Sunday, November 1, 2009

Not Again!

Well, here we go again. It appears that keeping The Room going is not really viable and it is time to move on. But this time, it is a bit different. Rather than just stop blogging, I am shifting to a new venue to try my hand at blogging a bit more expansively and a bit more personally.

Ultimately, trying to write intelligently about music, as was the goal here, simply took too much time. As Wobs pointed out when I talked to him about this "if I could just get to posting before each day's work was done, I might have the energy." But ultimatley I think that had to do with the ideal we were aiming for here at The Room. So, I hope you will put up with another shift and stay with me over at the new place. I will leave it to Wobs to tell you where you can follow him and his many thoughts.

Thanks everyone for staying with us for the last year and a half or so.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Excuses

Yeah, yeah. I know. Start the blog up again and then only a few months later can't even manage to eke out a post every couple weeks--and, really, this won't count either. It isn't that there has been no music in my life lately, but rather that life has been just too busy to find the inspiration to blog (no commentary on whether or not posts here in The Room are inspired or not please). Here are my excuses:
  1. I haven't picked up any new music in weeks and I haven't been listening to artists that would qualify for the new Missing Essentials category of posts.
  2. Okay, actually, it is just that I can't stop listening to Frontier Ruckus.
  3. There is this thing called work that happens most days. Sheesh!
  4. The Artist and The Engineer are both taking pretty serious piano lessons requiring about an hour of parental prodding patient encouragement.
  5. Even if I had some new music hanging around, I am not Robin Hilton and I have to actually listen to an album more than once to form an opinion about it.
  6. I started to think about new music, but got lost at AccuJazz.
  7. The fear of not finishing the family room before Thanksgiving (we will and there will be Bose surround sound people).
  8. Did I mention I have an actual job?
  9. Wobs keeps distracting me.
  10. I spent the last month watching my dear Tigers melt down rather than blogging.
But soon, soon I say, this blogger is going to get back in tune and there will be more music here in The Room. As soon as I . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Preferring the Former to the Latter: The Dodos and Joe Henry

When I first heard the Dodo's Visiter album last year, I, like so many others was impressed. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed to me that these guys were potentially on the verge of developing into something unique and special. And so I, like so many others, looked forward to their next effort. But if Visiter was a series of wonderfully fresh songs that served as the peaks of the album that were interrupted by a few notable valleys, their new album, Time to Die, is more of a series of consistent hills with fewer peaks or valleys. As you listen, you don't have any of those "what the hell is this doing on the album" moments, but there are few fewer "wow" moments. But I feel like I am just rewriting the Pitchfork review here which sums it all up quite nicely:
So you really can't call Time to Die a disappointment, not when it actually improves on Visiterin some ways. It's not the full-out leap into "pop" that it would initially seem (for that, you'd need to hear the difference between Visiter and their self-released full-length, from back when they were called Dodo Bird), and for all its charms, Visiter wasn't exactly the tightest hour going. Time to Die bests it as far as consistency goes-- might not get a "Fools" here, but you won't get a "Park Song" either. And it's hard to envision Time to Die slowing the momentum of the Dodos' ascendance, not when their live performances are still thrilling as ever, but Time to Die comes off like a temporary decision to forgo made them lovable, flaws and all, and stress what makes them likeable.
Now if I were in charge of the world, I would rewind time knowing all the tunes that would be on both of these albums, and I would have turned two albums into one glorious effort (which would have been about 70 percent Visiter and 30 percent Time to Die). Here are two of the songs off the new album that would go into that mix.
Dodos / Time to Die (Buy Album)

The new Joe Henry disc, Blood from Stars is both a similar and a bit of a different story for me. When College Roomy gave me a copy of Civilians, JH's previous release, I wondered how I had missed this guy. The Tom Waits like voice, the wonderful lyrics and his sense of timing--it was an album I kept going back to (and if you do not have it, you should pick it up). So like with the Dodo's, I anticipated the next album from Henry.
Now Henry is not moving to safer or more pop-oriented ground here, but he is moving to a sound he has been toying with and that would be jazz. And when he gets there on this album it is quite wonderful. The musicians he pulls in here, most notably Jason Moran who opens the album and Marc Ribot whose guitar work is really enjoyable, add wonderful texture to the album. But unlike Civilians, it just doesn't hold together and the less interesting spots detract from the album as a whole.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad album by any stretch, it just isn't Civilians where his lyrics seems to scratch at the surface of the everyday and get inside relationships, motivations, and generally the messiness of life. But here as the NY Times review points out "His lyrics can feel too artful, too self-conscious. . . . Mr. Henry sings, repeating the word disarray as a meaningful echo. Still, he sounds as if he has everything pretty much under control." Still he has some absolutely wonderful songs on this effort.
Here are a couple that include the fine contributions including Moran's beautiful opening and the first tune, which had me really jazzed--no pun intended. The next tune has some wonderful guitar-work by Ribot and also exhibits one of my favorite characteristics of Henry's--the way he plays with words, and rhyme schemes to create tension and resolve (which usually masks more tension).
Joe Henry / Blood from Stars (Buy Album)

Update: just got hit with a copyright violation for the JH's tunes, so they are now unlinked. You can hear them streaming here.

Prelude: Light No Lamp
The Man I Keep Hid
This Is My Favorite Cage
All in all, I prefer the albums that precede both of these, but that doesn't mean these aren't still worth checking out and both artists definitely worth watching to see where they go next.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Crushing Beauty of The Antlers' Hospice

One way to judge a new album is by both the number of reviews it gets (attention) and the quality of those reviews (engagement). This is particularly true of a lesser known band since you can dismiss the assertion that everyone is reviewing the album because of the band's previous success. And so it is with the latest effort by The Antlers, Hospice, which has been receiving very solid reviews over at the big board--now holding a top ten placement for the year.

