Wednesday, January 31, 2007
End of the road.
Only so many people can be Carl Perkins or Eddie Cochran. And while Sonny Burgess may not have achieved stardom, he's one of the last original rockabilly cats still standing. In fact, The 75-year-old veteran of Sun Records has a two-night stand at a roadhouse in my town this weekend. Tennessee Border, issued in 1992, was produced by Dave Alvin. "As Far As I Could Go" is just one of the tracks that captures the mysterious resonance of 1950s Memphis.
A goofy album cover is one thing. But to have the two biggest new releases of the week share the same wacky color scheme is extraordinarily odd. Both Norah Jones and Katherine McPhee must be fuming.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
I have a soft spot for old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes rock artists like Michelle Anthony. Her 2006 release frozenstarpalace references the Beatles, Tom Petty and Freedy Johnston. "Ugly Side" sounds an awful lot like Uncle Tupelo's "We've Been Had." And that's precisely why I like it.
The auction of premium seats to concerts by artists with affluent fan bases shouldn't bother me. But it just doesn't feel right. Here's an example.
The cool kids have been pondering the significance of Lil Mama. I suggested to a colleague yesterday that "Lip Gloss" might signal a new music revolution. Or maybe it's just a silly novelty song. It's probably both.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Cuban star Issac Delgado was in the news last week after he defected from Cuba. This analysis suggests the move was motivated more by commerce than by politics. Con Ganas is a 1993 recording made in Caracas. Its slickness indicates that Delgado's sound just might play in Peoria.
Just like "Float On", Modest Mouse's new hit "Dashboard" sounds best on a car radio.
Friday, January 26, 2007
The Police, huh? Like millions of other grizzled geeks, I have so many stories related to the band. My best tale revolves around seeing them in '78 with a 15-year-old girl I met in Denver hours before the show. The mere recollection of that night quickens my pulse and, well... I'll leave the rest to your imagination. If I catch the impending reunion tour this summer, it won't be entirely about nostalgia for teenage kicks. I also want to admire Andy Summers' guitar work. He's issued a series of creative ambient and jazz albums, including the out-of-print Peggy's Blue Skylight. It's a bold remodeling of twelve Charles Mingus compositions. I suspect that this is the exact sound Joni Mitchell has been chasing for much of her career.
Here's a mildly shocking fact- Summers is 64 years old.
I can't decide if the ARChive project is utter insanity or the coolest thing ever. Watch this video and decide for yourself. The ridiculously great The Driftwood Singers Present blog uncovered this video yesterday.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I was monitoring a contemporary country radio station yesterday when I was thrilled to hear an old-fashioned honky tonk song. For a moment I was filled with a renewed hope for the format. I came back to earth when I realized it was just an old Joe Diffie song. It was only a dozen years ago when guys like Diffie and David Ball were radio staples with songs like "Thinkin' Problem," the title track from David Ball's biggest album. This is another George Jones-inspired song from that release.
The Wreckers performed last night at the NHL All-Star Game. The sound was atrocious and the gals looked really lonely on the makeshift stage surrounded by nothing but ice. It was a really bad gig.
My review of the High School Musical road show is here.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
After 314 total posts featuring 314 different artists it's hard to fathom that I've failed to get around to one of my town's biggest musical contributions until today. Heard here in a live radio shot at its artistic peak, the Count Basie Orchestra changed both the way jazz was created and the way it was consumed by fans. The energy is just astounding. All the solos, including efforts by Buck Clayton and Sweets Edison, are so terrific that the lack of a spotlight on Lester Young isn't missed. But it's the pounding of drummer Jo Jones that makes this a spiritual precursor to the likes of Led Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll." This CD is no longer available, but the same material from 1938 may appear on other "collector's" issues from Europe and Japan.
