Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Three Ideal Places For Really Listening To João Gilberto

The seductive sounds of João Gilberto, age 77, performing with just
his guitar at Carnegie Hall (June 2008)

Today's special post requires some explanation. Earlier this summer, as part of my Sunday Spotlight feature, I (we) had the chance to get to know singer/songwriter Alyssa Graham a little better (back here) . One of the juicy bits Alyssa shared was her admiration for the Father of Bossa Nova, legendary Brazilian singer and guitar player João Gilberto. Always one to look for someone else to do my work for me, I asked Alyssa if she'd like to write a post in which she could open up even more concerning her love of João and his music and she most kindly agreed to. The result: Three Ideal Places For Really Listening to João. If you don't already know where the three places are (and I'll give you a hint: one's not in a Howard Johnson lounge), enjoy the following piece!

Three Ideal Places For Really Listening To João
by Alyssa Graham

The first time I heard João Gilberto it blew my mind. I was driving around northern New Jersey with my good friend BMC, listening to late-night radio, probably WKCR, and heard some selections from the Live at Montreux album, from the mid-1980s. During that initial listening, the fact that I couldn’t understand anything he was singing actually helped—it enabled me to experience the music almost as a force of nature, like water rushing over smooth stones, always finding a slightly different course within the same streambed. It was so powerful I had to pull over and just let the music flow over me.

Since then, I have gotten to know João Gilberto’s music, its achievements and its context much better, but it still has that power to sweep me away, as it has for so many people.

As a singer, some of the things I admire about João are his control, his restraint, and his power to drop down to the faintest whisper, knowing we’re hanging on every breath. He could sing like Pavarotti if he wanted to—or at least he could have when he was younger, and in fact when he was first getting started as a professional singer he was known for his powerful voice and his range. But his real power, it turns out, is exercised through bringing it down to the level of a whisper on your pillow in the dark. I’ve been in Carnegie Hall and seen hundreds of people leaning forward to hear every minute variation better, and João is up there singing softly into his lapels, knowing he is in complete command.

He’s doing similar things with the guitar, also—the tidal pull of his rhythm is so alluring that it is easy to miss all variations within it, but when you listen closely you can hear minute transformations in the way he plays the same chords—he might play the same passage five times in one rendition, and every time it will be just slightly different, and those variations are what give it vitality. He never solos, in the sense of playing improvised individual notes, but his whole performance is an unmistakably original interpretation of the material. There is an irony that bossa nova became the consummate background music for mediocre restaurants, because at its best it is music that really rewards close attention.

That way of playing required a radical transformation of the way people listened to popular music, first in Brazil and then around the world. When João was trying to break onto the nighclub scene in Copacabana in the late 1950s, those joints were packed and noisy, and the band was expected to provide animated background music for scenes of seduction and perhaps debauchery. For musicians, it could be a cutting contest matching guys with technical chops, but the emphasis tended to be on displaying those chops in some kind of pyrotechnical way—for someone like João, who was starting to develop this music of playing your cards close to your vest, holding back your aces, it was not the most hospitable environment.

And live radio at the time was also a pretty boisterous affair, feeding the market for uptempo Carnaval music.

João Gilberto and Tom Jobim in the movie "Copacabana Palace" (1962)

The best thing that happened to João, definitely, was meeting Tom Jobim, and being the first to record Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes’s Chega de Saudade, in 1958. “Chega de Saudade,” was not just the first bossa nova, it was one of the first Brazilian radio hits really oriented towards people listening on their transistor radios, which were new to the Brazilian scene, and in the privacy of their cars. It's easy to think of Brazil as the place for the ecstatic celebration of Carnaval, but through bossa nova João and Jobim really pulled samba out of that ecstatic realm and into the world of intimacy. So my experience riding around in my car in New Jersey, although it seemed otherworldly at the time, was really not that unusual—João’s music is made for that kind of personal experience, whether it happens in the close quarters of your car or in the hushed and sacred anticipation of Carnegie Hall. In fact, I would say the car and the concert hall are two of the three ideal places for really listening to João. The third, of course, is in bed.

