of me gets off on the thrill; the other is desperate to turn off the switch.  It is most difficult when I need sleep.

I do what I can to get my chill on, but it is usually exhaustion more than relaxation that shuts me down. Yet there are occasions when I am relaxed, when my processor enters hibernate mode, when I soak in the moment.

These are special times for me and downtempo tunes play an important role.  I have a tremendous fondness for these songs. They are more essential to me than their uptempo kin.

Coming Out Of The Fog is a song for your most tranquil times.  The sedated tempo, the beautiful song elements intertwining at extended wavelenghts, and the warmth of the tones remind me of what you might feel suspended underwater in a cool, mountain lake.  You can feel the …

Gone Cold - Clutch

from the album Earth Rocker (2013)

For their tenth album - Earth Rocker - Clutch made a conscious effort to expand beyond their trademark jam metal sound to claim the mantle of "a damn good rock and roll band."  They succeeded.

After being turned on to the new album by one of my funkiest friends, I kept circling back to the song Gone Cold.  I am immediately drawn to the downtempo blues vibe, carried by the drumming of Jean-Paul Gaster.  The shuffling brushes and steady opening and closing of the hi-hat lay down the song's foundation.  It is pretty cool to learn that his drumming influences for the brushing are Earl Palmer's work with Professor Longhair and Brian Downey of Thin Lizzy.  It is an unlikely pairing that makes perfect sense once you listen to the tune.

The downtempo vibe also gives me a great appreciation for the quality of this band's musicianship.  The quality of the guitar work, with its precision and attention to a swampy tone that suits the song, …

Handyman Blues - Billy Bragg

from the album Tooth & Nail (2013)

Once upon a time, I was a college student in New York for my summer break.  One day, I stumbled into Bleeker Bob's Record Store in Greenwich Village and walked out with Life's A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy.  It was the beginning of my most influential music journey.

Later that summer, I got to see Billy Bragg play at a small club in lower Manhattan.  As he stood on stage, singing his powerful lyrics accompanied by only his electric guitar, I realized that you can do it on your own.  With hefty doses of desire and self-confidence, you can accomplish anything; and all it really takes is you.

That fall, I headed back to school in the midwest and wrote about a hundred songs.  Billy Bragg was the inspiration.

Fast forward to today, and I am making my way in the world, living life on my own terms.  I still believe that I can take an idea and turn it into a revolution, same way that I did sitting on the corner of my bed with a guitar all those years a…

New Girl - The Lion

from the album This Generation (2013)

Nothing like a good reggae vibe.  It is sad when your life is running at such a hectic pace that you cannot easily fall into its rhythms. Unfortunately, that is where me head has been all too often lately.

So when I first heard New Girl by Los Angeles reggae outfit The Lion a few weeks ago, I said to myself "Check out those sweet horns and relaxed beat, I need to spin this tune for my funky friends."  However, I've been perpetually on the road these days, unable to chill with the funky folk and wound so tight that music is effectively background noise.

That all changed tonight.  After some good mexican at the Blue Goose and cocktails in the lobby of my Dallas hotel, I settled into my room and put on a playlist of new songs I've been digging.  When New Girl took her turn in the mix, I took the whole tune in.   What a glorious instrumental it is.

The horn melody is as refreshing as a plunge into a cool mountain lake, sucking the te…

We No Who U R - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

from the album Push The Sky Away (2013)

The worst part of being at SXSW this week is the long lists of bands I did not get to see.  With over 1600 top-notch acts to chose from, your best bet is to find a good spot and let the music come to you. Still for me, the band I most regret missing was Nick Cave & The Band Seeds.  We simply got to the venue too late.  The good news was that the rest of the evening's line-up - Cafe Tacuba, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Alt-J - each put on a great show.  Still, it is too bad about Nick Cave.

The reason for this disappointment is that I could not wait to hear them play We No Who U R from their new album.  I recently had my freaky friends on my back deck for late night cocktails and I cranked upthis tune.  They approved.  The song has a haunting vibe, commanding vocals, and a unconventional theme that I particularly dig.

