Monday, June 30, 2008

The Kid's Music is Alright

Just back from another fun-filled drive between Cleveland and home, which means . . . lots of kid's music (with a few adult selections mixed in). So here is probably one of the only reviews of kid's music we will see here in The Room (or you might ever read). Those without teh kids (or dare I say, grandkids) are excused unless you have some weird desire to get insight about what happens to one's listening habits when this genre gets included in your collection.

So, let's just get right to the bottom line. Former Del Fuego frontman Dan Zanes absolutely owns the top spot for this music these days. He has more albums out there for kids than you can imagine with the newest one Nuevo York! just released a couple weeks back. What makes Zanes earn top billing for me? First, he just picks and writes great songs and none of them are pandering "Raffiesque schlock." He specializes in taking old songs and bringing them to light for the kids. Songs like Erie Canal, Don't Want Your Millions Mister, or even Polly Wolly Doodle (wow, can't believe I am going to say this all in public!) are great mixed in with his own kid rockers. On this new album, he brings Latin-influenced music to life, calling on a variety of artists from around New York City to help out (something he does on most albums). So, despite his "association" with Disney, which is a bit hard to swallow, I recommend anyone in the market for kid's music to sample some Dan Zanes. My favorite? Rocket Ship Beach.

Now, I know that none of you some of you might be asking, what about other artists? I can hear someone saying that They Might Be Giants deserve top billing. To you I say No! and no means no. Okay, in reality they definitely get high marks, but I am still waiting to see if they can consistently make this music, which Zanes has proven he can.

A couple other honorable mentions definitely go to Ralph's World and Justin Roberts who my boys really enjoy as well. I should also mention the compilation For the Kids which is hard to ignore for the simple fact that it starts with Cake doing their version of the Na Na Na song and has some other great cuts as well (although I would skip volume II and III).

Now I know there is another school of thought here that says skip the whole kids music thing altogether--just get them started on the real stuff, or feed them that Mozart so they are smart. Yeah, yeah. My kids get lots of all different stuff--which is why I have to go into their room if I want to find a Beatles disc--but I also think they have really enjoyed having "their music" as well.

So there you go--there is a whole lot more I could say here (including about bad kid's music to avoid), but I have probably gone on more than I should. I have been thinking that if I try to keep this blggy thing going,I am going to have to get better about describing music and what I like about it--strangely, I could talk about this music for hours without having that worry.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Open Thread: REM

What say you?
  1. Acquire?
  2. At least borrow it?
  3. Not the worth the time?

(and I guess I should admit this one is a "1" in my book)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Tangled Tweedy Web

Okay, so I have a few artists/bands I have been listening to lately that most of you have probably been listening to for five or ten years and I am just catching up. Just bear with me and remember that this means that when you weigh in you get to be the smart ones! And, for those more behind than me, don’t worry, I will still provide context and links so you can check out all these good tunes as well!

For starters, I had every intention of writing about Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown who I have been listening to pretty heavily lately, but in that wonderful way that the web works, I started looking for others who were writing on Adams to see what they had to say and found this blog. On one hand, Payton has more reviews and information about Ryan Adams here than you can shake a stick at making one wonder if another post on Ryan Adams is going to be necessary, evah, but the real problem is that I got to reading this post on Jeff Tweedy, front man for Wilco—another band I am catching up with.

This post made me realize that there are these earlier Wilco related bands that I have no knowledge of but all sound interesting. Most notably the key here is Uncle Tupelo featuring Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar (although there is an earlier history to the whole story) who then decided they couldn’t stand each other and Farrar forms Son Volt while Tweedy and company become Wilco. Interesting.

So, over to the Pandora I go--where you all surely know that you load in artists or songs and the wonderful Pandora opens up its boxes and creates a radio station of sorts playing music that has similar qualities to those you chose—and throw in the Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt to one of my stations and happily go back to writing and tuning.

I hear a song that I don’t recognize, which is not an uncommon occurrence with Pandora, but this sounds like a really cool Wilco track so I look at who it is and lo and behold, it is . . . . Golden Smog! Good grief, who is Golden Smog? Turns out that this is yet another iteration of folks playing together occasionally that includes a few notable people that includes Tweedy up front part of the time.

So dear readers, where is a guy to start? Which iteration? Which discs? This includes Wilco. Wobs has been good enough to share Being There, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, and Sky Blue Sky which are all quite fine and worthy of your time, although I am particularly fond of Sky Blue Sky with its cool 70’s vibe. In fact, as a bonus I am going to through in this performance of one of my favs on the album which is particularly pertinent since Neats (the wife for those who don’t know us) and the Boys are off at the grandparents.