Here are three wonderful examples of Joao's unique and genuine style:

My absolute favorite song:

João Gilberto - Bahia Com H : João Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira

The song I chose to put on Echo: (listen to her version below)

João Gilberto - Izaura : João Gilberto

Another favorite recorded on his triumphant return to studio in 2000:

João Gilberto - Voce Vai Ver : João Voz e Violão


Alyssa Graham

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't now mention Alyssa's own album which came out in July. I've said it before, and I'll still stand by it. The album pulls from both the world of jazz and the Brazilian traditions Alyssa is so fond of to create an album that is elegant, simple, and refined. Think dinner music on a much more intimate level. I'll leave you with this quote, from Alyssa herself, about the album:

Echo is like a fairy tale. It reveals the different complexities of an alluring lover, equally at home with flirtation and passion and knowing the precise distance between the two. A love story that is true and eternal, Doug and I have been together since we were kids and this record is truly a tribute to our successful love story and to many of the places we have traveled together – emotionally and geographically.”

That love, both for her music and her partner, comes across clearly on the album. Pick up a copy of Echo to experience that fairy tale.

Visit her website, her label Sunnyside Records, and become her friend on MySpace.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Madlib's Wigflip

Delving into Madlib's world is like Alice heading down the rabbit hole. Although you can guess that it's going to include some dope hip-hop, smooth soul, or neo-historic jazz, you never know what's going to be served up along the way and in what portions. As a producer, the man's a genius. As a crate-digger, a regular Indiana Jones. As a music-mixer, a magician. He's put out so much material under so many names over the last ten years that you could do a college disseration on the sum and make your professors' heads spin.

His latest project: WLIB AM: King of the Wigflip. It's the latest (and last) installment of the monumental BBE Beat Generation series which has featured such luminaries as Marley Marl, Pete Rock, Jazzy Jeff, DJ Spinna, King Britt, and J Dilla (who created the first album in the series back in 2001). Unlike some of his other work (Quasimoto to some extent, or Yesterdays New Quintet, or his Shades of Blue release) which drifted more towards the jazz end of the spectrum, Madlib comes straight at you with some soul and dense, hard hitting hip-hop for this compilation. Mixed in with tracks from artists including Guilty Simpson, Defari, J-Rocc, and others are some instrumental breaks from the Madlib himself, more in tune with his Beat Konducta series of releases (speaking of which, volume 5 is coming in November).

The album hits shelves tomorrow, but here are the first two tracks to get you salivating. I could have picked any two practically at random and you would have gotten some rich tracks that wouldn't really give you an idea of what the only darn mix is like. It's like cutting a square inch out of a Van Gogh and expecting you to appreciate the entire materpiece. Ultimately, I picked these two as the first is one of Madlib's creations, one that feels like a stepping stone from his Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4 work. The second gives you an idea of the hip-hop edge the album lines itself up on. Enjoy, along with some other cuts from his previous works, and then get all twenty-five tracks tomorrow.

Don't have the cash to shell out? Head over here to create your own video for one of the tracks from the album and have a chance to win an iPod touch loaded up with the entire Beat Generation series.

Visit the album's label BBE and become Madlib's friend on MySpace.


Quasimoto - Return of the Loop Digga : The Unseen

Jaylib - The Official : Champion Sound

Kamala Walker & The Soul Tribe - Street Talkin' : Yesterdays Universe: Prepare For A New Yesterday (Volume One)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Soul - Chain Gang

Can't ya hear them singin'
Mm, I'm goin' home one of these days
I'm goin' home see my woman
Whom I love so dear
But meanwhile I got to work right here

(Well, don't you know)
That's the sound of the men working on the chain ga-a-ang
That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang

All day long they're singin', mm
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my work is so hard
Give me water, I'm thirsty
My, my work is so hard

Sam Cooke - Chain Gang : Chain Gang 7"

Sam Cooke - I Fall In Love Every Day : Chain Gang 7" B-side

Explore Sam's career on Portrait of a Legend 1954-1961.

Sunday Spotlight - KaiserCartel

Today's spotlight shines on a duo that came to my attention back in May when I came across their brilliant song Okay from their equally brilliantly titled debut EP Okay (and other things we feel). That duo, pictured above, is comprised of Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel and is collectively known as KaiserCartel. The EP was just a teaser for their debut full length release, March Forth, which came out in June. I loved the EP and had eagerly anticipated the album, but as these things sometimes go, it fell through the cracks and it wasn't until earlier this month that I got around to finally getting the album.

Courtney and Ben were kind enough to share a little bit about the tenth track from the album, Dog Stars, a song about their pooch, Ivan. As always, text in red is their words and my questions are in black.