After seeing her perform last night, I predict that within a year Ashley Tisdale will be the biggest star in teen pop music. Not only will she outstrip Hillary Duff, she may become as big as Britney was in '99. Listen to the clip of Tisdale's "He Said She Said" for evidence.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
It seems like every town has at least one really solid band like Boston's Aberdeen City. My locals heroes are The Roman Numerals. A mix of Joy Division, the Cure and early U2, they're the types of bands that the Arctic Monkeys mocked so effectively on Whatever People Say I Am... Even so, The Freezing Atlantic has plenty of hooks, melodies and groove. I hope their forthcoming Steve Lillywhite-produced album is even better.
I received a flyer in the mail yesterday for this concert. "Who is this guy," I wondered. "And why does this theater think that because I bought Doc Watson and Jimmy Webb tickets from them that I'd want to see him." This YouTube video quickly answered those questions. And yes, I'd love to attend.
Monday, January 22, 2007
A new Holmes Brothers album came out last week. What I've heard so far is excellent. That's no surprise, as the New York-based band is one of the rare creative acts categorized as "blues." I've seen them thoroughly baffle unwitting audiences at festivals. Instead of churning out predictable boogie, the Holmes Brothers are just as likely to deliver country, rock, soul and gospel. In other words, American music. Fifteen years ago they released Jubilation for Peter Gabriel's Real World label. This traditional song of faith showcases the ragged but right voices of Wendell and Sherman Holmes and Popsy Dixon. The rest of the album is equally radiant. I'm a believer.
I know from firsthand experience that while getting small record labels' content set up with iTunes, Emusic and other digital distributors can be tedious and time-consuming, it's not terribly difficult. So I don't quite understand the significance or necessity of this development.
I spent much of Sunday listening to the honky tonk of Carl Smith. He joins Marty Robbins and Webb Pierce on this video.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Only a Mama is left. Michelle Phillips is the sole surviving member of the Mamas & the Papas. Dennis "Denny" Gerard Stephen Doherty, the fourth member of the group, died January 19. He was 66. While John Phillips wrote most of the group's material, Doherty had a songwriting credit on one of the biggest Mamas & the Papas biggest hits, "I Saw Her Again Last Night," as well as on the prescient "Got a Feeling". The song from 1966 distills the essence of the popular group's psychedelic folk-based pop. Those comely harmonies are still too much. Heads up, Arcade Fire and Shins fans.
Is there such a thing as being too good at your job? I'm a small part of the reason you're still finding Sugar in cutout bins over ten years after the great band's releases were originally issued. I was on the sales staff of Ryko's distribution company in the mid-90s. Our all-out promotional blitz for Sugar included flying key retail buyers to Minneapolis for a performance and meet-and-greet with Bob Mould. Ryko spent an insane amount of money on promotions at retail, radio and MTV. Sugar was the biggest of big priorities and guys like me were under enormous pressure to load our customers up. Too much wasn't enough. Needless to say, this campaign failed to make Sugar a household name, and today it's not difficult to buy the entire catalog for a sawbuck. A big part of the reason we were able to ship such large quantities of Sugar was the music's quality. Even this b-side, from the appropriately titled Besides, is first-rate. On "Try Again," Mould recalls the harrowing acoustic sound of Workbook. Don't miss the feedback squalls that conclude the song.
I've made two minor changes starting with today's post. I switched to zShare to allow a more streamlined way to preview MP3s. The links also now open in new windows.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Beauty is fleeting.
This unassuming duet between two musical giants ranks among my favorite pieces of music. The combination of Belgian composer, whistler and harmonica master Toots Thielemans and Brazilian composer and pop star Caetano Veloso is painfully ravishing. Much of The Brasil Project, Thieleman's 1992 collaboration with that country's top artists, rivals this sublime brilliance.