Now I am not some “obsessive I have to have everything by an artist kind of a guy”—okay I was until I understood that bands make albums of different quality and my obsession was forcing me to by baaaaad albums. But surely someone will tell me where to start untangling the Tweedy web and what I should listen to . . .

I’m listening.

For Every Season

I realize I have yet to write much about what I think of a particular disc—hmmm, could it be that I am a bit nervous about not being cutting edge enough for this crowd? Well yeah, but here it goes anyway (kinda).

I didn’t actually ever have any Old 97’s in the collection until I picked up their recent effort Blame It On Gravity—although I had different cuts from my days of getting CMJ every month (CMJ, where I just learned that Boy George has been denied a visa for his US tour because he allegedly "chained up" some Norwegian dude who came to his place for a “photo shoot.” But I so digress.)

I don’t know why I never did more than dip my toe in with the 97's, because this disc is just a bunch of fun—which means I am looking for suggestions of where to go in their discography next. The music is definitely has great rock beats with that country twang hanging around and plenty of tracks have their own particular sound--cha-cha, tango, swing, etc.

The lyrics are, on one hand, light-hearted with nice hooks, but on the other hand they aren’t superficial. The Rolling Stone review captures this mix of upbeat songs with serious/dark lyrics best with this from lead singer Rhett Miller:
"Strum it on a Telecaster/Sing it like a train-disaster song," sings Miller. It's a perfect mission statement from four Texans raised on the Beatles and Johnny Cash in equal measures, whose shiny melodies, and fatalistic character studies, do their forefathers proud.
Favorite first lyrics are from track two “Dance With Me”
He takes your hand, tenderly
He whispers sweet surrender
Nothing is how he feels
About girls like you with your flip-flop smiles and
Your big blue eyes on vacation

Dance with me into the ocean
Roll with me into the sea
Don’t tell me the world is in trouble
Do you want to dance with me?
This tune exemplifies to me why the album is a great pick up for the summer—a sort of escapism that acknowledges larger issues out there, but let’s ignore it all for a while and get lost in this music—yeah, I get that the song isn’t quite about that, but I am talking about the experience of listening to this disc (or at least mine).

This brings up another issue for me which is the idea of music being seasonal. I am wondering if others think about music that way. I definitely listen to certain music at different times of the year. I think this album resonates more with me for having picked it up as summer started. Not really sure I can articulate why that is, but I know it is true.

I tend to listen to more rowdy stuff in Spring and Summer and tend to be more jazz and classical oriented as we move through Fall and into the Winter. I suspect for me it has to do with my strong orientation to the academic calendar, but even that doesn’t hold perfectly. Of course, there are exceptions to that (and obviously mood has a lot to do with that), but it is a phenomenon I am acutely aware of in my listening habits and I am curious if any others have a pattern of music listening that you see as tied to time of year, weather, etc.?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Right Profile

Just a little more navel-gazing here as we get the site started up while I have a few people checking in (I think?). Here is my question: Where do you get your musical news/info/insights? Of course, the very premise of this blog is that one primary way is by sharing with friends. But, I also surmise that most of us check out some publication here or there, or read a blog, or are lucky enough to have a decent local paper that reviews music . . . in short, we have our particular sources.

So what are they? I am looking to build up the resources over there on the right-hand side of this blog, but I would like to be deliberate about that. I don’t want those lists to be nothing more than some long list of links that is so overwhelming that no one finds them helpful (remember, the idea here is to be a kind of friend’s clearinghouse of musical ideas).

For instance, David Byrne’s Journal which is the only one listed just now in that category (another h/t to College Roommate) is simply a really interesting blog on music and many other things. I know lots of artist have promo-sites, but I am looking for more than that. I am looking for sites that help inform the conversation and that you would think others would appreciate.

Similarly, I have added some mainstream music pubs, but there are a whole mess of them out there—what do you consult?

Finally, I am looking for music specific sites. There are lots of folks who post occasionally on music, but the goal is quality, not quantity. So for instance I have added Jazz & Blues Music Reviews (who, by the way beat me to weighing in on Vijay Iyer's new album) to the list of other bloggers writing about music because of that blog's focus on, well, jazz and blues.

So tell me where you go, and if there should be a whole new category over there on the right side, let me know that as well.

Monday, June 23, 2008

You Can Call Me Al

Shall we begin? Indeed. So the July issue of Downbeat has some recommendations to consider. But first, it was pointed out to me the other day that all lovers of music might not be aware of Downbeat as a resource for jazz fans—off to the Wiki with you. Okay back to business.

DB gave a number of albums 4+ stars which represents “Excellent” in the DB world—for those who don’t know this pub, 5 stars are pretty doggone hard to come by. So here are a few of the contenders from this issue.