KaiserCartel - Dog Stars : March Forth


This is a very special song because it is about our dog Ivan. We were at home in Brooklyn, NY. Ivan was being very cute on the couch (which is all the time really), and I started singing to him with my guitar. Ben heard me from the kitchen and walked over with a little portable tape recorder. Ben said "Do that again, I want to write down what you are singing."


Ben took the recording and started writing down the words I was saying. A couple days later, we decided to work on the song together. I looked at what he wrote down and added some lyrics, and Ben also added some lyrics. At first we thought it was funny singing about 'Dog Stars' and Ivan in space, but the song is really an attempt at trying to get inside the mind of our dog and imagine his thoughts. We decided to record it on March Forth.

Matt Hales (our producer) also liked the song, and was really into the idea of adding spacey sounds using his memory man, keyboard, bullet mic, and a speaker. In our minds, his sounds make it such a visual song. We can imagine little Ivan traveling in a space ship from planet to planet meeting different creatures.

Dog Stars is an example of we like to write some of our songs in a spontaneous style. Sometimes we schedule rehearsal time in our week, and other times the songs come out of the present moment. We are constantly writing, whether its at soundcheck, in a hotel room, or in our house.

And now for three more Q's for the pair:

1.) On the album the two of you share vocal duties. In fact, some of my favorite songs are the ones where your voices intermesh and complement each other. When a new song is being born, how do you decide who will sing it? Do you ever fight over parts?

BC: A lot of the time, the songs that each of us sing are already decided because that particular person started the first writing process. But, lately, we have begun writing differently so that has been changing.

CK: I can't imagine us fighting over who would sing the song...if we both like it, we both sing it.

2.) Matt Hales (aka Aqualung) produced your album, which surprised me when I first realized that. His music seems rather different from yours to me (a little louder, more dramatic). Both of you have been making music for quite a while before finding each other. How did you feel his [Matt's] presence affected the music you made together?

BC: Matt had a different approach to making music. In the past, we were doing more of an indie rock, American perspective. I think Matt brought the English pop perspective.

CK: We got along right away when we first met. And even though his music is different from ours, he also has an experimental side which really complimented the arrangement ideas we came with.

3.) I know that the two of you work as teachers in younger grades. Can you picture yourselves doing a kid's album anytime in the future?

BC: We would like to do that at some point in the future, but we would like to establish ourselves as artists who play "big" people's music before being artists who play "little" people's music.

CK: I think our record can be listened to by anyone. All children love Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, and they didn't make that song for children. I think our music is pretty understandable and can be enjoyed by a person of any age in a similar way.


To be completely honest with you, taken as a whole this album is one of my favorites of 2008. As I mentioned above, the two members' voices working together really work for me. Their music (with one notable exception) is about muted and tempered emotion. An apparent subdued starkness on a perfunctory listen that contains weighty emotions within only a few shades that beg you to listen carefully to experience them. The exception which I mention is Season Song, the second track from the album. Perhaps because it's such a sharp contrast to the rest of the album's tracks, this one really stands out. I DARE you to listen to it (I've included it below) and not start whistling along by the end.

I'm really hoping that this album gets the attention that is deserves. The pair are playing near me at the end of October with the Winterpills and I'm definitely planning on checking them out in person. Keep your eyes posted soon after for a review of the show, although I'm already predicting that it will be excellent as I can clearly picture the two onstage with their guitars playing songs from the album which don't require elaborate instrumentation to convey their message.

In the meantime, here are a few choice tracks (of the many on the album - it was difficult to choose) to download and enjoy.

and one from their EP:

Visit their website, their label bluhammock music, and become their friend on MySpace.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Raveonettes Remixed

If you've been enjoying Lust Lust Lust, which was released earlier this year, then you'll be happy to learn that The Raveonettes will be releasing four digital only EPs spread out over the last few months of this year. Out earlierthis month was the completely free, three track REMIXED EP. As the title suggests, it includes three cuts from the album remixed. Sample the Nic Endo remix of Aly, Walk With Me below and then click on the EP title to get the other two tracks.

Also out as of this week is Sometimes They Drop By. Although not free, this four track EP serves up brand new songs not found on Lust Lust Lust. The third EP will come out in October and the fourth in November. I'm not sure what they'll contain, whether new music or live/remix versions so keep your eyes open.

