Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

2016 Year End Picks

January 1, 2017

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A great place to get a pulse on what music critics, websites and blogs are thinking about at the end of the year is Metacritic, which compiles all those year end lists and gives an aggregate “best of” list based on the number of #1, #2 and other votes received by an album.  You can find it here and as of today, the top 10 are:

1 Blackstar by David Bowie
2 Lemonade by Beyoncé
3 Blonde by Frank Ocean
4 A Seat at the Table by Solange
5 A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
6 Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
7 The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
8 We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
9 Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
10 My Woman by Angel Olsen

I wrote about a few of these albums this year (Bowie, Radiohead, ATCQ), and I’ve listened now to all 10.  Life of Pablo and Blonde have some really good moments, but overall as albums I don’t think either deserves to be in a top 10.  Lemonade deserves a spot in a top 10, as the trio of 6 Inch (with it’s great use of an Isaac Hayes sample), Freedom and Formation are some of the best pop R&B of the past few years.

Nick Cave’s album has an unfortunate story to go with his melancholy album, but I thought this album was rather boring.  As I mentioned in my post about the death of Leonard Cohen, I hadn’t really given his music the attention I probably should have.  I listened to his last album he put out months before his death and wow, it’s good.  Appropriately titled You Want It Darker, it’s somber, dark, but really good.  I definitely would put it above the Cave album.  It’s ranked 12 on the Metacritic aggregate list.

As you know from my review of ATCQ’s album, it’s the number 1 hip hop album of the year.  Coloring Book is nice, but ATCQ beats it.  Caveat, I haven’t listened to the new Run The Jewels yet, but I doubt I’ll like it more than the Tribe album.

I was really surprised by the new Angel Olson album.  It was more rock, less folk and there’s hints of some PJ Harvey in there that I really liked.  Check out the Song Exploder podcast where she breaks down the album’s best track (and one of my favorite songs of the year) Shut Up Kiss Me for some insights on where she was coming from in making this new album.

Here’s some other albums and songs I really liked in 2016, including a few you might have missed.

Rock

  1. Andrew Bird, Are You Serious. Normally a Bird album would go under the Folk heading, but here Bird does rock just enough for me to put this in the proper Rock category.  The title track is one of my favorite songs of the year and his duet with Fiona Apple immediately before that is really good too.
  2. Okkervil River, Away.  Another band that sometimes straddles the line between rock, folk and country.  Only 9 songs, but only one clocks in at less than 5 minutes and the 7+ minute opus, Frontman In Heaven, was another favorite of mine this year.
  3. Allah-Las, Calico Review.  Garage rock band from Los Angeles that has a laid back sound but just enough bite to keep you coming back for more.
  4. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive.  This one is in my top 5 for sure this year, can’t understand why it didn’t get love from the critics in year-end lists.  I wrote about it when it came out here.

Folk/Country

  1. Blind Pilot, And Then Like Lions.  A six piece from Portland Oregon, straddles the line between folk and pop.  While no really transcendent songs here, a quality set of songs that reminds me of a less bombastic Local Natives.
  2. Jim James, Eternally Even.  Love James’ voice and so he can usually do no wrong in my book.  A good group of songs that get a little funky in spots with some nice horn/key parts.
  3. El Perro De Mar, Kokoro.  Ever since hearing her cover God Only Knows, always on the lookout for new music by the Swedish singer.  She put out a new album this year, a pleasant series of happy tunes.  My favorite is Hard Soft Hard.
  4. Cass McCombs, Mangy Love.  Packs a lot of different styles into this album, from sweet balladry to blues rock stomp.  Like James, a great voice that I always enjoy.  Rancid Girl is a standout.
  5. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.  He followed up his excellent 2014 album with another great one.  He throws in elements of psychedelia, folk, rock, and country into his songs and he has a quintessential “country” voice in the mold of Waylon Jennings.  Covering Nirvana’s In Bloom could have been a travesty, but it works, particularly in the context of the songs around it.