  • Live / Brad Mehldau Trio (4 stars): I really love Mehldau’s stuff and he also gets a mention earlier in the issue for being one of the first jazz artists for covering Radiohead tunes. Definitely going on the “consider to pick up next time I am shopping list.”
  • Tragicomic / Vijay Iyer (4 stars): just picked it up and listening to it as I write--more after I give it a closer listen. First blush: very boppy, but with overarching melodies that are quite accessible.
  • Standards / Nuttree Quartet (4 stars): just the line up and instrumentation will make me pick this up. John Abercrombie (guitar) Jerry Bergonzi (tenor saxophone) Adam Nussbaum(drums) Gary Versace (Hammond B-3).
  • Vignettes / Marilyn Crispell (4 and ½ stars): Somebody help me here as I don’t have any of her stuff, but I feel like I should know more about her.

Okay, so there are a lot of other artists featured in the issue I will try to get to. But one article that caught my attention was the write up and interview with Al Green about his new album Lay It Down which they describe as an “instant classic.” This caught my attention because I had just read about it in Rolling Stone in their “Buy It Now” write up. I have some of the Reverend’s music and appreciate his place in musical history, but am not some fanatical fan. Still, the seemingly universal praise for this effort--not to mention the folks who are hanging out with him on this disc--makes me consider checking it out.

So let’s open up the fan lines on Al Green. What do you all think? Anyone have the new album or any of his recent efforts? Are the critics right on this one--worth the purchase? Need a promo prompt--here you go.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What the World Needs Now

Good friend Wobs is fond of saying: "Just what the world needs, another blog!" I heed his warning (although his post might have been the final straw in my thinking about this). So let me start by saying that I am not sure if this will be a real blog or not . . . right now it is just an idea.

The idea is to have a place where friends and visitors could talk about what music/artists/discs they are listening to--in short, to share tunes, but in a more personal sense than just reading a music mag or surfing a musical "store" in whatever form. It is one thing for some music critic to spin us on a new artist or disc, it is another thing for one friend to tell another that "this is something I like." It is a revealing moment about the person making the recommendation and about the relationship between the people involved. Because of that, I find that it is the music that friends have turned me on to that has been the most important to me and that I have really enjoyed in the long run. That is, friends are the ones who have helped me "fine tune" my musical tastes.

Whether it is my Little Sis who made me realize I missed the whole Ryan Adams thing while the focus here was on babies, moving and a new job; or, a Utah poet who was surprised that I didn't have any Luscious Jackson; or, Wobs who had to get me up to speed on the Flaming Lips and Wilco, or my college roommate who has turned me onto more music, from the Waterboys to Brad Mehldau, than I could possibly account for here, I am indebted to many good folks for their knowledge, awareness and love for music. I suspect, although I don't know, that this fact is true for others as well.

Okay, so I think there are a couple of reasons to maybe start this blog. First, if enough friends are willing to join me here and talk about music that is simply enough. I know--just call! Email! We will talk about these things. True enough, but I tell you that by the time the day ends and the kids are in bed, I just want to "tune out" and putting on some music and checking in with what friends are listening to sounds like a nice way to stay in touch with both friends and music. Music has always been a key connection for me with my closest friends and I hope this might be one way to rekindle those connections and develop new ones.

My other reason is an "economy of scale" argument (otherwise known as me being lazy). There is so much music out there and so much information, but really who has time? (I mean there are blogs to be started after all!) Seriously, my thinking here is to have a few people willing to weigh in and share ideas as a way to keep all of us more connected. The other piece of this that I have really come to value about blogs is the archiving of these discussions that, in this, case could serve as a sort of cataloging of potential music folks might want to pick up. I can't imagine I am the only one who sees a benefit in that?

To give you an idea, here are a few ideas of the kind of posts I am thinking about (although this is in no way exhaustive or prescriptive--and post titles will not be required to reference Burt Bacharach songs):
  • The plain old "this is what I am listening to and why you might be interested in it" post.
  • The open thread artist/new disc post.
  • The "genre" post: hey here is some great music to listen to while driving--you know, "car tunes."
  • The review of reviews: looking at recent mags or blogs to see what they are saying about new releases.
  • Recent purchases.
  • Lazy You Tube posts--too tired to write, watch this cool music video.
And who knows what else--you?

So I am going to post a few entries here for a little while as I fiddle around with the site to give you all a flavor of what I am thinking of (although you might suspect the flavor will be a bit on the vanilla side if it is just me). Let me know what you think and any ideas you have to make this more worthwhile--topics, contributors who might be interested that you trust, links or other web sites that should be added to the lists--the site is deliberately incomplete so that others can make suggestions to help form what The Tuning Room is. All that I know for sure right now is I imagine something much more akin to a college apartment with friends laying around listening to and talking about music than some great new critic's corner for music.

Let me know--will friends tune in or are there already too many stations on the dial?