Visit their website, their label Vice Records, and become their friend on MySpace.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hello Melissa Ferrick, Goodbye Youth

You know those artists whose name you see every so often but never dig into? The ones who you think, "I should check them out," but then forget until the next time you see their name in a random spot. Yea, me too. Melissa Ferrick is one of those names. When someone recommended I check out her latest album, Goodbye Youth, I looked into my music library expecting to see an album or two from her. At least a couple odd tracks. Not a one though. Time to dive in.

The first thing I'll say about Melissa's album is that it is incredibly personal and intimate both in its content and conveyance. Of the eleven tracks, nine of them address a very direct "you" in the lyrics that make the album draw you (the listener) in. Even the way the album is recorded contributes to this. Although it doesn't completely have the vibe that she is sitting right in front of you with her guitar for all of the tracks (speaking of which, the album is her and her guitar. Period.), at the very least it feels as if she's playing live on a radio broadcast that got caught on tape. There is no studio gloss here, just heartfelt outpouring.

Come to find out, Melissa's been doing this for close to fifteen years. No wonder her name seems strangely familiar. You could compare her to Ani DiFranco, maybe a folkier version of Liz Phair. One half of the Indigo Girls. You get the picture. Try these two tracks to get a taste, including her suprising cover of a song that was everywhere when she first started recording way back when: Bush's hit Glycerine.

Become her friend on MySpace.


Bush - Glycerine : Sixteen Stone

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Frank Bango and his bunny

Although now on his fourth album, I wasn't familiar with Frank Bango until I discovered him via Simone White, as they share the same label. Don't judge the music by the album's cover. The Easter Bunny threw me for a loop for a second, too, but get beyond it (although there is a song Bunny In A Bunny Suit). Bango (can that be his real name?) does hold some quirkiness though, and his style and voice immediately made me think of Elvis Costello. Even the instrumental arrangements of the songs feel very Costelloish. Try the first cut from the album, You Always Begin By Saying Goodbye, below (it starts off with some woodland chirpings which come back as a complete three plus minute soothing pastoral track of their own as the album's closer, Garden Variety). Also give Angela Eagleton a listen. It will bring to mind Costello's Alison or Veronica.

Visit his website, his label The Sincere Recording Company, and become his friend on MySpace.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dengue Fever on Vinyl!

Hopefully you caught the release of Venus On Earth earlier this year from Cambodian lounge lizards / pop-rock group Dengue Fever. If it was your first date with the band, here's a chance to get to know them a little better. Their label has just put out their sophomore release (Venus is their third), Escape From Dragon House, out on limited-edition colored vinyl. For the ridiculously low price of $15.99, you get the big colored piece of vinyl AND a coupon good for a free download of the album so you can spin it at home and listen to it on your iMusicPlayer on the go. The band also has announced a limited string of live dates on the west coast. Check out dates below.

Visit their website, their label M80 Music, and become their friend on MySpace.

Upcoming Tour Dates

10/05 Long Beach, CA - 1st and Linden [Schooled in Song - A Benefit Concert]
10/17 San Francisco, CA - Bimbo’s 365 Club
10/18 Napa, CA - Napa Valley Opera House
10/20 Portland, OR - Aladdin Theatre
10/21 Seattle, WA - Neumos
10/22 Vancouver, BC - Venue TBA [the band’s first-ever Vancouver show]
12/04 Claremont, CA - Scripps College Performing Arts Center [free performance & screening of band documentary Sleepwalking Through The Mekong]

the new All Girl Summer Fun Band

If you're familiar with the All Girl Summer Fun Band, they're back. This time around though, they're hitting the airwaves as a threesome. Taking up the challenge of re-forming themselves minus Ari Douangpanya, the three remaining girls shacked up in Kim Baxter's basement to pump out the eleven track Looking Into It.

If you're not familiar with the girls (they have been around, but flying under the radar, for ten years), imagine someplace between The Breeders and The Donnas, and you'll be in the neighborhood of where AGSFB reside. You'll find the fun loving, cute-pop of the former and the occasional guitar grrr'owling and hand clapping of the latter. With eleven tracks all weighing in around three minutes, the album goes by quick, and as their name suggests, is all about having some fun. It came out yesterday, and here are two tracks to get you started.

Visit their website and become their friend on MySpace.


The Breeders - Iris (live) : No Alternative

The Donnas - Do You Wanna Go Out With Me : The Donnas

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On the Oneside

If you're looking for a healthy dose of indie-Americana-Bluegrass (if such a genre exists), you'll be more than satisfied with First to Last, the debut release from Boston based foursome Oneside. The album heavily features banjo driven tunes that will make you think the group hails from someplace much further south than Beantown. If you're a fan of Crooked Still or other neo-roots groups, Oneside will slide into your musical collection nicely.