R&B/Pop

  1. James Blake, The Colour In Anything.  Wrote about this earlier in the year here.  Surprised this fell out of the top 10 and even top 25 aggregate Metacritic list.  It’s a little long, but some really beautiful songs.
  2. Amber Arcades, Fading Lines.  Lovers of modern Swedish/Norwegian pop will like the vocal styling and melodies of Annelotte de Graaf as Amber Arcades.  This is her debut full length album.
  3. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound.  While I haven’t been as high on some of his previous albums, I liked this one a lot and more than the Frank Ocean album.  This clocked in at 20 on the MetaCritic aggregate list.
  4. Jessy Lanza, Oh No.  Saw her a few years ago at SXSW and enjoyed her brand of synth pop.  This is her second full length.  It’s been nominated for the Polaris prize so it’s getting attention overseas.  An enjoyable album that pairs well with the Junior Boys album I mention below.

Soul/Funk

  1. Charles Bradley, Changes.  Another very good album from soul revivalist Charles Bradley and a rotation of backing bands. Ain’t It A Sin in the middle of the album is one of my favorite songs of the year and he does his best to keep his title of “closest thing living to James Brown” with Good To Be Back Home.
  2. Dam Funk, DJ Kicks.  If you are a fan of Dam Funk’s new style funk, this is a good way to figure out where he’s coming from and who he is trying to emulate.  A solid collection of funk tracks.
  3. Michael Kiwanuka, Love & Hate.  The stone heart and black background are a good visual representation of this album’s sound.  Kiwanuka’s soulful voice is used to melancholy effect here and Place I Belong is one of my favorite songs of the year.  This album was tied for #24 on Metacritic’s list.

Hip Hop

  1. Aesop Rock, The Impossible Kid.  Veteran MC put out his seventh album.  Still brings his dense lyricism and a good collection of dark beats.  Doesn’t hit the highs of something like Life of Pablo, but a much more consistent album.
  2. BadBadNotGood, IV.  Not a proper hip hop album, but the Canadian jazz group does have several singers and rappers provide vocals over their loping, modern jazz.  The collab here with Colin Stetson, Confessions Part II, is a stand-out.

Electronic

  1. The Orb, Alpine.  A three song EP of takes on alpine morning, evening and dawn, it’s a relaxing but engaging record with definite Eastern influences.  A nice soundtrack for you hikers out there as you drive out to your next trailhead in the early morning.
  2. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat.  Wrote about this one earlier in the year here.  Add track 8, And It’s Forever, to my favorites from this album of house-based dance music.
  3. Aphex Twin, Cheetah EP.  Usually enjoy anything new that Richard James puts out and this EP should have kept his fans happy.  Reminiscent of 2014’s Syro if not a little more straightforward.  CIRKLON 3 is a fun track with a little bit of a funk breakdown thrown in.
  4. DJ Shadow, The Mountain Will Fall.  Surprised this one didn’t get much love either in end of year lists.  No, it’s not Endtroducing, but it’s on par with Private Press and the Run The Jewels collaboration Nobody Speak is everything you’d want out of those three getting together.

2015 Year End Picks

December 28, 2015

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Haven’t posted in awhile, but still been listening to a bunch of albums this year.  Here’s some of my favorites from this year.  Quite a few have been on best of lists I’ve looked at, but there’s a few that I liked that I haven’t noticed on these lists so I focused on those.  I’ll split it up by genre.

Rock

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color.  Brittany Howard has got one of the best voices in rock today and her and the band cover a lot of ground in this album, with no missteps across the 12 tracks.  My two favorite tracks are Gimme All Your Love, a screaming stomp of a song, and Miss You, an almost folk-y ballad.

Budos Band – Burnt Offering.  While the Budos Band has produced several great soul instrumental albums, this year they decided to take a chance and make a “rock” record.  It’s not as far a stretch as you’d think.  A groove is a groove, whether it’s R&B or metal and Budos Band can groove.  The Sticks is my favorite song and the whole album is decidedly rocking.

Built to Spill – Untethered Moon.  One of those bands I’d always heard and read about, but just never spent the time to focus on, I happened onto their new release and decided to give it a spin.   I immediately went from this record to their earlier recordings, which I think is a testament to this record, which was their first in 6 years.  Living Zoo is a good representative of the album and the band’s sound in general, lots of guitars and Doug Bartsch’s off-beat, nasally lyrics.

Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home.  The all-female band from Seattle put out the rock album I listened to the most this year.  I think it reminded me of another band I loved in 2014, Parquet Courts.  They don’t quite get the same pace as Parquet Courts, but they bring a ton of attitude, great guitar work and clever lyrics.  Standouts are opener Drone, Why Not (which actually is a fast tempo number) and Joke.

