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Showing posts from February, 2014

Empty Me Out - Liz Vice

from the album There's A Light (2014)

Empty Me Out is a record that I really dig.  It represents one of those magical occasions where musicians, engineers, and producers come together to execute their craft with a delicate precision and reverence to the song.  Examples of this achievement are all too infrequent.  Carole King's Tapestry is an excellent example.

This result is all the more improbable when you consider that There's A Light is a debut album in the unheralded sub genre of Neo-Gospel.  Here Liz Vice creates a masterpiece that captures the essence of great 1970's analog R&B and Soul vibes and mixes them with a light Gospel theme.

I have long held that the two essential elements of a great song are the songwriting and vocal performance.  This song delivers on both.  Liz Vice sings with a subtle confidence and integrity that I find mesmerizing.  The harmonies are also perfect, as is the musicianship.  The tone of the keyboards, the drumming, the subliminal b…

Soldier - Tamanya Waka

from the single Soldier (2014)

Once upon a time, I dropped into an "after the bars" party hosted by a guy named Buzz.  He had great hair and wore a shark's tooth necklace.  As was often the case in the days of physical media, I ultimately found myself thumbing thru his record collection.

I had never seen these albums before.  There was Protest by Bunny Wailer, Police & Thieves by Junior Marvin, and entire catalogues of Third World, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and of course, Bob Marley.  I soon became a regular at his place.

He taught me how to dance to a reggae tune.  "Just pretend you are dancing backwards, mon" he would say.  We had great times hanging out and listening to music.  I turned him on to bands like The Clash and The Specials.

Unfortunately, he died in a motorcycle accident way too young.

It is hard for me not to think of him when I hear a good roots reggae tune.  I can see him lighting up and jamming to the groove.  The deeper the better.

When I …

Call Me - St. Paul & The Broken Bones

from the album Half The City (2014)

The first time I heard an Alabama Shakes record, I sat in awe of Brittany Howard's vocals.  She has a rare talent, able to strike nerves within me that few singers can reach.

Two years later, another band from Birmingham, Alabama has had a similar effect.  St. Paul & the Broken Bones are a southern soul band with a frontman whose voice simply gives me chills.  Paul Janeway has a style that recalls icons like Otis Redding and Al Green.  When I listen to the places his voice can go, I am in utter disbelief.  This dude can sing soul music.

The other obvious standouts in this band are the horn and rhythm sections.  They are rock solid.  But the instrument that really blows me away is the guitar.  Hats off to Browan Lollar.  While he hangs out in the background for most of this song, when he steps forward his tone and technique are killer.  This is true across the entire album.  Wow.

Completing the Alabama Shakes association, this record is produ…

Wine Lips - Lydia Loveless

from the album Somewhere Else (2014)

I am not sure if I have ever written about the importance of a song's theme.  There are two key elements, simplicity and universality.  A simple theme allows the listener to understand what you are singing about.  Universality allows the listener to relate.  Over the years, this formula has produced many hit records.

Desire is perhaps the most successful universal theme in a song.  Everybody wants something. If that something is simple - and creates a lasting visual image - people will relate.  The Beatles rose to fame singing I Want To Hold Your Hand.  The Ramones sang Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.  Simple themes of desire that create lasting visual images.

The song Wine Lips by Lydia Loveless fits this formula splendidly.  Consider the chorus:

Wine Lips
Wine Lips
I want to kiss your wine lips

Anyone who has ever loved a wino can relate to this one.  The chorus actually creates more than an image, it evokes a taste.

Making this Americana / Country…

Código de Barra - Bajofondo

from the album Presente (2013)

Comprised of musicians from Argentina and Uruguay, Bajofondo play a brand of music called Electrotango.  It is a fascinating crease in the musical spectrum, breathing new life into an amazing - but aging - musical genre.  I always dig that.

I first tuned into this band when I discovered an instrumental version of their song Pa' Bailar in a NYC hotel lounge a few years ago.  The DJ was all about this band, urging me to check them out.  Glad I did.

Over the past week, my musical interests have been gravitating towards South America (perhaps because it is summer there).  This led me to check back into Bajofondo to see what was up.  That is when I first heard the song Código de Barra.  This song has great orchestration over a punching beat.  When the strings subside, the bandoneon takes over.  This instrument - named in the mid 1800's after German instrument dealer Heinrich Band - is in the same general family as the accordion, but produces a specifi…

Balança (Não Pode Parar!) - Bossacucanova

from the album Our Kind Of Bossa (2014)

Bossacucanova.  I just dig saying their name.  Bossacucanova.

Now take a listen to this groovy ass tune.  If your anything like me, you'll be dancing around the house in no time.

