Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Soul - Como Now

"Deep in the heart of Panola County, Mississippi lies Como, a small rural town where children and grown folks alike have been living and breathing gospel for as long as they can remember. In the summer of 2006, Daptone Records placed a small ad in local papers and on the radio inviting singers to come down to Mt. Mariah Church to record their songs. The result is COMO NOW, a stirring collection of traditional and original a cappella gospel from the voices of Panola County’s own families."

Even before getting a chance of hearing the actual CD, the first thing that came to mind when I first learned about Daptone Records' latest release, Como Now, was John and Alan Lomax, the great American folklorists and musicologists who traveled all over the country in order to preserve music that was culturally rich and represented a heritage that would be a crime to lose. The Lomaxs gathered together field recordings (over 10,000) from rural folks from all walks of life which were then passed on to the Archive of Folk Song in the Library of Congress, who then made them available to the public as LPs on 78s.

The Lomaxs believed in the cultural significance of the countries' folk heritage, including that of its African Americans (Leadbelly's career would be launched with the help of John Lomax). Along with the music were included liner notes penned by those who recorded the music, notes that make the music come alive even more (and within which the recorders passion for their work is evident). Here is an example which pertains to Trouble So Hard, a song recorded in Livingston, Alabama in 1937, which you can enjoy below.
Anyone who has visited a rural Negro church, where the congregation sings from the heart instead of out of hymn-books, cannot fail to have been touched by the fire, the solemn dignity, the grand simplicity of the Negro spirituals.

One of the elders of the congregation, an old man or woman whose long experience in the church enables the singer to match the song precisely to the tempo of the meeting, begins slowly. The congregation responds with a faint chorus. The leader singes his line again, this time more strongly. This time the response is stronger. By the end of the first or second chorus, the spiritual will have gathereed together all the voices of the church in to a swelling a rolling chorus. Each participant takes his own part, from the shrillest falsetto to deepest bass, and improvises within it. As the songs proceed, sometimes for hours on end, the rhythm of hands and feet joins the thunder of the singing with the thunder of a chorus of drums; the tempo increases slowly and inevitably until the whole audience sways with ecstasy. The air is punctuated with the shrill screams and the hoarse ejaculations of the worshippers who have become posessed, or, as they put it, 'got happy.' The posessed ones leap and fling their arms about in blind spasms of hysteria; they sometimes roll on the floor or walk across the benches; on occasion they lie on the ground for hours in a trance-like state.

Out of such passionate religious meetings came the Negro spirituals which provided comfort with visions of a heavenly reward. The setting and the manner of these songs are strongly reminiscent of African religious practice; but the content, flowing out of the Bible and the noble folk hymns ofthe whites, is distinctively Afro-American. These inspired and beautiful songs are more moving that almost any other American music.
Como Now carries on with this tradition, recording locals of Como, Mississippi, an area where Lomax gathered some of his recordings over fifty years before. It's pure, unadultered, a cappella gospel, sung by those who find great meaning in it. Much like Mavis Staples' album I wrote about last week, this is music that matters. Music that is not just for entertainment purposes, though it admirably suits that purpose in addition to its more divine ones. Music sung by ordinary, everyday people that transcends much professionally recorded secular music in beauty and power.

Visit the Daptone Records website.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mavis Staples' Hope

Yes. Oh yea
We are so happy to be with you tonight.
I tell you it’s a double treat
We’re at the hideout and we’re at home
We’ve come tonight to bring you some joy, some happiness, inspiration, and some positive vibrations.
We want to leave you with enough to last you for maybe the next 6 months

Music can be viewed through so many different lenses. It could be labeled simple entertainment: something to listen to to pass the time, to avoid silence, background filler (Musak). You could consider it a luxury: something commodified for the benefit of some wealthy record executives and occasionally a few dimes make their way to the musicians. You could elevate it to a higher level and consider another possibility, that it’s an auditory performance of art. While many of us (especially those of us reading this) would not want to imagine a life without music of some sort, our lives would still continue on. Our need for music is one of desire, not of survival.

That’s not always been the case though. Music used to matter. Music was a tool of consciousness, a tool of survival, a tool of self-empowerment, a tool of political critique. You could make arguments for various contemporary artists: early U2, the We Are the World recording, Fela Kuti. While most of us have no direct conscious connection, try to travel back to the 60’s and the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States. At that time, there was music being made that mattered, music that carried the hopes of an entire population of disenfranchised citizens.

Mavis Staples was brought into that music, and to this day carries forth those ideals so they will not be forgotten, and her latest album, Live, Hope at the Hideout, continues with that tradition. The quote at the top is from Mavis, as she greeted the crowd at the Hideout in Chicago, Illinois on June 23rd, 2008. The last comment about enough hope for 6 months is no arbitrary number: it refers to the presidential inauguration day.