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager.  Lewis has a golden voice and I’m not sure I could dislike an album by her.  This year’s release was another fun, rollicking album with Lewis belting out numbers like the title track and my favorite from the album, Just One of The Guys.

Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun. I’d call this brooding psychedelia.  With its chugging riffs that sprawl over the entire record, their third full length seems like it would be the perfect record to soundtrack a nighttime desert drive down the freeway.  The trippily-titled Free The Skull is my favorite.

Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last.  Another band that sometimes gets the psychedelia label, a lot of reverb, garage rock riffs, and John Dwyer’s yips and yowls.  While they usually have songs that are tight and concise, my two favorite tunes from this album are the two longest tracks, Web and Sticky Hulks.

It was a good year for rock.  There were a lot of other good rock releases that are all over the year end lists that are definitely worth a listen: Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit; La Luz, Weirdo Shrine; My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall; Sleater Kinney, No Cities For Love; Spoon, They Want My Soul; Tame Impala, Currents.

Folk and Country

Calexico – Edge of the Sun. Another band that I’ve dabbled in a few songs here and there, but with this year’s album, I went straight to their back catalog after listening to this album. Toeing the line between folk and rock, I’m a big fan of singer Joey Burns’ voice and they flex in some new directions with the great Cumbia de Donde, which follows the other standout track Tapping on the Line, which has an assist from Neko Case.

Joanna Newsom – Divers. Just listened to this after getting it on vinyl as a present for my wife. Beautiful arrangements and Newsom’s voice, which can be a love-it or hate-it proposition, works well with these arrangements.  Kudos too for a well-presented vinyl package, with individual posters of beautiful nature scenes and lyrics for each song.

Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material.  A polished country album that still reminds me more of “classic” country-pop than today’s versions.  Musgrave’s is the country version of Courtney Barnett with her sly, witty, conversational lyrics.  The title track, Biscuits, and Family is Family are all really good tracks.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell.  Abandoning the bleeps and bloops of Age of Adz, Sufjan returns to his folk roots with lean guitar providing the backdrop for some of his most beautiful and personal songs.  I saw him perform twice this year, and he beefed up the songs for the road with long, guitar-distorted extensions of those spare arrangements that worked surprisingly well.  He comes on strong out of the gate with tracks 2-4 all delivering a strong emotional punch.

Widowspeak – All Yours. An entirely different album than I was expecting, the fiery guitar band that I saw at SXSW two years ago is replaced with a softer, gentler version.  The guitars are more subdued and the lyrics more at the forefront.  Singer Molly Hamilton’s lush voice works well with that softer approach and it reminded me of Mazzy Star’s 90s output.  Stoned and Coke Bottle Green were my favorites.

Electronic

Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer.  Reining a little of the chirpy vocals of some of his earlier releases, but keeping his ability to create madcap beats, this album bounces and bobs its way through 8 tracks.  A master of the slow build, Sheathed Wings and When I Was Done Dying, will certainly have you dancing.  And if you have a chance to see him live, do it.

Hot Chip – Why Make Sense.  Remarkably consistent, Hot Chip put out another album this year full of pleasant, slightly funky, and always dance-y songs.  Opener Huarache Lights and the electro-funk of Easy to Get are representative of what this album has to offer.

Jamie XX – In Colour.  Taking a break from his more relaxed work with XX, this solo album showcases a more upbeat side of Jamie Smith.  Like Disclosure’s album last year, this is a great electronic album from beginning to end, a cohesive work that is meant to be listened to as a whole.  Obvs, the back-to-back duo of Hold Tight and Loud Places, and back ender The Rest is Noise are all great tracks.

Jazz, R&B, and Hip Hop

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf.  A surprising free release earlier in the year, this is probably the album I played the  most this year.  I think the reasons are: 1) the variety of musical styles on display from jazz, hip hop, and R&B and 2) it’s just a fun album.  Great to throw on in the car or when friends are over. The fact that my two favorite tracks land in the second half of the album, Familiar and Something Came to Me, is testament to the strength of the whole album.

