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Showing posts from October, 2013

Gypsy Epilogue - Tony Joe White

from the album Hoodoo (2013)

I used to hang out with the bluesman Jack Yoder.  It is from him that I gained my appreciation for tone.

Tone is a lifetime pursuit for the conscientious musician.  Finding that right guitar, experimenting with different gauge strings, playing thru countless amps - manipulating the dials - trying to match the sounds you hear with the sounds inside your head.  It is an obsession.  And for some, it never ends.

Tony Joe White is a Louisiana guitarist who has been releasing great music since 1969.  The arc of his 40+ year career has as much to do with tone as it does with great songwriting and recordings.  Along the way, he has transcended the traditional music of his region thru his tone.  It is like a $400 bottle of wine.  Within it, you can hear the music that bubbles up from the swampy ground.  However, what makes it special are the other elements, including Memphis country, Texas blues, and a soul that can only come from God.

On his new album Hoodoo, I ke…

Whole Wide World - Sister Jane

from the single Whole Wide World (2013)

I was feeling a little kajagoogoo yesterday.  Better than a blue Monday.  Regardless, it seems like 80's flashbacks are everywhere.  Somebody bring me edelweiss !!!

I tried to break the spell by listening to some new Australian music.  Melbourne - together with Brooklyn USA - are my picks for the best new music cities these days.  Of all the great tunes I listened to, the one that really grabbed me was Whole Wide World by Sister Jane.  Strange thing, this song sounds like it could have been released by The Alarm, The Cult, or other such 80's acts.

The bass player pulsing eighth-notes over a steady-four beat.  The guitar's tone and riff.  The high-theatrics keyboards.  All the things you love about great 80's rock are tightly packaged here, including the anthemic chorus, roaring screams, and a Billy Idol-inspired breakdown.  It sounds fantastic.

I forget sometimes how great those 80's bands were.  Then you hear a new band like…

Ritmo Universal - G-Flux

from the single Ritmo Universal b/w Menieto (2013)

I dig it when genres collide.  On the song Ritmo Universal by the outstanding Mexico City producer G-Flux, the worlds of cumbia and electronica come together to create a sound that is instantly appealing to reggae dub listeners, as well as fans of The Clash, like myself.

For those unfamiliar with cumbia, it is the music of the Latin American working class.  Instruments including drums, calves, guitars, bass, accordion, and flute are often found in these songs, which are an amalgam of Native Columbian, African, and Spanish influences.  It is a root music that has spawned countless sub-genres in spanish speaking countries, and increasingly in the United States.  In fact, on weekends I often hear my Hispanic neighbors blasting it late into the night.

Ritmo Universal features vocals by Guatalajara-based duo Los Master Plus.  Their vocals sound great over the deep groove.  But it is the accordion track that really makes me smile.  I usually…

Calling Cards - Neko Case

from the album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (2013)

When Neko Case took the stage the other night, her sweet smile and down-to-earth nature was like seeing a dear, old friend.  Time and distance instantly fell away, leaving me relaxed and happy.  Smiling and laughing.  As the night rolled on, I can remember every detail, never wanting it to end.

My favorite song from her new album is Calling Cards.  It is a pretty song that Gram Parsons would have referred to as Cosmic American Music.  The tender composition recalls times long gone but forever close at hand.  I really dig the lyrics:

Singing we'll all be together
Even when we're not together
With our arms around each other
With our faith still in each other
I've got calling cards
From 20 years ago

It was great being in a theatre crowded with people who still believe in songs like this and a performer who knows how to deliver the message with an inviting grace.  It was an evenin…

Golondrina - Dom La Nena

from the EP Golondrina (2013)

There are few things more romantic than a Brazilian girl singing a tender song.

Dom La Nena is a Brazilian cellist, singer, and songwriter who currently calls Paris home.  I totally dig her new song Golondrina.  The beauty of her voice is only surpassed by the way she plays her instrument.  The two elements are all that is needed to create a timeless song for late night listening.

Early in the song, she simply plucks octaves in the pattern a tuba might play.  But as the notes ring, the melancholy of the cello's overtones affect you and play off the innocence of her voice.  The plucking track continues throughout the song.