The album is all about hope and the problems that hope overcomes. It’s expressed in Mavis’ singing of traditional spirituals that embodied the Civil Rights Movement, songs like Eyes on the Prize, Wade In the Water, Waiting For My Child, This Little Light, We Shall Not Be Moved, Will the Circle Be Unbroken (which Mavis discusses as the very first song her father Pops Staples taught her and her siblings), and On My Way. It’s expressed in songs she originally performed with her family as the Staples Singers, songs like Why Am I Treated So Bad and I’ll Take You There. It’s expressed in the classic J.B. Lenoir song Down In Mississippi and the Buffalo Springfield song For What It’s Worth (which begins the album with it’s opening lines “Something’s happenin’ here / what it is ain’t exactly clear – but by the end of the album, you know exactly what’s going on here).

This live release follows on the heels of 2007’s We’ll Never Turn Back, an album also much in the spirit of the 60’s Civil Rights Movement, and it includes several of its tracks. And while I thoroughly enjoyed the last one, there’s just something so powerful about hearing Mavis perform these songs live. I was able to catch her over the summer, although it wasn’t in nearly an intimate setting as the Hideout, and was absolutely drawn in. To hear her here though, it’s such a pleasure. At times spiritual, and others defiantly growling, her voice betrays none of her age and stills carries a power to connect the listener with her songs of a past our country needs to overcome and move past, but not forget.

I’ll get off of my pulpit now and simply ask you to listen to Eyes on the Prize (which includes Mavis’ opening welcome at the top of the post) below and then purchase a copy of this album for yourself.

and an older one:

Visit her website, her label Anti-, and become her friend on MySpace.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Al Green, Live

Way back in August, while lamenting the loss of Isaac Hayes, I mentioned my desire to check out one of the few remaining soul legends, Al Green. Well, last Friday night I got my chance to see him at the Showcase Live in Foxborough, MA, and it was well worth it, let me tell you! Always known as the smooth ladies man, Green played the part to the T. Throughout the show he tossed roses out to the crowd, all the while moving around like a man a third of his age. Seriously, I was amazed how much pep he still has in his step!

During his set (which seemed to go by way too quick, and which didn't include an encore, unfortunately), he played some of his well loved hits (Let's Stay Together, Here I Am (Come And Take Me), and the show stopping closer Love and Happiness) as well as some from his new album Lay It Down (including the title track), some gospel (as you'd expect from the Reverend - Amazing Grace of course), and a 60's medley including My Girl, (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay, I've Been Loving You Too Long, (I'm not 100% sure about this one, I knew it was another Otis Redding track, and I knew it when I heard it, I just can't remember it now) as well as a few others. And like I mentioned above, the Reverend never let up moving around the stage giving it his all. Backing him wa a 13 member band that came together tight and played some sharp tunes.

There's still time to catch him in your town if you're lucky enough to live in Indianna or Missouri. Check out dates at the bottom to see if you're in luck. If not, and if you still haven't picked it up, I'd heartily recommend the new album.

and some older ones:

Al Green - Look What You Done For Me : Look What You Done For Me 7"

Al Green - La-La For You : Look What You Done For Me 7" B-side

Get them both on The Immortal Soul of Al Green.

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

Remaining Tour Dates

11/28/2008 Horseshoe Casino Hammond, IN
11/29/2008 Midland Theatre Kansas City, MO

Monday, November 24, 2008

The BPA visits Seattle

I wish Emmy the Great would put out a proper album here in the States. For feck's sake, why hasn't some label picked up on the fact that she's got serious import potential? In the meantime, here she is performing with the newly surfaced Brighton Port Authority.

Become the BPA's friend on MySpace.

and since it tis the season...

Emmy the Great - Christmas In Prison : It's Not Like Christmas

Become her friend on MySpace.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Soul - Never

I can't sleep at night
and I can't eat a bite
I guess I'll never be free
since you got your hooks in me

Whoooa, baby someday real soon
and it won't be long
you're gonna wake up
and find that your baby's gone
but if you ever want to call
pick up your telephone
and oh you can betcha' baby
that I'll come runnin' home
so you know how it is
and you know just how I feel

I'll tell you I ain't never
never, no no
loved a man the way that I
I love you

Probably the most emotional, soulful soul song I've ever heard. Yea, it's that much better than the original album version, and yea, that means you should listen to it.

Sunday Spotlight - The King Blues Revisited

It's either feast or famine, and this week it's a full spread. After reading about the Alan Cohen Experience earlier today, now you get a chance to taste something quite different.