If you're so inclined, the band will be playing at the Nor'easter Festival in Plymouth, NH this weekend on Saturday the 27th. The fest is a combination outdoor / music / conservation smorgasbord. Besides some great music by bands including Oneside, Tapes 'n Tapes, State Radio, and others, there will also be some rock climbing clinics and a competition at the sport climbing cliffs of Rumney. The album hits shelves on the 30th, but this will be a great chance to hear some of the new songs live, and I'm guessing you'll probably be able to buy an early copy at the show.

Visit their website, their label BOS Music, and become their friend on MySpace.


Monday, September 22, 2008

B.B. King knows Blues

When one thinks of B.B. King, it's hard to imagine that there were any blues artists that were around before he was for him to list as influences. B.B. King should be on hundreds of lists AS an influence! I mean, the guy's been making music for literally well over half a century, and he's still going strong. With his latest release, One Kind Favor, King covers twelve songs from other blues artists who influenced him in his early days, including Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lee Hooker, and others.

In doing so, King doesn't try to make the songs he pays respect to sound modern. Instead, the album was purposefully recorded to sound as if it was born on the 50's. Everything from the backing players to studio conditions and methods were brought in to give the album an authentic period feel to it. The result - music that doesn't sound like it's forced to contort to modern music's norms. Music that feels genuine to its roots even while King adds his own touch to classics - but it's a classic touch for classic music, and not a fast-forward update to the 2000's.

Although not directly connected to this album, King was also honored earlier this month with the opening of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, a center dedicated to exploring the deep, rich history behind King and his music in his hometown of Indianola , MS.

Over the next few months B.B. King will be touring in the eastern part of the country. Check out dates below to see one of the last remaining blues legends left. In the meantime, enjoy a few tracks from the album below, along with the original versions King is paying homage to.

B.B. King -See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (Blind Lemon Jefferson cover) : One Kind Favor

Blind Lemon Jefferson - See That My Grave Is Kept Clean : The Complete Classic Sides Remastered (Disc C)

B.B. King - My Love Is Down (Lonnie Johnson cover) : One Kind Favor

Lonnie Johnson - My Love Is Down : Complete 1937 to June 1947 Recordings, Vol. 3

Visit his website, his label Geffen Records, and become his friend on MySpace.

Upcoming Tour Dates

9/25/08 The Klein Memorial Auditorium Bridgeport , CT
9/26/08 The Bushnell Ctr. for Perf. Arts Hartford , CT
9/27/08 Sovereign Center Reading , PA
9/28/08 Paramount Center For The Arts Peekskill , NY
9/30/08 MGM Grand Detroit Casino Detroit , MI
10/02/08 Stranahan Theater Toledo , OH
10/03/08 Rialto Square Theatre Joliet , IL
10/04/08 SIU Arena Carbondale, IL
10/05/08 Welk Resort Theatre Branson, MO
10/07/08 Century II Perf. Arts & Convention Ctr. Wichita , KS ,
10/17/08 Route 66 Casino Albuquerque, NM
10/23/08 Inn of the Mountain Gods Casino Mescalero, NM
10/25/08 Boulder Theater Boulder, CO
10/29/08 Iowa State Center Ames , IA ,
10/31/08 The Riverside Theatre Milwaukee , WI
11/14/08 Riverwind Casino Norman , OK
11/16/08 Meyerson Symphony Center Dallas , TX
11/18/08 American Bank Center Corpus Christi , TX
11/24/08 The Tabernacle Atlanta , GA
11/26/08 Birchmere Alexandria , VA
11/28/08 North Shore Music Theatre Beverly , MA ,
11/29/08 House of Blues - Atlantic City Atlantic City , NJ
11/30/08 Durham Performing Arts Center Durham , NC
12/01/08 Maryland Theatre Hagerstown , MD

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Soul - Women's Love Rights

stand up and fight
for your love rights
love who you want
cuz the man's sure gone

we do the worship
we cook and sew
babies tie you down
while your man is on the go

you gotta right
(yes you do)
to go out at night
sinners all around to let you paint the town

Laura Lee - Women's Love Rights : Women's Love Rights 7"

Laura Lee - Her Picture Matches Mine : Women's Love Rights 7" B-side

Saturday, September 20, 2008

El Rey

Bring up the subject of Latin Jazz, and most assuredly the name that will most frequently arise is that of Tito Puente. It’s absolutely unavoidable. Although often linked to Cuban music, Puente was actually born in New York City, and his parents were Puerto Rican, not Cuban. Regardless of ancestry though, Puente was simply masterful in his command of Latin music of all types.