This song is offered from the point of view of angry trees advising us humans that they will seek retribution for our environm…

Slyd - !!! (Chk Chk Chk)

from the single Slyd (2013)

There is nothing better than unexpectedly stumbling across a band that puts on a great show.

Tonight, I was with a group of folks cruising around SXSW in Austin.  We were initially trying to hit a Flaming Lips show, but the lines were too long.  So we flagged down this cool chick named Melissa in an electric golf cart and she drove us over to Clive Bar on Rainey Street.  It is a pretty cool road, lined with old houses turned into night clubs.

We entered into the party music of !!! (Chk Chk Chk).  Their lead singer was bouncing around, playing Master of Ceremonies for this dance vibe.  Someone in our group aid they had the Manchester sound of bands like Happy Mondays.  I would add that their guitar player was laying down funky guitar lines that reminded me of Talking Heads from the Fear Of Music era.  Fantastic stuff.

People were dancing and celebrating the moment.  Most in our group agreed that this was the highlight of the day.  I haven't felt so good …

Where Are We Now? - David Bowie

from the album The Next Day (2013)

In my vinyl youth, I was obsessed in how I handled records, always taking care to hold them from the sides with my palms, never letting my fingers touch the grooves.  When others mishandled them, I became distressed, never allowing them to touch my records again.  I later came to learn that there is only one person who should leave their fingerprints on a record, the producer.

Today, I build playlists of songs by my favorite producers.  I am fascinated in how the best of them can leave their own mark across great records by diverse artists.  I listen to The Joshua Tree by U2 followed by Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris and feel the same masterful hand of Daniel Lanois on both.  And there are others: T-Bone Burnett, Sly & Robbie, Phil Spector, Brendan O'Brian.

Tony Visconti is another of those producers.  He is responsible for some of the finest records I have ever heard.  Records like Electric Warrior by T. Rex, Band on the Run by Paul McCartn…

The Fall - Rhye

from the album Woman (2013)

There is considerable hubbub surrounding Woman, the new album by Rhye, because their effeminate lead vocals are actually "sung by a dude."  So what.  These are magnificent recordings that blur the line between today's electronic and yesterday's disco and R&B stylings, creating a sultry, sophisticated vibe that is destined to find its way into clubs and living rooms everywhere.

The Fall is the song I dig most.  It hooks me with a syncopated piano track that reminds me of the '70's disco hit More, More, More balanced by a crisp, electronic dance beat.  Thru this foundation, Mike Milosh winds his incredible, countertenor vocals creating a three-headed serpent that is rich in texture and tone.

The beat, piano, and vocals are supported by a collection of musical embellishments that are masterfully arranged.  They complete the vibe and recording with an understated grace.  The trumpet and string tracks stand out for me.

I am unaware o…

Strawberries Dress - Robyn Hitchcock

from the album Love From London (2013)

Once upon a time, I was at a pre-party for an XTC concert at a friend of a friend's apartment in Boston.  It was there that I was first introduced to the music of Robyn Hitchcock. It seemed that all the XTC fans were also fans of his.  This made a lot of sense.  With his surreal lyrical imagery, melodic sensibility, and witty tenderness (or tender wittiness), Robyn Hitchcock's brand of eclectic British rock was the perfect mix for both the college students and the intelligencia.

Strawberries Dress is a song from his new album, Love From London, that I have been enjoying since its release earlier this week.  The song opens with a cool, electric guitar riff picked over a steady beat.  A few bars later, Hitchcock enters with his signature vocals:

Telecom Tower
The tree doesn't reach
Above your head

Elegant flower
The scene doesn't change
Around your heart
From the chimneys to the pink horizon

As the song unfolds, I find myself swept into the…

Wild Side - Son Volt

from the album Honky Tonk (2013)

On nights when I unwind, I find myself with a glass of alcohol, listening to one of a handful of artists, and losing myself in their music.  Jay Farrar is one of those artists.  His lyrics, his voice, and the space between his notes speaks to me like few others.  If I were ever forced to name my favorite song of all time, it would likely be Son Volt's Tear Stained Eye.  I find his music that special.