Kamasi Washington – The Epic.  No album all year had a more spot-on title.  This ambitious jazz album, from the saxophonist who was also responsible for a lot of arrangements on the next album I’ll talk about, sprawls over three sides with 8 songs clocking in at over 10 minutes long.  It’s an immersive album that didn’t lose my interest even on those longer songs.  Several of the songs have lyrics and Malcolm’s Theme includes an excerpt from Malcolm X speech that is probably more topical than Kamasi imagined given recent events.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly.  Ranked at or near the top of most year end lists, hip hop’s reigning king followed up his critically acclaimed Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City with a angrier and more determined album.  King Kunta and The Blacker the Berry are raw, confident political statements with Lamar not mincing any words.  Throw in a super-strong opener, Wesley’s Theory, and the 12 minute long closer Mortal Man, and you have a new entry into the canon of classic hip hop albums.

Leon Bridges – Coming Home. Bridges is a 50s/60s soul and R&B throwback and his debut album sounds like it comes from a different time.  Songs like Brown Skin Girl could have been done by Otis Redding and the album-ending ballad The River is a beautiful number.  Hope that he can continue in the same vein as other similar throwback acts like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley.

Miguel – Wildheart.  My personal favorite album of the year.  Miguel is the heir-apparent to Prince as the man who exudes sex in his music.  Start with the cover and move to songs like The Valley and FLESH and you’ll see what I mean.  The man can also belt out a ballad, see Coffee for an example.  Great beats abound as well, I can’t get enough of Hollywood Dreams.  And he even throws in an outsider anthem in What’s Normal Anyway for good measure.

Shamir – Ratchet. Released earlier in the year, I think people slept on this one a little in the year-end lists.  After the slow build of opener Vegas, Shamir hits three homers in a row with Make A Scene, On the Regular and Call It Off.  His unique delivery, reminiscent of Missy Elliott’s ability to latch onto a beat, is suited to the disco and house beats that recall electronic acts like YACHT, Basement Jaxx, and Hot Chip.  Closer Head In the Clouds is a positive anthem that appropriately soars up and out to the end of the album.

2014 Year End Roundup Part 2

December 27, 2014

I covered some of my favorite hard/garage rock songs of 2014 here. Next up is a mix of some of my favorite miscellaneous rock, Scandinavian pop, and folk-y songs. Again, you can download an MP3 of the mix here.

1. Down From the Rafters, Hundred Waters from The Moon Rang Like A Bell. Picking up on the slow vibe of the end of my last mix, Hundred Waters serves up an atmospheric tune that swirls around Nicole Miglis’ Bjork-like vocals, builds to a subtle groove and then fades back into the air.

2. Lonely Press Play, Damon Albarn from Everyday Robots. A lovely, shuffling track indicative of the mostly somber mood of his first solo album. As usual, Albarn’s voice fits this style well (see any of the slow pieces from a Blur album). Some took the grayness of the album as an indication of a boring affair, but I think there’s a lot of interesting things to find in here if you stay with it and give it a few listens.

3. Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, Sun Kil Moon from Benji. Continuing the somber mood with a standout track from Mark Kozalek’s acclaimed release. Journaling as music, he pulls no punches with lyrics that tackle life’s problems surrounded, in this song at least, by the terror of the Nightstalker. His vocals have their own cadence that is the rhythm accompanying his guitar until the vocals end and a drumbeat kicks in to take you home.

4. Silver Timothy, Damien Jurado from Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. Moving a little bit more towards rock but with a spacey vibe on a standout from a solid album. The lyrics have a faint echo which contribute to the feel this song was recorded on a spaceship hurtling through deep space, the guitars spewing out the back of the ship as it hits interstellar overdrive.

5. Goodbye Weekend, Mac DeMarco from Salad Days. This track exemplifies the consistent vibe throughout this album, relaxed and welcoming. Perfect summer album for sitting on your porch with a beer and doing nothing. He sings about not telling “the boy” how to lead his life, but it’s a mild protest from someone who doesn’t really want to be bothered from getting up from that porch.

6. Are You With Me Now, Cate Le Bon from Mug Museum. Snuck in a late 2013 release that I didn’t hear until this year, but it seemed to fit in with the mix’s vibe. A sweet voice that evokes 60’s folk for me, this was a perfect song to start a morning at SXSW this year.