The bluesy roots rock of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals turned a lot of heads in 2006. I featured them back in July. This year the band may reach aging Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell fans in addition to firmly establishing themselves on the Bonnaroo and Wakarusa circuits. This live video and corresponding MP3 of "Treat Me Right" capture the essence of the band.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Ronnie Baker Brooks' music probably sounds great while you're headed for Sturgis on your Harley, wind in your hair and a companion hanging on to your beer belly. Unfortunately, that's just not me. (Except for the stomach part.) I remained unmoved when I saw Lonnie Brooks' son perform last summer at a blues festival. This heavy, post-Hendrix, post-SRV sludge blues just doesn't move me. Even so, I bought Brooks' recent The Torch a few weeks ago with the hope that it could win me over. It didn't. Maybe it's just me- Brooks is nominated for the "Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year" by the Blues Foundation.
I've always considered Norah Jones to be a beautiful woman, but this new look has me completely dumbfounded.
A critic called me out on my Alice Coltrane post. There Stands the Glass trainspotters might be interested in the exchange.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Alice Coltrane's take on one of her husband's most familiar compositions is from the out-of-print World Galaxy. I pulled it from the revelatory Red Hot On Impulse, which is also out-of-print. The performance features many of the elements that characterized her music- deep spirituality, ground-breaking musical fusions, funky keyboard work and inevitably, the vast shadow cast by Coltrane's late husband. It's utterly astounding. Alice Coltrane died January 12. She was 69.
Michael Brecker died January 13. He was 57. A top session musician, his exhaustive discography is ridiculously diverse. Aerosmith, Regina Belle, Billy Joel, Pat Metheny, Charles Mingus, Lou Reed, Horace Silver and James Taylor are among the artists who hired him. And then there's guitarist Jack Wilkins. Alongside Jack DeJohnette, Eddie Gomez and brother Randy, Brecker contributed to a 1977 album by Wilkins. Michael's solo comes thirty seconds into this track from their 2000 Reunion session. Although contributing to pop albums probably paid his bills, his most lasting musical legacy may be his impeccable jazz work. This is my favorite of the many Brecker videos available at YouTube. He just tears it up.
Friday, January 12, 2007
I've never smoked opiates, but I imagine the high must be similar to the way I feel when listening to Lester Young's vintage ballad work. His languid, thick-tongued playing on "A Ghost of a Chance" is intoxicating. The raw soul and passion almost overwhelm me. He's backed on this 1944 date by Kansas Citians Count Basie, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson and Shadow Wilson.
Oh snap! Bowling For Soup's rethinking of Fergie's "London Bridge" is most amusing. Watch it here.
Even after hearing it a dozen times, I never switch from a station when "06 Rap Up" by Skillz comes on. Lines like "Dick Cheney got crazy with a 12 gauge" continue to make me laugh.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Class is over.
I endorsed VH1's new reality show featuring white rappers earlier this week. A large part of the show's appeal is seeing MC Search of 3rd Bass again. The out-of-print The Cactus Cee/D was issued the same year as Paul's Boutique. Both were sandwiched by It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet. Lengthy samples weren't so difficult to clear back in '89, and "Wordz of Wisdom" is constructed on Gary Wright's "Love Is Alive." It's by turns funky and funny. "I'm a slick stupid scientist!"
My friend Lee Ingalls posted a terrific story about the late Kansas City jazz musician Russ Long.
If you haven't already done so, download Liberation by Talib Kweli and Madlib. It's smart, hilarious and free.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Now I feel nothing.
The origin of this Screamfeeder CD is a mystery to me. I uncovered last week while I was in a short-lived organizational frenzy. Maybe I salvaged it from a dollar bin. Perhaps someone once gave it to me for review purposes. It was with no small amount of skepticism that I finally slammed it into the box. And leapin' Radio City- it's first-rate power pop. A little research reveals that the Australian band has a zillion releases. A couple additional songs are available for download at Screamfeeder's MySpace page. None quite have the Go-Betweens-meet-The Chills charm of "Now I Don't Feel So Bad."
My faith in the long-term viabilty of traditional acoustic jazz was restored by Roy Hargrove last Saturday night. My review is here.