You might remember me mentioning The King Blues a couple times over the last year. The first time was back in February when I wrote about their debut album's release here in the States. Then in May I gave a sneak peak at the title track from their upcoming album Let's Hang the Landlord. Well, time has rolled by, and that new album is now coming out. For today's Spotlight, Johnny "Itch" Fox, frontman and main songwriter in The King Blues, shared his thoughts and the story behind the albums third track, The Schemers, The Scroungers & The Rats. As always, text in red is his, and mine is in black.


There are many political songs written about work or lack of jobs or working hard but I wanted to do one about simply not wanting to work. It was half inspired by an Ali G quote when he interviewed Tony Benn he asked him "Everyone is banging on about the right to work, but what about the right to not work?". Of course it was a joke - Sacha Baron Cohen was portraying a character so ignorant he assumed striking workers were striking through laziness - but I thought it raised an interesting point.

Working for someone else is an accepted part of life I wanted to in some way question. The old school British attitude that ‘as long as you’re working you’re alright’ needs to be challenged. I don’t think that having a job by default makes you worthwhile. I’d respect someone more for enjoying their life, helping others, seeing their family and getting the most out of the short ride we’re on rather than cold calling me to sell me something I don’t need.

There’s a part of me that believes a good government wouldn’t strive to create more jobs but fewer. Let’s share out the work that NEEDS to be done and leave the rest of the time for enjoyment. Every generation we live shorter and work longer. There are many people in this country who choose not to work, for whatever reason, and this is a song for them.

And a few more Q's for Itch:

1.) The band has always been politically active, and there's some of that evident on the new album, but there are also some more personal songs that delve into touchy feely subjects like love. Was there a conscious shift in writing the album?

In a way it was conscious, we could easily have made another Under The Fog but we wanted to do an album that pushed forward what the band was about. Overall it's definitely a political record and we're still a political band. We just wanted to give this one more depth so there are songs that deal with more personal issues too. There are still a lot of fairly militant messages scattered throughout the album though. It's a sugar coated molotov cocktail.

2.) Your sound pulls in a lot of very diverse elements: a ukulele laden mix of reggae, ska, punk, British gypsy folk, etc... How the heck did you find two other guys willing to mix things up like you do?

Haha we all just know each other from going to punk gigs in London and we kind of just fell into a band together and I realise how utterly blessed I am to have found other people who are willing to really try anything rather than staying stagnant.

3.) How is the band doing making inroads here in the States? Any plans on touring the U.S. in support of the album?

We've been getting radio play from people like Rodney Bingenheimer on KROQ and the Passport Approved show on Indie 103.1 in LA, and Robert Levy on KDHX in St Louis. We've been featured on some cool blogs as well. We really want to go to the US.


It's hard to argue with that logic. God knows how many studies and articles there are about the average number of work hours going up and vacation days going down, especially here in the States. Anyway, enjoy listening to the track along with the fourth cut from the album, Underneath This Lamppost Light, a song that reminds me of a working man's version of Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight.

and an older favorite:

The King Blues - Mr. Music Man (Root-id Re-Rub) : Original version on Under the Fog

Visit their website, their label Field Recordings, and become their friend on MySpace.

Sunday Spotlight - Alan Cohen Experience

Earlier this year (back here in March), I wrote about The Alan Cohen Experience's album Revolutions. Well, Alan and crew are back with a brand new self-titled six track EP that came out a few weeks ago. While lacking any big name historical figures like the last album's Nelson Mandella, Che Guevara, or Fidel Castro, the EP carries on in the same musical vein, appropriating historical events and presenting them in offbeat ways.

Alan was kind enough to take the time to tell me about the first track of the EP, Elephant. As always, text in red is his and questions in black are mine.

Alan Cohen Experience - Elephant : Alan Cohen Experience


by the Alan Cohen Experience

On a day in January, I awoke in a friends bed with images of the African wilderness in my head.
There was a soundtrack with a thumping beat, all to the rhythm of the Elephants' feet.
“All's quiet on the waterfront, it's just me and my elephant.”

Immediately I wrote down the verse, and found a piano. I plunked my way through the song once or twice, and went to get breakfast. I stored it in my head as a picture, a thin horizon ending a flat plain, the nighttime stars and moon above. A traveler with his companion. A village celebrating a harvest festival. A song about wandering.

The townspeople dance under the moon
They dance to the sound of the pouring rain
They celebrate the harvest of their fields of grain
They honor all their fathers by proclaiming their names
They feast and then they sleep

I waited months to record the first draft of the song, making a short loop of the music. An attempt a year later led to a full version. The song was not born properly until Roger Greenawalt sprinkled his magic fairy dust onto the recording.