7. Hi-Five, Angel Olsen from Burn Your Fire For No Witness. A little country, rock, folk and a dash of punk defiance made this another album that is finding itself on a lot of top tens. A really spectacular voice that trembles with emotion along with her guitar on this song.

8. Blue Moon, Beck from Morning Phase. This album got some unfair criticism in my opinion for trying to create an album evoking pain and loss when Beck is not in a position currently in his life where he’s experiencing those things. I think this was more a reaction to the rawness of Kozalek’s album that came out around the same time more than anything. “Disingenuous” or not, I think this was a beautifully crafted record.

9. The Body Electric, Hurray For The Riff Raff from Small Town Heroes. Some more folk with elements of rock and punk influence, a sad and powerful song about violence, its effects and taking away the murder ballad from men. A good live act too, with a lot of upbeat songs to play off songs like this one.

10. Shattered & Hollow, First Aid Kit from Stay Gold. You wouldn’t know it from listening to this song, but this sister duo hails from Sweden. The sheen of Swedish pop is in their DNA as each album they’ve put out gets more polished, but they are rooted in American folk for sure.

11. Just One of the Guys, Jenny Lewis from The Voyager. Don’t sleep on this one because it came out near the end of the year! Really good stuff, a great chorus and hook that she seems to be able to effortlessly create and deliver every time she puts out a new album.

12. Younger, SW/MM/NG from Feel Not Bad.  Second band from Sweden on the mix, and though they have Swedish pop sensibilities, their music seems to have a grander, more epic scope (think Sigur Ros) than your average Swedish pop song.

13. Whatever That Means, Highasakite from Since Last Wednesday. Another Scandinavian band, though unlike First Aid Kit, this Norwegian group sounds much more like you’d expect to hear from Scandinavia. Pop beats filtered with ephemeral female vocals and soaring melodies. Saw these guys at SXSW on a rainy morning, which was the perfect setting for experiencing them for the first time.

14. Name on a Matchbook, Springtime Carnivore from Springtime Carnivore.  No, it’s not another Scandinavian group, though I thought this fit in well with those groups.  No, this band is from right here in LA, and I may or may not have been getting my hair cut next to the bassist for this band a few months ago.  Anyway, a nice piano part and some nice vocals anchor this summer-y indie pop song.  And some good whistling!

15. , Foxygen from …And Star Power. I haven’t decided yet how I feel about this album as a whole, it’s certainly not as focused as last year’s excellent effort. This song is in the wheelhouse of that album, well-crafted psychedelic 60’s pop with witty lyrics. It’s happy and wistful at the same time, fitting in well with the previous few songs.

16. Unkinder (A Tougher Love), Thumpers from Galore. End this mix with another Euro-pop number. Last year when I saw Bastille I really liked it but never thought I’d be hearing them on American Top 40 radio. This song seemed to have the same elements (bouncing beat, manicured vocals) but they haven’t made the same leap. Yet.

Hurray For The Riff Raff, Clear Plastic Masks and Lonesome Leash, April 25, 2014 @ The Echo

April 29, 2014
Hurray For The Riff Raff

Hurray For The Riff Raff

New Orleans’ Hurray For The Riff Raff was another band I missed out on at this year’s SXSW but was coming through LA  that we were able to get tickets for last Friday.  After some great deep dish at Masa, we walked over to the Echo.  First opener was fellow New Orleans artist Walt McClements aka Lonesome Leash.  He later joined HFTRR for a song and they explained he had recorded with them when they were both in New Orleans.

I had listened to the few songs he has online; they seemed a little somber.  Live, it came off much more upbeat and I’m always amazed by the talent folks have that are multi-instrumentalists.  In addition to singing, he played the accordion, a bass drum, hi hat, and at time also pulled out a trumpet.  I don’t have the type of brain that would allow me to be doing so many things at once, so I’ll always give props to those that can.  His vocals reminded me of a less raspy Tom Waits, which isn’t my favorite, but it was a good compliment to the accordian and the overall vibe of his set.  He is now living in LA, and I hope he gets to make some more music out here.