Midway thru, she overlays a second track with her playing with a bow.  The vibrato she achieves with her left hand adds a magnificent tension over the the plucked track.  Few instruments sound better than a cello in the hands of a master.

The production of the song has outstanding fidelity.  I also dig the way that overdubbed vocals …

Ringo - Joris Voorn

from the single Ringo (2013)

So, I've had all these groovy thoughts swimming around my head for the past few days.  Rather than dissect them - which would only suck their lifeblood - I've cleared my mind, jumped into the aquarium, and got kicking.  It is a good place to be.

The song playing down here is Ringo by Joris Voorn.  This Dutch DJ is based in Amsterdam, where his house vibes must sound great in the local chill joints.  It is one of those electronic instrumentals that constructs all these oscillating vibes that shift in and out of phase over a dance beat and subliminal groove.  Sit me in a SoHo lounge and pour me a strong one.

Much of the music I listen to has lyrics.  Sometimes it forces me to listen more carefully than you care to.  Today, I am going instrumental and finding my own truths in the vibes.

Click Here to watch the official music video to Ringo.

Don't Want Lies - The Rides

from the album Can't Get Enough (2013)

The Rides are a blues-rock super trio consisting of Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, CSNY), Barry Goldberg (Electric Flag), and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.  This group is something of a resurrection of a classic 1968 Super Session that featured Stills, Goldberg, Mike Bloomfield (Electric Flag), and Al Kooper (Blood, Sweat, & Tears).  The band also includes drummer Chris Layton (who plays with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and formerly Stevie Ray Vaughan) and bassist Kevin McCormick (CSN, Jackson Browne).

I've been digging their song Don't Want Lies, which features Stephen Stills at his finest.  The song sounds like it could have been recorded by Crosby, Stills, & Nash.  It is cool how good Stephen Still's vocals sound after a 40+ year career.  Also of note is his guitar playing, as well as the lead by Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

If you are looking for a new classic rock tune, check this one out.

Click Here to watch Don't Want Lies perfo…

Not Too Late - Brett Dennen

from the album Smoke And Mirrors (2013)

Brett Dennen zigs while the world zags, leaving behind a collection of memorable pop-folk tunes that have been staples in my playlists for the past five years.

He possesses the two crucial elements required to make a great record:  superior vocals and songwriting.  His voice is that of a quirky angel, with an uncanny ability to soar that can leave you with goosebumps.  His songwriting has an incredible melodic sensibility that draws from the great singer / songwriters that populated 1970's AM radio.  On this foundation, he layers thoughtful, intelligent lyrics with keen visual imagery that can't help but hook you.

This morning he releases his fifth album, Smoke and Mirrors.  The album sets its tone with its cover photo of a dry valley, presumably in Northern California, that lets you know he is more interested in the smoke and mirrors of peaceful lake than those of deception.  This is the album you listen to while driving thru places lik…

Paper Trails - Darkside

from the album Psychic (2013)

Paper Trails is a song that stands at the curious intersection of downtempo electronica and dark, Tom Waits-inspired blues.  Together these sounds create a vibe that leaves you a bit off-balance.  When I listen to this song, I imagine myself zoned out in a seedy, multilingual Los Angeles club.

The band consists of acclaimed 23 year old producer Nicolaas Jaar and Brooklyn-based guitarist Dave Harrington.  I really dig that Jaar's preference for downtempo music is based on the philosophy that the really interesting stuff happens between the beats.

I also dig the combination of tasty guitar licks coupled with modern electronic beats.  These hybrid sounds put in the context of spacious music really helps you get lost in the groove.  Of course, that requires masterful hands for success.

Their band name of Darkside puts a big grin on my face.  It seems that everywhere I go lately, I am struck by some unexpected Pink Floyd reference.

Click Here to watch Darksi…

Pretend Friends - Tape Deck Mountain

from the album Sway (2013)

I always dig it when a band lays down an introduction that hooks me.  Nirvana is probably the best example.  Songs like Come As You Are and All Apologies allow you to become completely absorbed in the vibe long before the vocals enter.

Pretend Friends by Tape Deck Mountain is another song that accomplishes this.  The opening drum beats let you know this is lo-fi rock and roll.  Then a guitar gives a quavering trill before joining the bass guitar in the central riff.  This riff establishes the song's authenticity thru its raw simplicity and unpretentiousness.  It hooks me.