A little while ago I wrote about the rebirth of legendary label Fania Records (back here). Well as part of their work digging up golden treasures and releasing re-issues of albums long lost, they’re revisiting some of Puente’s earliest work. Near the beginning of his career, Puente actually recorded for two different labels: RCA and Tico. RCA’s name is familiar, but less so Tico’s. Tico, much like Fania, was another NYC label that focused on Latin music, and was actually bought by Fania in 1974. While much of his work at RCA was crossover music that appealed to mainstream America, his work at Tico was geared more towards his original Latin music audience.

Many of his earliest recordings were issued on 78 RPM records which, needless to say, are just a shade more common than 8-tracks now a days. Fania has collected some of these recordings, in fact MANY of these recordings, from Puente’s years at Tico between 1949 and 1955 and is re-releasing them, many for the first time, in digital format. They’ve assembled a staggering 156 songs which will be spread out across four double-CD volumes, two of which are out now and two which will be released in the near future.

Biting into the first volume, what can you say about a legend’s music? It’s timeless. It’s classic. Forget Ricky Martin, this is Latin music to its core. Much of it is instrumental, some of it features vocals (primarily in Spanish), all of it is seminal in the development of Latin music.

Visit the Fania website.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Run It with Scion

I've got some more phat beats to share with you from our friends over at Scion and their Scion A/V label. Out of the kindness of their hearts (and a little marketing smarts), they've put out some excellent remix singles like Ghostface Killah's Charlie Brown and one from 45 King, as well as some full lengths, including two from the most respectable Daptone Records featuring a bunch of artists from their roster. Scion covers all the costs of putting out the discs, and any proceeds generated go right to the artists. And of course, we get some sweet tracks.

I've got a handful more to push out to you, starting with today's: a remix of legendary old Skool artists EPMD's Run It. It's got a Middle-Eastern flair to it and Duke Dumont steps things down to make it a slow steady burn. It's one of three on the single, and just barely edges out the first track (the Herve's Got His Hands Up Remix) as my favorite. I'm not sure that you can buy the single anywhere yet, but Scion gives them away free at their events (which are listed on the Scion Events page). If you can't make one, keep your eyes open in iTunes in early October.

EPMD - Run It (Duke Dumont Mix) : Scion Run It Remix Single

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Puttin' on The Ritz

As hip-hip records go, The Night of Day has thrown me for a loop. Since it's birth, hip-hop has been about sampling and making something new by mixing together something old with some personal flavor. But this record, this one throws down a wild card. It was put together by The Ritz, a duo comprised of two artists, Apoc and Rel, who base themselves out of Chicago. Instead of sampling 80's old school hip-hop, 70's funk, or even James Brown though, the pair goes back even further, delving into film noir from the 40's and 50's. Yea, you read that right, they cut out dialogue from old black and white films and splice it into their cuts. It's an odd pairing to say the least; check out these two tracks to see if it works for you:

Visit their label Lab-oratory Records and become their friend on Apoc's MySpace and Rel's Myspace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Martha Wainwright Live

On Sunday night I had the good fortune to catch Martha Wainwright perform live at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA. For those of you not familiar with the venue, when I had first heard that she was playing there I was somewhat surprised she would be stopping in such a small place. Come to find out, it’s one of her last dates before heading over to Europe and then Australia on tour, so I was rather lucky to be seeing her at all.

So just to prove that bloggers don’t know everything, when I first realized she was playing locally, I didn’t think much about it other than I was excited to see her. The week before the show I actually took a second to consider why she would be touring in support of an album three years old (her self-titled debut), spent a good minute doing some research, and realized that she had put out a new album, I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too, in June. Ummm, yea. Totally missed that one.

So, needless to say, I went to the show with absolutely no ear-time with the new songs (with the exception of two, Comin’ Tonight and So Many Friends, which she had been playing on tour as long ago as April, 2006 at the 9:30 club – listen to the latter below) but picked up the album after the show right then and there. Of course Martha wove in a few tracks from the debut amongst the new ones (including a few of my favorites – Factory, Ball & Chain and This Life), making the night not altogether unfamiliar.