It is built on one chord, a guitar drone. The movement and soul of the song comes from the bass and keyboards, the middle section, and the piano solo, played by Jon Solo. It is meant to mesmerize, to exercise, and to funk-a-cize. It is Duke Ellington conducting Stevie Wonder. It is a Salvidor Dali painting turned into a musical. It is the sensation of standing on your head and unapologetically passing gas.

And three questions for Alan:

1.) On the last album you sang about historical figures that virtually all readers would be able to identify. On this album, you go with the much more recent Judge Roy Moore. Why the big shift, and how did you come to him as the subject of a song?

The main difference between these albums is that the last one, “Revolutions”, was conceived with a purpose, to explore various popular revolutionary figures and events, while this one is just a collection of songs that don't fit into any particular subject. About half of the lyrics were written by my longtime friend, Seth Kroll, including the one about Judge Roy Moore. I have no idea what his inspiration was, except to say that he is the sort of guy that will wax poetic about whatever catches his fancy. One of his prime moments was when he discovered the meaning of life while looking for cream cheese in the fridge.

I like to write concept albums, although in between I record and release one-off songs I have written over the years. There are some themes, however, that I tend to stray towards, one of them being history, another being space and the universe. I also have two songs about elephants and two songs about cookies.

2.) You mentioned that the impetus for the song Elephant were dreams involving African images. As I sit here writing these questions I coincidentally happen to be listening to the new Femi Kuti album. Do you happen to listen to any African music?

I don't really, and I should! When I wrote “Elephant”, I had just been to Africa 4 months prior with my family. I remember getting off the plane in Botswana, and taking picture after picture of the first elephant we saw, eventually realizing that they are everywhere! This song evokes a very specific image to me, which Seth Kroll and I tried to capture in the video. Just a lone wanderer with his companion elephant. I think maybe deep down in my psyche, I was thinking about how if I was to go on an open-ended adventure, an elephant would come in very handy. They really do seem like very thoughtful animals, and they seem to have a good sense of humour. I once read in National Geographic that there are elephants in Gabon that eat mushrooms they find in the jungle and trip out.

3.) I hear that you're already working on your next album, one inspired by Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Anything that you can share with us about it now?

Sure! It's a chapter-by-chapter musical interpretation of the book. Stephen Hawking gets pretty poetic in some chapters, and the songs reflect that. Some of his whimsical thought-exercises about various features of the universe are simply gorgeous! I am recording it in a studio north of Boston with a friend of mine, who is a very talented and successful musician and engineer.


Enjoy the song as well as its video, along with the closing track Space Watch, below.

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Verve Remixed Christmas

As much as you might want to deny it, Christmas is just around the corner. And with the economy in the shitter, there will probably be some killer deals come Black Friday. Let's avoid the consumeristic optimism though and get to the point of this post. Tired of spinning the same old tired tracks that you listen to every year around this time? Check out the Verve Remixed Christmas CD.

You might remember me writing about Remixed 4 in June. The theory behind the series is simple. Take classic tracks from the deep Verve catalog and spruce them up by handing them over to some tip-top remix maestros, and abracadabra, you end up with something new. I absolutely loved the 4th volume from first to last and had similar expectations for this Christmas album.

While there are some tracks here that I really dig, like the lead-off track Good Morning Blues (listen below), there are a couple songs, like 'Zat You Santa Claus? (The Heavy Remix), the second track, that just don't do it for me. Ironically it's because not enough is done with it to distinguish it from the original song, which is one of my favorite Christmas tunes. If you're familiar with the source material for these remixes, be prepared for some strong and loose re-workings that really make them pop as something new. That being said, you're parents might not go for these being spun while the family sits around to open presents, but it's a solid collection of classics brought into the 21st century.

and the original:

Pick up the Unmixed Version of this album, which includes all of the original tracks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Josiah Leming Uncovered

Just a quick post about a young singer/songwriter from Tennessee by the name of Josiah Leming. On the off chance that you watch American Idol (which I don't), you might recognize his name from the seventh season. If you don't, that might be for the best as you'll be apt to give him a fair shot. He just released a five track sampler titled Angels Undercover to amp listeners up for the release of his first full length in January.

My immediate and strongest comparison would be with Keane (who just released a new album of their own last month). Even though a southerner, Josiah's got an English accent and writes a melodic backdrop (quite contrary to the above picture) that certainly reminds me of the British Keane. Anyway, listen for yourself below to Arctic Outcry Wind, the first track from the EP.

Visit his label Reprise Records and become his friend on MySpace.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Takeover TV

Click it on and do some channel surfing.