Logo, the gay and lesbian-oriented television network, was recently added to my cable system. I monitored their hour-long video program last night. The playlist is far more interesting than the regular rotation on the traditional music channels. I saw Gym Class Heroes, Fall Out Boy, Fantasia, Catie Curtis and The Gossip. Not bad.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Eyes are closed.
Sneaky Pete Kleinow, the multi-instrumentalist renowned for his steel guitar work, died January 6. He was 72. He had a knack for complementing a recording without overwhelming it with unnecessary showiness. He's best known for his association with Gram Parsons but he made hundreds of recordings. I decided to feature Kleinow on a lesser-known work from this 1995 release. David Olney's songs could be described as a savvy blend of Parson's cosmic country and Randy Newman's unique literary perspective. Kleinow's distinctive melancholy sound on this sensitive song serves as a fitting sendoff.
Because Florida was running away with the championship game and the battle between Bobby Knight and Bobby Huggins on ESPN was unspeakably ugly, I turned to VH1's The (White) Rapper Show. That's some funny stuff. "Ghetto Revival!"
A prediction: The music industry's sales of physical product this week will be near the lowest levels seen in the Soundscan era. The stores are empty, and aside from the Dreamgirls soundtrack, there's nothing to excite the mainstream customer base.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
I kept tabs on deaths in the music world throughout 2006. A partial list of the most notable passings follows. Among them is Johnny Jenkins. He's best known as Otis Redding's guitarist. Jenkins is heard to great effect on this take of "Come To Me" from Remember Me, an astounding collection of previously unreleased material. Appropriately for my purposes here, Otis does his best James Brown impression near the song's conclusion.
Bryan Harvey- House of Freaks
Lou Rawls- vocalist
Barry Cowsill- of the Cowsills
Lester "Wizard" King- Kansas City bluesman
Bob Feldman- Red House Records founder and owner
Bob Weinstock- founder of Prestige Records
Wilson Pickett- soul giant
Janette Carter- of the Carter Family
Gene McFadden- Philly soul artist, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now"
Sherman Ferguson- jazz drummer, of Catalyst
Thomas "Pig Champion"- of Poison Idea
Milt Abel- Kansas City jazz bassist
Dan Conn- Kansas City music retailer
Christopher D. Riley, aka 747- Kansas City-area rap artist
J Dilla- hip hop producer
Elton Dean- British saxophonist, of Soft Machine
Ray Barretto- Latin jazz and salsa giant
Bill Cowsill- of the Cowsills
Professor X- of X-Clan
Jesse Taylor- guitarist for Joe Ely
Cindy Walker- country songwriter
Buck Owens- country legend
Roccio Durcal- actress and singer popular as Mexican ranchero singer
Nikki Sudden- of the Swell Maps
Pete Wells- Rose Tattoo guitarist
Jackie McLean- jazz saxophonist
Buddy Blue- Beat Farmers founder
Gene Pitney- rock'n'roll and country vocalist
Proof- of D12
June Pointer- of the Pointer Sisters
Rosalita Fernandez- San Antonio's first lady of song
Grant McLennan- of the Go-Betweens
John Hicks- jazz pianist
Johnnie Wilder, Jr.- lead singer of Heatwave
Freddie Garrity- Freddie and the Dreamers singer
Billy Walker- star of the Grand Ole Opry
Rimitti- Algerian Rai singer
Hamza El Din- Nubian oud player
Vince Welnick- of the Tubes and Grateful Dead
Billy Preston- soul, funk and rock star
Hilton Ruiz- jazz pianist
Charles Smith- founder and guitarist of Earth, Wind & Fire
Arif Mardin- Atlantic Records producer
Johnny Jenkins- guitarist for Otis Redding
Syd Barrett- of Pink Floyd
Michael O 'Domhnaill- of Nightnoise and the Bothy Band
Bill Miller- Frank Sinatra's pianist
Floyd Dixon- blues man
Rufus Harley- jazz bagpiper
Jesse Mae Hemphill- blues guitarist
Arthur Lee- of Love
Duke Jordan- jazz pianist
Barbara George- New Orleans singer, "I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)"
Mike Douglas- television talk show host and crooner
Joseph Hill- of reggae band Culture
Bruce Gary- drummer for the Knack
David Schnauffer- mountain dulcimer
Maynard Ferguson- jazz trumpeter
Gregory Hickman-Williams- Kansas City jazz vocalist
Ron Rooks- owner of Kansas City's Music Exchange
Jumpin' Gene Simmons- rockabilly singer, Hi and Sun labels
Pip Pyle- drummer for Gong, Hatfield and the North, National Health
Dewey Redman- jazz saxophonist
Bennie Smith- St. Louis blues guitarist
Al Casey- session guitarist for the likes of Nancy Sinatra, Beach Boys, etc.