I always dig a good three piece band.  To me, there is nothing more pure than bass, guitar, and drums played well.  As for the balance of this song, Tape Deck Mountain delivers the goods.  The band's dynamics are impeccable, rockin' out hard and falling back into the groove in perfect unison.  That only comes from practicing as a unit.  It makes all the difference.

Click Here to l…

El Señor Surf - Surfer Joe

from the album Señor Surf (2013)

Earlier today, I really upset a bunch of people by speaking the truth.  Perhaps they would have preferred me to play surf guitar.  You know, something with a melodious riff over a predictable beat.  Not a song like Wipe Out.  That would be far too offensive.  I bet they'd fancy Walk Don't Run ...

This has led me to empty a growler and crank some of the best new surf tunes on the planet.  One song that I've been particularly digging is El Señor Surf by Italian surf icon Surfer Joe.  In this delightful little ditty, he lays down no less than five variations in his tone.  Each transition feels seamless and the tones are reminiscent of great 60's artists like The Ventures and Dick Dale.

I also dig that Lorenzo Surfer Joe is something of an entrepreneur.  Based in the port city of Livorno, Italy (just south of Pisa), he runs a booking agency for surf bands, owns a surf diner, and hosts the Surfer Joe Summer Festival, featuring three days of …

Tin Star - Lindi Ortega

from the album Tin Star (2013)

One of the benefits of writing this blog is receiving emails from the artists I write about.  Of the 238 entries I have posted over the past eighteen months, the sweetest note I have received came from Lindi Ortega.  In my humble opinion, her 2012 song Cigarettes & Truckstops is the greatest country song of this millennium and her kind note has been a source of motivation and encouragement.

As fate would have it, I have been in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee for the past six days.  It has been a hazy, crazy blur where my buddies and I actually drank a bar out of Pabst.  It has been 120 years since they won the blue ribbon, but my Milwaukee brethren should still be proud.  Anyhow, it so happens that Lindi released her latest album - Tin Star - today.  The title track is my favorite song.

As always, the songwriting, vocals, and musicianship are impeccable.  Just listen to the opening.  The guitar tones, the piano, and Lindi Ortega's voice.  O…

Shortyville - Trombone Shorty

from the album Say That To Say This (2013)

I became enthralled with Trombone Shorty back in 2010, when I first heard his album Backatown.  On the record, this New Orleans musical icon stepped away from his jazz zone to embrace elements of urban music.  The song Something Beautiful - featuring backing vocals by Lenny Kravitz - became a staple of that year's party mixes.  It is a great record.

Sometime after that record was released, I caught a live show.  It was a revelation.  Perhaps the best show I have ever attended in a small venue.  He and his band delivered thrilling, high energy music that left me breathless.

On his latest release - Say That To Say This - the song Shortyville brings me back to that live performance.  This instrumental has the feel of a tight New Orleans brass band, featuring a rousing solo by Shorty himself.  On the right set of speakers, it will give you goosebumps.  Not to be outdone are his fellow musicians.  With each listen you uncover something new and…

We Come In The Sunshine - The Dirtbombs

from the album Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! (2013)

Feel the magical vibe of The Dirtbombs doing that special something I've been waiting to hear for ... ever.  Someone laying down a righteous vibe based on The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations.

Rooted in one of the greatest songs in rock and roll history, this tune by Detroit garage super-duper-stud, Mick Collins, gives me the thrills, the chills, the spills, and the pills.  From the opening horns, I've questioned whether this song is schlock or something amazing.  But after a few dozen listens, I am convinced to proclaim it inspired.

Brett Callero, of Fuzz Factory fame, turned me on to this track.  Bless him.  If you have a chance, be sure to listen to his radio show (it is the best thing on the Internet), Thursday's at 8pm ET on http://www.scadatlantaradio.org

Click Here to listen to the album version of We Come In The Sunshine from Spin Magazine, who named Ooey Gooey... their album of the week.  Note that you will need to s…

Horsemouth - Ghost Wave

from the album Ages (2013)

Ghost Wave is a band from Auckland, New Zealand with a fresh, psychedelic, indie rock sound.  On their debut album Ages, I am most drawn to the song Horsemouth.