Yo Gabba Gabba!

If you haven't checked out the show Yo Gabba Gabba! yet, borrow one of your friends' or relatives' kids so you have an excuse (if you need one) and check it out post-haste. You can catch it on Nick Jr. or the Noggin network. It's hosted by DJ Lance Rock (that's him in the orange suit and furry hat holding the boom box) and includes his pals Muno (the red cyclops), Foofa (the pink flower bubble), Brobee (described only as "the little green one"), Toodee (the blue cat-dragon) and Plex (the yellow robot), all pictured above.

While targeted toward the wee-little ones, this show is seriously beyond off the wall! At points you have to question what sort of illegal substances the creators were taking while thinking up some of this stuff. Even my four year old daughter can sense that there's something not quite right with the show...but that hardly detracts from enjoying it! Although only around since last year, in its two seasons it's featured an impressive array of guests including Leslie Hall, The Shins, The Aggrolites, Cornelius, Biz Markie, Shiny Toy Guns, Supernova, Mark Mothersbaugh, Rahzel, The Postmarks, Sugarland, Tony Hawk, Low, Laila Ali, Elijah Wood, Mýa, and The Salteens.

Just in time for Christmas, a soundtrack from the first two seasons has been released, and includes The Ting Tings, Biz Markie, The Salteens, The Roots, The Equabats, Mark Kozelek, all well as tracks featuring DJ Lance Rock and the Yo Gabba Gabba crew. All of the tracks are less than two and a half minutes, with most coming in at less than two, so the album flies by, and is good for listening to when you want to listen to some just plain fun music. Below are a couple tracks to prove to you that you don't have to be four to enjoy them. The first, Party In My Tummy, has to be the absolute best track on the album, and the video is a must watch, too. The second track features Biz Markie, who appears as a regular feature with Biz's Beat of the Day in which he teaches you how to beatbox. Listen, enjoy, and wish you were a wee-one again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christmas Wishlist - the Coosh

Over the last few weeks I've tried to help you fill up your Christmas wishlist to try and cut down on the tube-socks and candles that you get as presents. As avid music lovers, what can be more of a necessity (other than the music I guess), than a pair of headphones? That being said, I got sent a pair a little while ago to test out that are kind of trick from a company called Coosh. They're brand new this year, and put together a couple neat features. First off, they have silicone "earings" (that are detachable) that loop over your ear to make sure the buds stay in your ears and don't hop out on you. In fact, the buds are made of silicone, too, which feels a little nicer in your ear. They've also got an inline volume adjuster and a right angle input jack.

The company has put together a clever little marketing ploy by putting together the full length documentary, The Way of the Bboy, a "a 100% indie documentary and instruction video all-in-one, featuring the Massive Monkees Bboy crew as well as interviews of hip-hop’s forefathers (Michael Holman, Grandmaster Caz, LilLep and more) explaining how the Bboy movement came to be and how it is still one of the 4 pillars of Hip-Hop." The connection? Coosh claims their headphones are so secure that even Bboys can wear them while busting out their moves and not have to worry about losing the music. Check out a teaser on it below:

While not the best sounding head phones I've ever put into my ears, they do a surprisingly good job considering their price ($20 on their website - not sure what you can find them for in the stores). They also have a phone version available. If you want to order them, you can enter COOSH2008 into the discount code box at checkout and receive free shipping and handling (not sure for how long though).

Soul Men

The first news I heard about the recently released movie Soul Men was when a copy of the soundtrack showed up in my mailbox as a surprise package. I haven't seen it yet (I don't get to the theaters all that often), but from what I've read it seems like a re-make of the Blues Brothers storyline to a certain extent. Members of an old soul band decide to reunite, with the touble being that they don't really like each other anymore. While it's gotten some consistently luke-warm reviews, I'll probably end of renting it at the very least when it comes out on DVD. From the sounds of it though, the soundtrack surpasses the movie.

I'll say straight out that when I looked at the track listing of the soundtrack for the movie, I had some serious doubts about the movie's co-stars Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson singing some seriously classic Soul cuts. Of the twelve songs on the album, three include the pair singing alongside John Legend (on the Spooner Oldham / Don Penn track I'm Your Puppet, first sung by Sam & Dave), Sharon Leal (an actress form the film on the album closer, the Isaac Hayes cut Do Your Thing), as well as just the pair (on Rufus Thomas' Boogie Ain't Nuttin' (But Gettin' Down)). Other artists contributing to the effort include Anthony Hamilton, Meshell Ndegeocello, and the late Isaac Hayes, as well as Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and the Sugarman 3 representing for Daptone Records.