Danny Flores- of the Champs' "Tequila" fame
Don Walser- the yodelling "Pavarotti of the Plains"
Etta Baker- Piedmont guitarist
Henry Townsend- St. Louis bluesman
Jamie Lyons- vocalist for Music Explosion, "Little Bit O' Soul"
Raymond "Boz" Burrell- of Bad Company and King Crimson
Freddy Fender- rock, country and Latin star
Sandi West- drummer from the Runaways
Lebo Mathosa- South African pop star
Rogerio Duprat- Brazilian Tropicalia arranger for Gilberto Gil, Oz Mutantes
Marijohn Wilkin- cowriter of "Long Black Veil," wrote "Cut Across Shorty"
Ian Rilen- of Rose Tattoo and (Australian) X
Paul Mauriat- French conductor
Ruth Brown- R&B legend
Gerald Levert- R&B singer
Art Jackson- Kansas City jazz saxophonist in The Scamps
Robert Jr. Lockwood- blues man
Anita O'Day- jazz vocalist
H-Bomb Ferguson- eccentric blues shouter
Mariska Veres- Shocking Blue singer, "Venus"
Jay McShann- jazz and blues innovator
Freddie Marsden- drummer for Gerry & The Pacemakers
Kenny Davern- jazz clarinetist
Homesick James- blues man
Ahmet Ertegun- Atlantic Records executive
Braghuina- Brazilian composer
James Brown- icon
Martha Tilton- big band vocalist
Russ Long- Kansas City jazz pianist and composer
Thursday, January 04, 2007
My car broke down on New Year's Day. And that was just the start of my misery in 2006. The specter of death and unrelenting chaos were constant companions. The apocalyptic cynicism of this P.O.S. song reflects my state of mind during much of the year. His startling Audition is #12 on the list below.
It wasn't all bad. Many of my highlights in 2006 were music-related. I took in almost 100 concerts, ranging from massive arena productions to small club shows. In between all those late nights I listened to thousands of hours of recorded music. These are my forty favorite new releases. The links are for regional artists.
In spite of my predilection for the genres, I uncovered very little new jazz, country and other roots-oriented musics that moved me. Instead, it was contemporary hip hop that resonated most. Hits by the likes of T.I. and E-40 felt fresh, genuine and relevant. My top twenty songs of the year, along with my twenty favorite shows, are listed here.
Even so, I most often found solace in the soothing, feminine brilliance of Cibelle, Cat Power and Juana Molina. They were among the women who helped me get through the year.
Here's to a fresh start in '07.