The song opens with a guitar riff that recalls the opening to The Beatles' Daytripper.  Once the vocals enter, the sound morphs to something more aligned with The Jesus And Mary Chain.  I really dig this ability to couple 60's psychedelic music with 80's alternative.  On this song, the two are cleverly arranged to provide an effective one-two punch.

The band also has a Velvet Underground sensibility to their music.  This adds a hip, garage nature to the band's sound.  All these elements really come together nicely.

A good friend of mine is the frontman for a critically acclaimed garage band.  He often laments how differentiation in this genre is difficult, making the chances of achieving large scale notoriety remote.  I tend to disagree.  I believe that bands offering strong songwrit…

Kim Chee Taco Man - Kelley Stolz

from the album Double Exposure (2013)

If you are looking to lose yourself in a catchy little indie rock tune, then you should check out Kim Chee Taco Man by Bay-area singer/songwriter Kelley Stolz.

I really dig that Kelley Stolz is a fervent admirer of Echo & The Bunnymen.  In 2001, he released a track for track cover album of Echo's album Crockodials.  On the tune Kim Chee Taco Man, you can hear shades of Echo in the extended introduction.

There are many things about this song that I admire.  The drum beat, the simple and infectious bass line, the rough guitar tones, and the call & response vocals all stand out.  But it is the spirit of this song that resonates with me most.  It contains an element of freedom that I equate with riding fast on the open road, or speeding across a choppy bay.

Songs like this make my emoticon smile.

Click Here to watch the official video to Kim Chee Taco Man.

Moonbath.Brainsalt.A.Holy.Fool - Califone

from the album Stitches (2013)

Some people have a knack for naming things.  This band is no exception.

This Chicago-based experimental rock band derive their name for Califone International, a manufacturer of PAs, microphones, and soundboards commonly found in small churches and school auditoriums.  They first caught my ear three years (or so) ago with a record titled All My Friends Are Funeral Singers.  I get tickled by that title.

On their new record Stitches, I am most drawn to the song Moonbath.Brainsalt.A.Holy.Fool.  Musically, this song has all the tones of an americana song.  However, the arrangement also contains descending keys and feedback that you would associate with rock.  Listening to it, I get the sensation of a series of flashbacks from a solitary drive across the northern plains or the southern desert.

I really dig all the different instruments.  Their tones and the way they fit together is outstanding.  The way that piano, steel guitar, harmonica, and feedback are ea…

Mys - HNNY

from the EP Mys / Kela (2013)

Indie dance needs no vowels.  Just ask HNNY, whose song Mys has caught my ear over the past few weeks.

What I enjoy most about this house release is the way it leverages the vocals to create rich textures.  This grabs you from the introduction, with singing that sounds like something in the back of an old disco mix.

Below this, is a real good dance beat that rises and falls like an inflatable Ziggy Stardust.  I like how the music is minimal and subservient to the vocals without losing any effect.  This is not so common in dance tunes.

Hats off to Johan Cederberg.  If you are in the mood for Swedish House music, this is your ticket.

Click Here to listen to the original version of this track.

Click Here to listen to the Young Marco Remix of Mys.  I enjoy listening to differences between the two records, and how the additional instrumentation and placement of beats changes the vibe.

Ballad Of The Opening Band - Jeff Tweedy

from the single Songs For Slim: Ballad Of The Opening Band / From The Git Go (2013)

You were gonna be a singer on The Hit Parade
Instead you're just a singer warming up the stage
For tomorrow's latest rage

So goes Slim Dunlap's lament for a singer with an unfulfilled destiny, released this week by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy as part of the Songs For Slim collection helping to cover Slim's medical bills following the massive stroke he suffered last year.

The song is standard americana fare, with doleful harmonica shaping the mood above bass, guitars, and drums.  The song is well-suited for Jeff Tweedy's voice with his vocal authenticity delivering the poignant lyrics.  All things coupled together, this tune is an easy, satisfying listen.

I am a big fan of the Songs For Slim.  They represent the best in humanity.

Click Here to listen to Jeff Tweedy's rendition on SoundCloud.

Click Here to listen to Slim Dunlap's original recording of Ballad Of The Opening Band.

Click H…