The album's on the semi-recently reborn Stax label, and as a result features some classic Stax cuts from the 60's and 70's covered by the above mentioned artists as well as two originals: Eddie Floyd's I've Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do) and a remix of Isaac Hayes' Never Can Say Goodbye that feels just as authentic as the original. You'd think they'd be playing with fire covering classics, but the album feels completely true to the period, even, I dare say, the songs by Mac and Jackson. You actually have to listen to be able to pick out the fact that the two actors are singing!

Here's the trailer for the movie:

And here are a couple cuts from the album for you to listen to and enjoy, as well as some older versions below. All together, this soundtrack does a nice job of collecting some new (but very authentic sounding) versions of less than common soul classics.

Visit the movie's official website and the soundtrack's label Stax Records.


Mel & Tim - I'm Your Puppet
: Starting All Over Again

Rufus Thomas - The Memphis Train : The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968

Monday, November 17, 2008

Meet Mascott

"In my day-to-day life I feel the need for restraint... with these songs, I say what I want to say, create the melodies and guitar parts that are natural for me, and I don't worry about the outcome."

-Kendall Jane Meade, on the creation of Art Project

Every so often I come across an artist that's been around for a while and yet somehow has avoided working their way into my ear. In today's particular case, her name is Kendall Jane Meade, and she's been around for somewhere around fifteen years, both as a member of 90's indie group Juicy and then later setting out on her own under the name Mascott.

You might just want to group Kendall with the countless other female singer/songwriters out there in the world, but you'd be missing something special. To be completely honest, I'm not exactly sure what sets her above her peers, but from the first listen I knew this was going to be an album that I'd return to and enjoy. As you might guess, the focus here is on Kendall's voice, a honeyed sweetness that doesn't get cutesy and sickly on you. Behind her, light instrumentation supports songs about love, its finding and its loss. Although it's been awhile since I've listened to their music, it reminds me of Eisley (who are in the process of putting together their new album supposedly!). And then to seal the deal, the album ends with a cover of June Carter Cash's Wildwood Flower, a heartbreaking song that I just love.

The album is way too short at only nine tracks and goes by incredibly quickly. I've already picked up her last album, Dreamer's Book, and am pretty sure I'll go deeper once I digest that one. I've included a track from it below along with one of my favorites from the new one, Press Play (and Then Repeat). In addition, enjoy this cute little video for Dream Another Dream, another track from the new album.

Dream Another Day - by Mascott from Red Panda Records on Vimeo.

and one from her last album

Visit her label Red Panda Records and become her friend on MySpace.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Soul - The Manhattans

Although there are still quite a few big name soul artists whose music is still listened to and whose legacy has yet to fade, there are many, many more who are being left in dusty history books and whose music is being left behind. For some, who might have released a handful of 45 single, this isn’t so surprising. But for others like The Manhattans, there is simply no reason.

The group, in its original form as a quintet (over its history it’s gone through numerous line-up changes), first came together in 1964. The five members were friends from high school and after serving in various branches of the military they formed the band and signed to Carnival Records. Ever since then, The Manhattans have been making music, although with different members at various points. Forty-four years of musical history. Seems like ample enough reason for them not to be relegated to the bargain bins and forgotten.

In their career, The Manhattans have recorded with four different labels, and Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 is the first compilation to gather tracks from these various periods. Presented over the span of three discs, the collection’s thirty five tracks documents their musical evolution from the very beginning. Evolution is the key word here as it was the band’s ability to re-image itself and adapt to changes in musical movements that allowed the group to stay in the charts for three decades. In fact, they were one of the very few bands who were able to survive the fickle tastes of listening America. From early doo-wop / R&B, to the more symphonic smooth Philly soul of the 70’s, to the more modern R&B of the 80’s, the group was able to avoid growing stale while retaining their smooth and sweet trademark harmonies.

Disc one starts at the beginning and includes cuts from 1965 through 1973 which were put out on the Carnival, and later, Deluxe labels. Here is where you’ll find the mix of doo-wop and R&B of early developing soul music. Below is I Wanna Be (Your Everything), one of the group’s first singles and also the first track in the compilation.

Disc two closes out the 70’s and moves into their time at Columbia Records (as well as one last Deluxe straggler put out after the band’s migration). At this point, with the larger label’s support, they moved towards the smooth Philadelphia Sound with lush instrumental backdrops. You'll also pick up a Barry White vibe on some of these cuts. There’s a definite shift audibly visible between this material and the “older” feel of the material on disc one. On this disc you’ll find Kiss and Say Goodbye, a pop and R&B number one hit that the group released in 1976.