This song is great for anytime from cooking breakfast on a Sunday morning to chilling out on the back porch with your funky friends in the wee hours.  Hell, you could even hear this song in an Austin Powers movie.

Not speaking Portuguese, I just dig the music and the vocal stylings.  Every instrument stands out.  Piano.  Bass.  Drums.  Horns.  Cool Chick Vocals.  What a vibe.

This is my favorite song of the year, thus far.

Click Here to watch the song played in the band's Brazilian sound lair.  I would love to hang out there.

Off The Main Drag - Leif Vollebekk

from the album North Americana (2014)

I have a fascination with the music of desolation.  The songs that resonate with you while driving across the northern plains.  When the space in the music is only surpassed by the space in the landscape.

It is kind of like when you lay in bed in the middle of the night and can hear dozen little sounds.  Things you would never hear during the bustle of the day.

In music, it gives each sound a bit more meaning.  The subtleties of a tone, the inflection in a voice, and the meaning of a lyric.  They all weigh more when the music has space.

I quite dig the new Leif Volkebekk album North Americana, particularly the song Off The Main Drag. This folk song is Dylanesque in its simple arrangement of acoustic guitar, harmonica, and vocals.  This creates a space that allows your mind to wander.  And somehow, it also creates a sense of warmth that I find fascinating.

The power of this song also lies in its storytelling and visual imagery.  Each line reminds m…

Crucify The Commodore - Hailer

from the album El Cosmico (2014)

Hailer is a rock band from Sydney, Australia.  The name has two definitions that I could determine: 1) One that greets, acclaims, or catches attention (as in hailing a taxi cab) 2) A bullhorn.

I stumbled across the song Tina the other day on SoundCloud.  It instantly struck a chord with me.  I believe it was something in the vocals stylings.  You see, I had recently caught a Robyn Hitchcock gig and this song shares some of the quirky visual imagery that I most admire Mr. Hitchcock for.

As I dove deeper in this group, I discovered their forthcoming release - El Cosmico - on SoundCloud.  It was amazing that this was the same band.  This record has a harder edge.  Exploring their entire catalogue, it seems that there is an evolution with each record.  That is a trait common to great bands.

I particularly dig the song Crucify The Commodore.  It has an intensity that I dig.

Click Here to listen to Crucify The Commodore on SoundCloud.

Metropolis - Service Bells

from the single Metropolis (2014)

As I wait not-so-patiently for spring, I dream of driving around my fair city with the top down cranking tunes.  When that day comes, I am sure that Metropolis by Service Bells will be in the mix.

Service Bells are an Australian outfit who create an early alternative vibe.  Their music is very inviting. I imagine that anyone out there who plays bass, guitar, or drums would want to grab their instrument and join right in.

On the track Metropolis, I am drawn to several things beginning with the drumming.  I dig the thud of a good rock beat.  The vocals are really fantastic, evoking an 80's sensibility.  Also, be sure to listen to the backing vocals that provide a subtle lift to the tune that is very effective.

In general, this is a song that simply feels good to listen to.

Click Here to listen to Metropolis on SoundCloud.

Blame It On Me - John Butler Trio

from the album Flesh & Blood (2014)

For me, there is nothing like a really good three piece rock band.  Within this framework, bass, guitar, and drums must each hold down their end of the bargain, while the absence of other instruments allows them to expand their performances and treat listeners to all the goodies in their individual bag of tricks.

John Butler Trio is a three piece band that I dig.  These Australians they play a rootsy brand of jam rock that I particularly like listening to when driving on the Interstate.  During these times, my mind has a tendency to wander and I have an inclination to speed.  This record fuels both.

I am drawn to the song Blame It On Me.  It starts with the bass playing of Byron Luiters.  This cat knows how to lay down a groove.  Sometimes, when I get lost in the jam, his lines remind me of Paul Simonon of the Clash.  It must be the raga thing.  Next is the rock solid beat of drummer Nicky Bomba.  It has that same definitive strength that I equa…

Ride On (Fight On) - Little Axe

from the album The Wolf That House Built (1994)

I am becoming increasingly obsessed with the future of the blues, asking myself "Who will save the blues?"  Who knows, I might just do it myself.

I was discussing this the other day with my buddy, Richie Beans.  He shared a story about going into a tiny record store, many moons ago, where the stoner owner behind the counter turned him on to a record called The Wolf That House Built.  It is effectively dubbed out blues music underpinned with house vibes.

The Wolf, of course, is the late, great Howlin Wolf.   This record weaves sampled bits of pieces of Howlin' Wolf throughout.  It is incredible to here him in this modern context.  If only he were alive today.