If you haven’t heard the new album, Martha is definitely stretching her wings here. Where as her first offering very much revolved around Martha and orthodox instrumentation (typical guitar), the latest employs a much wider instrumental palette. There’s a lot more experimentation with what directions the songs take. Not to suggest that her first album was full of re-workings of one basic sound, but the new one proves that Martha is not resting on her laurels or her familial ties. With the wider range of instruments comes a wider range of textures as well. You’ll find a noticeable decrease in the acoustic feel here.

Of particular note is that you’ll find no Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, Part 2 here, thankfully. As much as I enjoy the song and think its strength goes beyond the memorable chorus, I think the worst thing that she could have done would to have cast herself as a one-trick (swearing) pony. Also of interest are a Pink Floyd cover (See Emily Play) and a Eurythmics cover (the album closer, Love Is A Stranger).

Getting back to the show, seeing her live was a real treat. Martha has a great personality that comes alive in front of a crowd. Although she oozes sexuality, she's also got that tom-boy sense to her that let's you know she can stick up for herself (and probably protected her old brother Rufus in school at the bus stop). On the odd chance you'll be in Europe of Australia over the next few months, check her out.

Visit her website, her label Zoe Records, and become her friend on MySpace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Michael Feinstein-atra

"Sinatra considered himself, first and foremost, an interpreter of song, and his influence on other entertainers is incalculable. He has become so thoroughly entrenched in the history of American popular song that it is impossible to open your mouth and sing without his influence being part of that."

- Michael Feinstein

Although I was born well after Frank Sinatra was at his popular prime, he still remains one of my favorite and most respected musical entertainers of all time. So when someone suggested that I check out The Sinatra Project, I was both intrigued and somewhat repulsed. An entire album of Sinatra songs covered by one man? Who does he think he is? Does he really think he can do The Chairman of the Board justice?

Well, come to find out, the man is Michael Feinstein. If you're not familiar with Michael, he is The Great American Songbook reborn for the 21st century. If you're not familiar with The Great American Songbook, it is the definitive collection of American standards that will well outlast the latest topper on The Hype Machine. We're talking about songs that have been covered more times than many artists have songs of their own, and Michael Feinstein has made it his job to make sure they cross the border into the new millennium.

And if you haven't heard of Feinstein before, The Sinatra Project is actually his 24th album. On it, he's decided to tackle a weighty responsibility: paying homage to one of the definitive performers of The Great American Songbook. Long before rock and roll took over, the music world was ruled by singers performing typically in front of either big bands or smaller jazz ensembles. Sinatra fit into the former category for the most part. To record this album, Feinstein formed a big band of his own, and assembled them in the only reasonable place to do so. The album was recorded at the last remaining recording studio from the days of this music's hey day : Capitol Studio A in Hollywood, California. Yea, that Capitol Studios, where Frank himself worked. You can check out some footage of the sessions here to get an idea of what went into putting together Michael Feinstein and a big band and getting out music from a long past decade.

So enough with the history lesson, how about the music. In the liner notes Feinstein points out that he didn't just want to re-sing the songs. Even he knows that he wouldn't hold a match to Frank. Instead he wanted to play with their arrangements, and sing with a style that is modeled after Sinatra but not just a carbon copy. Looking over the track listing for the album will reveal some surprises. Although this is all Sinatra material, there are very few of his biggest hits. For some of them you might need to go back to the original albums to hear the original versions, and I'm guessing you might need to dig for some vinyl to do so. That being said, it's somewhat difficult to pick-up on the differences he incorporates.

In terms of how his vocals stack up against Ol' Blue Eyes, well... He does a great job auditorally drawing the feeling of the period he's drawing upon. The big band backing him up helps, but even ignoring them you can easily sense Feinstein's appreciation for and immersion in the classics he is singing. His voice is strong, clear, and shifts smoothly but...well, it's almost TOO perfect sounding, too polished. Technically speaking, he's wonderful, he just doesn't have that special something you picked up on with Sinatra: the swagger, the extravagant confidence, the down and out loser, the magic. I don't know, maybe it's too much for one to expect another artist to capture that. It is a tribute album after all, and perhaps that's enough. If you come looking for Frank, dig out that old vinyl instead. If you come to this album wanting to re-visit that period and enjoy some new takes on some old songs, you'll be taken on a grand ride that's worth the price of admission.

Visit his website, his label Concord Records, and become his friend on MySpace.