Clear Plastic Masks

Clear Plastic Masks

Next up was the Nashville by way of NYC band Clear Plastic Masks.  We had seen the guys from the band hanging outside on the patio earlier in the night and they seemed to be loose and ready to go.  They played straight ahead rock n roll and there was nothing wrong with that because they do it well.  Singer and guitarist Andrew Katz seems to embrace his inner Mick Jagger with both his vocals and his stage presence.  He had friendly banter with the audience, though towards the end of his set he mentioned some sort of trouble in San Francisco and selling their stuff after the show.  A joke or serious, I couldn’t tell.  Back to the music, the rhythm section was solid and I thought shined even more on the slower numbers.  Katz’s lyrics are clever and they were a good warmup for the headliner.

Alynda Lee Segarra’s big hair is matched by an equally big voice.  She is the heart and soul of the band, and her voice is just as full and velvetly live as it is on their latest record Small Town Heroes.  Joined by a fiddle and stand up bass as well as guitar and drums, the band doesn’t hide its Southerness.  Segarra pulled out a banjo for one tune and answered the cheers by saying “you have to go back to where you started”, a nod to her beginnings as a banjo player.  Songs I recognized were Blue Ridge Mountain (Segarra introduced it as a song about the Carolinas) and The Body Electric.  She also played a Lucinda Williams cover, a choice that makes a lot of sense for her.  It was a really fun, rollicking show of Southern folk and rock. The crowd was really enjoying themselves and was happy to clap along to several of the band’s numbers.  They came back for a short encore and had members of Clear Plastic Masks join them.

For a few hours, each of the bands made us drop the California from Southern California.  We stepped back into California when the show ended, but if you do want to escape to the South for a few hours any of these three bands will do the trick.

No videos I found from the show, so here’s a nice live version of St. Roch Blues:

Book Review

July 14, 2012

I recently finished reading Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire.  I picked it up at the library for some entertainment on a cross-country flight, I vaguely recognized his name (probably from the contributions he’s made to Rolling Stone and Spin) and the subject.  The book chronicles five years, 1973-1977, of the music scene in New York City.

Hermes was a teenager during those years living in NYC and he does a fine job of weaving his own personal experience into the narrative of the music scene as a budding music fan himself as well as, well, a teenager.  Only a teenager would find it entertaining to go stand in line for a club, in this case Studio 54, that he knows he has no chance to get into, just to experience the spectacle (and probably to mercilessly ridicule those around him, if i know teenagers at all).  SPOILER ALERT: He didn’t get in.

From the title of the book (referencing a Talking Heads tune) and some of the caricatures prominent on the book cover, Hermes’ affinity for rock/punk/new wave shines through.  Lots of pages are devoted to CBGB and other clubs that allowed acts like the New York Dolls, Television, Suicide, and the Talking Heads to hone their craft and their antics, on and off stage.

But, I learned a lot about other musical scenes through this book and its obvious Hermes has studied all of them:  hip-hop (the very, very early days), latin music, loft jazz, experimental composers, folk, and DJ/club culture including disco.  For this reason alone, this book is a great resource.  Especially with latin music coverage, I got a lot of context for music I’ve been discovering through blogs like Soul Sides.

Additionally, Hermes does a great job of relating how the City itself was influencing the music.  The City is treated as another character in the drama, and when it’s not doing good, which is often during the 70s, there’s a palpable effect on some of the players in the bands being discussed in the book.

As a fan of history and music, this was a home run of a book to me.  I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in either.  Hermes also has a blog he’s put up that adds even more depth to some of the stories in the book.

Leave you with a clip of Patti Smith peforming at the Bottom Line (one of the clubs that gets a fair amount of coverage in the book), who along with Bruce Springsteen, are cast in the book as the new king and queen of a new brand of rocker, with lyrical sensibilities of folk heros like Bob Dylan, a relentless drive to make music, and the energy of rock heroes of yore (like the Who) cranked up a few notches:

Treasure Trove

March 29, 2012

I’ve been absent for awhile but wanted to say a quick word about an article I saw yesterday on NPR’s music page. A huge treasure trove of music has just been released covering American folk, jazz, and a variety of other countries’ music spanning over 50 years. We can thank Alan Lomax for traveling the globe with recording equipment for this massive collection. Interestingly, Lomax envisioned a tool that would allow him to share this music as it appears his main motivation was to share what he was recording. Thankfully, Al Gore invented he internet.

I’ll definitely be checking into this, if nothing else, I’ll be exposed to some music I most certainly have never heard anywhere else! I’ll post some updates on what I’m finding.