So when his new album, Honky Tonk, was released this week, I picked it up and jumped right in.  I dig it because the classic country vibe lets the stark lyrical images fill my mind while great musicians quietly blow me away.  It also lets me fully appreciate Jay Farrar's voice, as he sings the chorus to Wild Side:

You're on the Wild Side
It's where you'll always be
You're living proof that there's grace in this world
On the wild side living free

Behind these words are incredible tracks.  Every instrument is played with beauty and re…

New Town Velocity - Johnny Marr

from the album The Messenger (2013)

Left home a mystery Leave school for poetry I say goodbye to them and me Mission Velocity

In a recent interview with Mojo, Johnny Marr explained that New Town Velocity was a late addition to his new album The Messenger. He explained "I felt the picture I wanted to create of myself was incomplete.  It needed something else, the idea of ... romantic idealism."

This song tells the story of that decisive moment when young Johnny Marr leaves his home to find his way in the brutal world of rock and roll.  In his case, it has a happy ending.

Starting with a familiar guitar introduction, extending about a minute, the listener is transported back to the days when The Smiths and The Cure ruled alternative radio.  All the tones are there. So are the arrangements and production.  It is great to hear Johnny Marr making new music.  His chords strike chords that have both a nostalgic and current ring.  I enjoy that.

Click Here to listen to the album version.

C…

Help You Mend - Bobby Long

from the album Wishbone (2013)

Although most poets I have known are elitists and reprobates, not worth the foam on my ale, I have great admiration for the craftsmanship of the poet.  The poet understands the significance and nuance of words and how they capture and express our inner truths, enriching our understanding of the human experience.  Poets take great care in selecting each word, forming each line, and editing each verse. It is a painstaking task that, in the hands of a master, can create the highest form of expression.

Bobby Long is a British singer/songwriter - currently based in NYC - who, aside from being a fine musician, is also a skilled poet.  Last May he released Losing My Brotherhood, a collection of poems about love, loss, and other universal emotions.  It is a very thoughtful collection that I quite enjoy.  The same application of craft that he applies to his poetry is also applied to his new album, Wishbone.

The song I dig most on Wishbone is Help You Mend.  This …

Mellow Mood - Arise Roots

from the album Moving Forward (2013)

I dig downtempo roots reggae jams.

Last night, I was stuck in a middle seat on a flight home from the other coast.  The dude to my left was bigger than me, and the chick to my right decided it was an appropriate time to do her nails. Times like these call for strapping on the noise-canceling coconut shells, putting on my playlist of new reggae tunes, and finding zen in the third-world of domestic air travel.

It took a while to kick in, but the song that finally got me there was Mellow Mood from Arise Roots.  The relaxed reggae tempo instantly slowed me down and began to wash the stress away.  The hypnotic rhythms opened up my mind, allowing me to dream beyond seat 34E of my winged toothpaste tube.  Then enter the first verse:

Chillin' on a lazy afternoon
Natural vibes filling up the room
And I'm feeling so high
And not a care in my mind
Not thinking about my job, no way
Don't even care about the time of day
Cause I'm feeling so right
Soakin…

Let's Have A Kiki - Scissor Sisters

from the album Magic Hour (2012)

As we roll into March, I plan to spend the remainder of the year focused exclusively on the songs of 2013.  However, as a final farewell, I would like to celebrate one last great tune from 2012 ... Let's Have A Kiki.

I find this dance number, from NYC club scene groovotees Scissor Sisters, to be irresistible.  This song has spent countless hours bouncing around my brain.  It is one of those fun records that allows you to "live in the moment," a trait of all great dance hits.

As the lyrics advise "A kiki is a party," and this is certainly a party song, with more hooks than a Peter Pan audition.  The two that grab me most are the tom tom rhythms and the central vocal line of "Let's Have A Kiki."  Rather than get too granular, I simply ask you to "lock the doors, lower the blinds, & fire up the smoke machine."

Click Here for the music video.  I dig that it is recorded in one continuous shot with zero edit…