Frank Sinatra - All My Tomorrows : Nothing But The Best

Frank Sinatra - All the Way : Live In Australia, 1959

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Passion Pit

Here's a fun six track EP which came out last week from a Boston based band Passion Pit ( and no, they don't perform porn music). It's titled Chunk of Change (kind of cute and appropriate for an EP) and it's the debut from the fivesome. It opens up with I've Got Your Number (which you can hear below), a quirky, upbeat, blippy-bloopy electronic song that feels like an 80's / 2000's synth-mix. The remaining five cuts are electronic-based as well.

Interestingly enough, the first four tracks of the EP were put together entirely by Michael Angelakos (the original sole member of the band) as a Valentine's present for his girlfriend (makes flowers and chocolate seem like a tired stand-by). Since then he's recruited four other members to put together a group that hits the stage. In addition to the four original tracks, the EP also includes two more recorded afterward (Sleepyhead and Better Things) which are also available as a limited edition 7" (buy it here).

Visit their label Frenchkiss Records and become their friend on MySpace.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Soul - Let Me Be Your Lovemaker

I know you don't think I'm ready
But open your eyes and see.
As sure as my name is Betty
I can love away all your misery!

Let me be your lovemaker
Let me be your soul shaker
Why don't ya, Let me be your lovemaker
Let me be your soul shaker

Betty Wright - Let Me Be Your Lovemaker : Let Me Be Your Lovemaker 7"

Betty Wright - Jealous Man : Let Me Be Your Lovemaker 7" B-side

Get The Best of Betty Wright for more of Betty.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The little indie rocker who could

Here's another album whose release totally slipped under my radar a few weeks ago. It's the umpteenth release from Matthew Sweet, a man I affectionately refer to as the little indie rocker who could. Although he had his five seconds in the spotlight back in the early 90's and then again, but less so, a few years with his co-release of Under the Covers, Vol. 1 with Susanna Hoffs, Sweet really has been working hard for some twenty-five years gaining fewer accolades than he deserves. He keeps marching on though, pumping out that heavily layered jangly pop rock guitar work that is trademark Sweet.

His latest album, Sunshine Lies, is no exception. It starts off with Time Machine, and listening to the rest of the album, you'll feel that it's just that, an album that pulls you back to all of the solid work that he's produced on his own over the years. It's easy to take for granted what Sweet's been doing with his guitar for years, but this album will remind you why he's got such staying power despite the disappearance of mainstream success that he once possessed.

UPDATE: Here's a link to check out a live clip of Sweet performing Byrdgirl from this new album courtesy of GetBack.com.

Visit his website, his label Shout! Factory, and become his friend on MySpace.


Upcoming Tour Dates

10/20 Boulder , CO – Fox Theatre
10/22 Minneapolis , MN – First Avenue
10/23 Chicago , IL – Park West
10/24 Pittsburgh , PA – Mr. Smalls
10/25 Cleveland , OH - Beachland
10/27 Boston , MA – Paradise
10/28 NY , NY – Webster Hall
10/29 Falls Church , VA – State Theatre
10/30 Atlanta , GA – Variety

Friday, September 12, 2008

Listen to some Bones

I watch close to no TV, so I couldn't tell you a single thing about the show Bones other than from what I can guess based on pictures like the one above. I'm going to wager that they've taken the Quincy idea, and inserted some younger attractive actors and actresses in Jack Klugman's place. Thankfully, this isn't a TV blog, it's a music one, so this post is about the show's soundtrack which came out earlier this month.

Looking at the line-up reveals quite a strange mix of acts; Crystal Method, Sinead O'Connor, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Cary Brothers, Sarah Mclachlan, and some others I didn't recognize, and leaves you wondering what the results are going to sound like. It opens up with the 30+ second theme song from the show performed by the Crystal Method, and boy can you recognize that. Even during its brevity, you get the feeling that it could have been the seed for an additional track from Vegas. A remix of the theme, which ramps up to almost four minutes, also closes the album, and you can listen to it below. In between are eleve tracks that very from the darkly, almost sinister (the O'Connor track, which is a brand new song for the show, as well as one from Placebo), to the seductively sultry (Eliza Lumley's Radiohead cover), to the permeatingly gloomy (most of the rest of the album), all of which seem apt for a show entitled Bones.

Somehow, even with the disparate elements here, it actually comes together as a whole. And even better, I avoided any cheesy, raunchy, or immature bone jokes while talking about it. Listen and enjoy.