Disc three takes the group through the 80’s and ends with I Don’t Stop, from 1990. At the very end of the decade, the group left Columbia and moved to the smaller Valley Vue label, who picked up many homeless classic R&B artists at a time when the market didn’t care so much about legends (Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, etc…). This final disc opens with Shining Star (absolutely no relation to the Earth, Wind, & Fire song by the same name), their second top ten hit in 1980. Soul aficionados might have trouble moving into these final fifteen tracks, as there is a clear smooth, modern 80’s R&B groove going on here which might be too top 40 radio to digest, but it’s essential when considering the band’s complete development.

There’s a lot of music here for the price, music that you’d have to buy a couple handfuls of albums to compile on your own. Also essential are liner notes outlining the band’s entire history from this long period. I’ve included cuts below from each of the discs to give you a flavor of the band’s evolution. Enjoy the appetizer and then order the whole thing (or add it to your Christmas list) for yourself.

The Manhattans - I Wanna Be (Your Everything) : Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 (disc 1)

The Manhattans - Kiss And Say Goodbye : Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 (disc 2)

The Manhattans - Let Your Love Come Down : Sweet Talking Soul 1965-1990 (disc 3)

Visit their website, the compilation's label Shout! Factory, and become their friend on MySpace.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Devil's Music

yea they worship satan
at the after-party backstage
where they torture the animals
that they keep caged
i'm only saying this cuz i love you
i'm only saying this cuz i care
i'm only thinking of you
when i say you should be aware

of the devil's music
those are the devil's songs
it's the devil's music
and you're singing along

Hospital Bombers - The Devil's Music : Footnotes

Visit their website, their label Saved By Radio, and become their friend on MySpace.

Royally Sparked

Compilations can be a tricky animal to tame. If they're well done, they contain a wide range of tracks that span not only artists but also genres. There-in lies their strength and weakness. To be successful, a compilation turns you onto music that you normally wouldn't have picked up on. It takes you a step or two (or three) outside of your comfort zone. That's where you can run into their weakness. The odds of you finding a whole collection of tracks (a diverse collection I should say) that completely flip your lid is about as great as Britney Spears getting her life under control again. The magic trick that compilations play on you is that they turn you on to a few good artists, good enough that you don't mind listening to the rest that aren't your bag.

That being said, Royally Sparked does an admirable job of walking that line. It's sixteen tracks collect songs from eight different artists, only one of which I had heard before (Spiral Beach). I picked two of the artists who I enjoyed best below, but explore the compilation on your own when you can to make your own discoveries.

The first track below comes from The Two Koreas, a band from Toronto. Their track Return To Oslo (the first of two from them on the comp) gives off serious echos of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

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

The other track I'll share comes from Son Of Dave. the son in the name is Benjamin Darvill, formally of Crash Test Dummies. His track, Old Times Were Good Times, rolls with a electric rockabilly blues spirit that reminds me of the The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Become his friend on MySpace.

Friday, November 14, 2008


When it comes to dance music, Brazil seems to be the place to be searching for the next big thing. In the last year or so, it's pumped out some hot albums from CSS, Bonde Do Role, Telepathique, and DJ Dolores. And now, to end the year in style, Curumin is releasing his sophomore effort, Japanpopshow. Curumin is the stage name of Brazilian musician Luciano Nakata Albuquerque, an artist who's been involved with making music since the age of eight.

His style starts in his native Latin sounds of samba and bossa nova (as well as Portugese lyrics for the most part), but heavily incorporates a diverse collection of world influences such as jazz, hip-hop, dub, and afro-beat, leaving the listener wondering what's gonna hit them next. The album opens with the title track, a dark number with an almost spoken word thread running over an Encino Morricone guitar line and bird calls via The Orb. Yea, there's a lot going on there for sure, and that's only the first track. Then you move on to Compacto, a laid back number that will make you picture Curumin strolling along a boardwalk in California strumming a guitar along the way.

The third cut, Kyoto, features Curumin rapping (in Portugese) alongside Blackalicious and Lateed the Turthseeker (in English) over a throw-back hip-hop beat reminiscent of the Fabolous' track Can't Deny It. Then it's on to the trip-hop lo-fi Dancando No Escuro, the thick and heavy technoesque Salto No Vacuo Com Joelhada (resplendent with delicate music box accompanyment), and the more traditional Latin tinged Magrela Fever.