1. Juana Molina- Son
2. Cat Power- The Greatest
3. The Hold Steady- Boys and Girls In America
4. Ghostface Killah- Fishscale
5. Outkast- Idlewild
6. The Architects- Revenge
7. Gregory Hickman-Williams- Passages
8. Willie Nelson- You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
9. Cibelle- The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves
10. Arctic Monkeys- Whatever People Same I Am, That's What I'm Not
11. Ornette Coleman- Sound Grammar
12. P.O.S.- Audition
13. Elvis Costello- My Flame Burns Blue
14. Flaming Lips- At War With the Mystics
15. Beyonce- B'Day
16. Centromatic- Fort Recovery
17. Johnny Cash- American 5: A Hundred Highways
18. Gomez- How We Operate
19. The New Tragedies- VanityVanity
20. Bob Dylan- Modern Times
21. Art Brut- Bang Bang Rock & Roll
22. Gary Sivils- Forever Took Too Long
23. Joan Osborne- Pretty Little Stranger
24. The New Amsterdams- Story Like a Scar
25. Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood- Out Louder
26. Alan Jackson- Precious Memories
27. Roman Numerals- s/t
28. Isobel Campbell- Milkwhite Sheets
29. Antonio Carlos Jobim- Inedito
30. Brett Dennen- So Much More
31. Belle & Sebastian- The Life Pursuit
32. T.I.- King
33. Josh Ritter- The Animal Years
34. Los Lobos- The Town and the City
35. Tech N9ne- Everready
36. Yonder Mountain String Band- s/t
37. Catfish Haven- Please Come Back
38. The Changes- Today Is Tonight
39. Joseph Arthur- Nuclear Daydream
40. My Morning Jacket- Okonokos
I'd be lying if I claimed to understand even a fraction of what's happening on this Mexican cumbia by Fito Olivares. The room starts spinning every time I listen to its accordion, whistle, wacky vocal and absurd percussion effects. All I know for certain is that its propulsive zaniness fills me with joy. The 2002 release appears to be available here.
Del Reeves died on New Year's Day. His "The Girl On the Billboard" has made me smile since I was a toddler.
I try not to shoot fish in a barrel, especially when the old lunker is the once-brilliant Rod Stewart. Even so, I'm compelled to share this anecdote from my retail job. A elegant matron asked me to help her with her purchase earlier this week. "I can't decide which to get. Should I go with this Barry Manilow CD," she asked. "Or do you think I'd prefer this Rod Stewart CD with the same songs?"
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Koko Taylor's "Queen of the Chicago Blues" title really meant something once. Her incessant touring and strong releases made her the genre's top star during the blues boom of the late '80s and early '90s. I love this soul rave-up from 1965. Taylor's trademark rawness battles with the production's pop trappings. The self-titled debut is out of print.
This interesting USA Today chart lists the top radio songs of 2006. Mary J. Blige, who has obvious connections to Koko Taylor's legacy, tops the list with this song.
I made a point of watching the Orange Bowl's halftime show with Taylor Hicks and Gladys Knight last night. I root for Hicks, so I regret reporting that the two-song performance was miserable. Hicks' harmonica (over)playing and bleached blues sound made me long for Blues Traveler. That's not good. Knight seemed embarrassed to be there.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
"Days go by so fast it seems to me/we're never really free." So begins "Save That Time," a gorgeous song about treasuring romance as time cruelly marches onward. It was written by Russ Long, a staple of the Kansas City jazz scene for decades. The pianist died on New Year's Eve. He was 67. I will always associate Long with his longstanding gigs at the city's nicest hotel lobbies. He'd unobtrusively play familiar standards as businessmen downed cocktails. But it was easy to discern his serious jazz chops and to enjoy his humorous asides. While many Kansas Citians will have fond memories of the man, I suspect that his permanent musical legacy will be "Save That Time." It has all the resonance of a "September Song." It's been recorded by many jazz artists and will eventually be picked up by the likes of Josh Groban and Michael Buble. The definitive reading was recently recorded by Long and the late Gregory Hickman-Williams. This odd out-of-print instrumental version by bassist Charles Fambrough gives the song an upbeat reading. That's Edward Simon on piano.
I recently stumbled across this video by Kansas City band The Architects. The video doesn't match the song's power, but it has additional meaning for me because I'm all-too-familiar with its setting.
If I was to ever embark on a music-themed cruise, it'd be something like this.