Found – Barry

October 4, 2011

Barry – Yawnin’ in the Dawnin’ EP

I had started writing a long introduction to this review about finding music, but let’s just say that music that you’d never otherwise hear sometimes makes its way to you, and when it’s something you enjoy it’s a like a gift.  Barry, a band consisting of the three brothers (last name Barry), wound their way from upstate New York to my living room in Los Angeles via an invitation from the band to review their debut EP.  My review is long overdue, but that time has given me a chance to listen to the EP multiple times now, and it continues to grow on me.

The opener, Yawnin’ in the Dawnin’, is a short intro number that is a bit of a throwaway, with silly (in a clever way) lyrics and a hint at the vocal harmonies to come.  The proper opener, For Your Own Good, is a what I’d call a straight forward rocker with a country twinge.   The band calls themselves a folk band in their press materials, but I really hear more of a rock outfit with definite country and roots influences.   This song is uptempo and sprinkles in a liberal dose of harmonica, and we need more of that instrument in rock today.  There’s some nice vocal harmonies going on, but I think this is probably the weakest track of the bunch (which means we’re going to get to some pretty good stuff).

Next up, the mood darkens with Carnival(e).  This song has a sinister edge compared to the previous track, it is a slower tempo and the rhythmic cadence of the music and lyrics evoke something that you could find in Tom Waits’ catalog circa Rain Dogs.  Like most of the tracks on the EP, the lyrics do a really good job of setting a mood and telling a story.

Three Years In Carolina continues the slower tempo, though I think in general that slow down suits their voices and musical talents.  Singing about recovering from a girl who ran away, the narrator’s plan is “to get high every day” which I think is a funny line.  The chorus is really good in this song, and we get some more harmonica.  Following up this strong track, the brothers continue with another song that should become a favorite at bars around the country.  Drink One More Time lets each one of the brothers sing a verse and also has some very nice harmonies between them.  They give us some more wit and another memorable chorus.  And the world can always use another good song about drinking beer and whiskey and hanging out with friends we haven’t seen in a long time.

From bar-ready rock, the next song is a little more along the lines of Three Years, as it again covers the subject of lost loves and wondering whether that lost love still thinks about him.  Love Something Too Much is another very good song that again delivers a killer chorus that again takes advantage of the voices of all three of the brothers.

The closer, Great Unknown, showcases the ability of the band’s lyrics to set up a scene with their lyrics.  Telling the story of a boy trying to win back a girl, you feel like you are sitting in the booth next to them as they meet for coffee and go through the pictures of her trip to Paris.  A really good guitar line pushes the song along to a rousing finish.

I was impressed with the production quality of the EP and I was also liked how the EP got better from beginning to end.  This wasn’t an album with one decent song and a bunch of filler.  I have a feeling this band would be very fun to see live and if they ever make out to the West Coast, I would definitely go check them out.  I hope they get the chance to put more music out, but in the meantime I’d definitely recommend taking a listen (check out their facebook page to hear the EP) and see if you feel like someone gave you a present.

Good Day

March 26, 2010

Don’t Die In Me – Mirah from C’mon Miracle

Good day is the Jewish translation of Mirah’s name.  A worthy name for a singer/songwriter with a sweet and tender voice.  She’s from Philly, but we won’t hold that against her.  Someone who writes songs like this shouldn’t be associated with these people.

I’m not even sure where I downloaded this song from, but it immediately sent me out looking for other stuff by her.  Like the Jenny Lewis song I wrote about, this is mostly just a guitar and Mirah’s voice as instruments, though drums get added into the mix as the song moves along.  While the Lewis song evoked a story, Mirah’s song evokes a mood.  Given the song title, the undercurrent of sadness in her soft, slightly raspy delivery, and the brooding chug of the guitar and drums, I’m always surprised how this song makes me happy.

She evokes some interesting imagery of “mighty continents divided for a second time in all history” “floating free” and “an apple with a tougher skin while you got your pretty scales and fins.”  The song seems to be one of love lost, “all the million of mistakes and the kicks in the face” but that she doesn’t want “you to die in me.”  I take this line to mean that she isn’t yet ready to let this person go, to forget them, to let them die off from her consciousness.  Something we can all relate to, be it a significant other, a friend or relative.