The album is the brainchild of Skip McDonald (aka Little Axe).  Previously unknown to me, this dude has had one hell of a musical journey.  He first came to prominence as a session player for Sugar Hill records (the first great Rap & Hip-Hop label).  He actually pla…

Black Beehive - Big Head Todd & The Monsters

from the album Black Beehive (2014)

Until last year, I did not have any Big Head Todd stories to share.  Now I have two.

The first one began at a Holly Williams show where the sponsoring radio station offered two free tickets to a concert where four bands - Soul Asylum, Matthew Sweet, The Wailers, and Big Head Todd & The Monsters - would each play their best selling album in its entirety.  The winner had to answer a music trivia question.  I whispered the answer to my lady friend, who won the tickets.

When the concert date arrived, I was stuck out of town and she invited one of her best friends.  They drank a lot.  By the time Big Head Todd came on stage to close the show they were loaded.  While my lady friend was blabbing to the folks next to her, her girlfriend jumped on stage and started dancing beside Big Head Todd.  When the county sheriff walked to the center of the stage to drag her off, she punched him in the head and wound up in jail.  Tough night.

A few months later, my…

Sunday Hotel - Moodymann

from the album Moodymann (2014)

Moodymann is the pseudonym of Kenny Dixon Junior.  He is a Detroit-based DJ who has forged a following by infusing soul into his electronic brand of house music.

His new album consists of 27 great songs.  My favorite is Sunday Hotel.  It is wild how fast I get lost in the pulsing groove.  It is perfect music for that SoHo lounge I regularly visit in my mind.

But the thing I really dig about the song is that it mixes in Muddy Waters.  The hook line to the song is Muddy singing "Oh yeah.  Everything's gonna be alright this morning."  Blues addicts will instantly recognize this as the introduction to the classic Mannish Boy.  It is freaky how good it sounds over this modern groove.

Last week, I was blogging about how someone needed to reenergize the blues by infusing it into more modern music.  One bluesman who reads this blog posted a link on his band's Facebook page.  This drew criticism from some blues lovers, but hearing this song by …

Ohio - Patty Griffin

from the album American Kid (2013)

Meet me in the evening where the river is low
Meet me on the waters of the Ohio

These first lines open the song Ohio by Patty Griffin.  She is an incredibly gifted singer-songwriter who's breadth expands from playing folk in Boston coffee houses to winning a 2011 Grammy award for Best Traditional Gospel Album for her splendid record Downtown Church.

For me, Ohio exists on an almost mystical plain that is created with amazing craftsmanship.  Do yourself a favor and listen to this song three or four times in a row.  Each time, listen to a different element.  You won't be disappointed.

Focus on the guitars first.  Listen to the two guitars play the introduction.  Listen to the flanged effect that creates the mystic vibe.  Listen to the occasional hard plucked string.  Listen to the guitar runs that sound like water in a springtime brook.  Listen to the use of harmonics.  It is all amazing.

Next listen, check out the lead vocal by Patty Griffin.  L…

Living In a Dream - KBong

from the EP Rising (2014)

Over the past few years, I have grown wearisome of musical genres and have begun filing songs based on my activities when listening to them.  Now I have great playlists with names like "Spreadsheet Tunes" and "Cooking On A Sunday Morning."  One of my most popular is "Time To Chill."  Lord knows where I might be without it.

This week, I added the song Living In A Dream by KBong to the chill mix.  It has that downtempo vibe that helps me relax.  The music consists of three basic elements:  a drum machine with a cool effect, a synthesizer track that gives a sense of orchestration, and an acoustic guitar.  The texture of the acoustic guitar does a nice job of juxtaposing the other two electronic tracks and gives the song a welcome welcome warmth.

The vocals have a nice meter and play well with the music.  As the title infers, the lyrics are about living in a dream and serve as a calling to some kind of higher existence.

But most of a…

Teardrops Over You - Rhonda Vincent

from the album Only Me (2014)

Last fall, I attended a banquet held at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.  It began with an open bar and a chance to tour the museum.  Three items from the tour really stood out in my mind.  First, was getting to see part of the set to the TV show Hee Haw.  I loved that.  Second, was a tribute to the Bakersfield sound popularized by Buck Owens.  It gave me a greater appreciation of its importance and was inspiring.  Last, were all of the displays of stage costumes worn by country legends over the years.  It is amazing how small most of these people were!  I guess it is true that the littlest birds sing the prettiest tunes.

When we finally settled down for the meal, it was in the physical Hall of Fame, which is not actually a hall but a rotunda, with the words "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" carved into an upper ring.  As you sit there, the plaques on the wall stare at you.  Hank, Johnny, Patsy, George, Loretta.  You get it.

I…