I could honestly go track by track like this, with each having a completely unique flavor. Instead I'll offer Sambito (Totaru Shock) below, a song that starts out as a lo-fi AM radio sounding Latin track that quickly picks up some juice with a retro remix feel. Also below is Cadê O Mocotó? (Essa Coisa), a heavier number from his debut album.

and one from his first album:

Visit his label Quannum Projects and become his friend on MySpace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dancer Vs. Politician

Whoever said French is the language of lovers and German a harsh guttural piece of auditory sandpaper obviously never heard Dancer Vs. Politician. Organized by Sanni Baumgaertner, who was originally from Germany but moved to Athens, GA in the late 90's and has popped back and forth since then, the group brings together a collection of Athens musicians backing Sanni up for a enchantingly whimsical ten tracks sung in both English and German.

Contrary to expectations, her voice smothly flows through lyrics, and put together with the instrumental backdrop is a mixture of Belle and Sebastian meets Au Revoir Simone. Besides presenting her voice front and center, Semmi also plays accordion, guitar, and musical saw, which contributes to that flighty summer day feeling. The two tracks below present her lyrics expressed in both languages. The first, Mach Dich Los (which I believe translates to "Take You Off," but probably means something completely different), is the album opener and is sung in German. The second, Justin Fairborn, is delivered in English (meaning you can sing along!) and features some lazy horn work and some catchy hand claps you can participate with as well.

Become their friend on MySpace.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jay Brannan Live

On Saturday night (which was an incredibly rainy and inhospitable evening), I had the good fortune to check out Jay Brannan play at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA. In case you didn't catch it, I featured Jay in my Sunday Spotlight feature back here in August. His debut album, Goddamned, came out in July, and honestly is one of my favorite albums of 2008. Put it this way, it's the first album in a LONG time that I've memorized (almost) all the words to (or can at least fake it). That being said, if you haven't checked out his music yet, I'd highly recommend it.

Backing up for a second, the night was opened by Gregory Douglass, who quite quickly went through a half a dozen of his songs to start the evening. About two thirds of his songs were performed by him on piano (a real one never-the-less), with the last third having him switch instruments to a guitar. I was completely unfamiliar with his music before this listen, so I can't make all that informed a recommendation for his material. It was enjoyable and certainly worth a try. Visit his MySpace page to explore his music for yourself.

After a short intermission, Jay came on stage to perform. When I reviewed the album I mentioned how intimate it came across. Well, you can imagine how hearing that same material in person felt. He opened with the opening track from his album (and the one he talked about for my Sunday Spotlight feature), Can't Have It All, and it only got better from there. Over the course of the evening, he played some other cuts from the album (including A Death Waltz, Half-Boyfriend, and the title track from the album) on both guitar and piano.

Although thoroughly enjoyable, the evening had a few highlights. After singing Bowlegged & Starving, he briefly and amusingly played a few bars from Joan Osborne's One Of Us. Then, when he played Housewife (one of my favorite tracks on the album) he sung the first verse in French. Having just got back from a short European tour, he had brushed up on his foreign language skills. Check out a video of him singing the complete song in French here on YouTube. He also played an enjoyable cover of Ani DiFranco's Both Hands in the middle of his set, and a couple non album tracks: Body's A Temple (video here) and Soda Shop (video here).

The pair are playing a handful of other dates. Check below for the list.

Jay Brannan - Can't Have It All : Goddamned

Jay Brannan - Soda Shop : Shortbus Original Movie Soundtrack

Visit his website and become his friend on MySpace.

Remaining Tour Dates

Nov 13 Orlando
Nov 15 Boulder
Nov 17 San Diego
Nov 18 San Francisco
Nov 20 Vancouver
Nov 22 Houston
Nov 23 Austin
Dec 12 New York (sold out)
Dec 14 New York

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hunter S. Thompson MEGA-gift

A few weeks ago I tipped you off to a box set that you might want to add to your Christmas wish-list (the Led Zeppelin Definitive Collection Mini LP Replica Box Set). Well I've got another one for those of you who are literary types: The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Probably most universally famous for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (after which the movie of the same title was based), Thompson was also known as the creator of "Gonzo journalism", in which the reporter takes an active part in the stories that he or she is investigating and then writes about them subjectively with more focus on creative expression than simply factual accounting.

This box set includes five discs, recorded between 1965 and 1975, that contain Thompson's observations, notes, and musings while out on assignment. He would carry a tape recorder with him and record on tape his thoughts so as not to lose his ideas. This set collects some of those very personal tapes from different periods in his career. Included are his notes from the year he rode with the Hell's Angels, the notes that eventually developed into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, notes for several articles never published, and finally notes from Saigon, Vietnam just days before its fall in 1975. Put it all together with an accompanying book of information, and here's what it looks like:

Hunter S. Thompson - Guts Ball/ There's Signs Of Group Hysteria : The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Disc 4: Gonzo Gridlock 1973-1974)

Visit the official Hunter S. Thompson website and the set's label Shout! Factory.