When there are so many reviews (and so many well written because the reviewers are clearly engaged with this album), it is somewhat difficult to even imagine where to begin--what to say that hasn't already been said. These reviews cover many wonderful aspects of this album, but the review that best captures what I want to say is not by any of the official review sites, but by My Old Kentucky Blog who has been carrying the flag for these boys for a while now and opens their review with a very appropriate warning.
Allow me to forge a fair warning: The Antlers' Hospice is not an easy record to sit through. With the right focus, in the right mindset, this album is as powerful on the soul as climbing a mountain is on the body. This album will crush you if you don’t know what to expect.
Pretty ominous, but really not all that far off as far as I am concerned. See this album (you did note the title, right?) is an album with a theme (rather than a concept album) and that theme is death and loss. Built around a central relationship between a dying patient and a caregiver, it tumbles through the spectrum of emotions that might occur during and around that relationship, moving from dreamy sad reflections to anger to some sort of understanding and back again to all of that. I am not sure it is the straight narrative the MOKB lays out in their review, but as lead singer and song-writer Peter Silberman writes in the Prologue notes about the story, "it's all connected in these complicated nightmares that we weave."

Now a colleague asked me the other day if I am one of "those people" who obsess about lyrics and I replied that I am probably a bit more concerned with the music than the lyrics, but in this case you cannot ignore either. I really think that if you are someone who has lost someone in anyway remotely like the story here, that this album will be a difficult listen. It is pretty moving in any case, but could be very raw for someone in that situation. And that is because Silberman constructs such a convincing relationship (whether real or not) and so the bond and tension and loss are palpable. That is not to say that this is some simplistic narrative--it is not. The songs are more about moments in time and stages of a relationship.
And the music is just as important. The Antlers are clearly going to be seen as part of "the Brooklyn scene" as I have already seen comparisons to Grizzly Bear and their are moments that are very Walkmenesque here, but that just gives you context. The album, for me, is divided in two parts. The first has a number of slower, grainier, and noise-infused songs with the vocals woven into the music as if someone is trying to emerge from a hazy dream--although "Sylvia" clearly has a chorus of angry outburst in it where Silberman rises above the music. The second half starting with "Bear" (which might be the highlight, but also doesn't fit the narrative as neatly as other tunes) emerges from that murkiness with more clear acoustic guitar lines and melodies (although "Wake" brings us back to that dreamy desperation).
It is an album that if you are to accept, you must both buy the sound and allow for the premise. But if you do, it is a powerful set of ten songs that will surely garner critical acclaim this year.
To give you a sample, I am including the second and third songs on the album which provide a good sense of the opening half of the album in both it's quiet, fuzzy, contemplative orientation and in its searching, combative sound.
Kettering (got the no share message on these too--but check out the video!)
Sylvia
And then to give you a sense of the second half of this album and The Antlers in general, here is a wonderful video of "Two" which is probably my favorite song on the album.



So, get on over to French Kiss and buy this album if you think you are up to it.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Missing Essentials: The Basic Idea

As I noted a couple posts back when I was talking about working to get more jazz into my life and into this here blog (note to self: go back and see what I am supposed to be doing), I mentinoed that I was developing a strategy (okay it is more of a hook really) for writing about "not new" music. After all, there is a ton of great music that isn't new that deserves some attention, right? So here is the approach.
We are going to start up a new series of occasional posts called "Missing Essentials" in which we look at a particular artist or band, albums and songs we love and currently own, and wonder out loud if there are other albums by said artist or band that others would consider essential.
This idea comes from the fact that when I was younger, I often set out to own "everything" by certain groups which inevitably led me to buy less than stellar albums and then inevitably led to the realization that I didn't need to own everything by a particular artist or band. As I have grown older those realizations have morphed into a certain sense that, in fact, once I have a few albums by a particular artist or band, I feel as if I perhaps "have enough" and don't worry too much about getting more by that group.
In fact, as I thought about this idea, I wondered if I thought there was an artist or band that I did think one would want to have every album they produced. And, really the only band that came immediately to mind, and that might not be coincidence given what was released today, was The Beatles (okay, minus the Yellow Sub soundtrack which I never really think of as one of their core albums). This is not to say that there aren't others--in fact, I hope to hear from some of you on that point.
This line of thinking though, leads to the real possibility that I am missing really important, historic, well, essential albums by an artist or band. Of course I am not thinking about new bands that have just released their first or second great album, but rather bands that have been around a bit or have broken up that have a catalog of albums to consider.
So that is what we intend to get your input on in the future, but until then, let's hear what artists/bands you think deserve to have their entire oeuvre collected.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Delayed Reactions: Meursault

It has been almost a year since Meursault released it first album, Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues courtesy of Song, by Toad, a little less time since I first heard and saw the band doing wonderful acoustic versions of their songs at Toad's house, and a few weeks since I actually got around to downloading the album which has pretty much been in nonstop play mode since getting it.

The basic recipe here is one part traditional Scottish folk music, one part rock band and one part techno-dance mix. Stir. Place in studio. Bake. As with any recipe, you might like one bit more than the other, but they are all important. Some songs are techno-dance heavy, others sound like Scottish folk-rock, then there are wonderful instrumentals and a couple slow ballads--and others sound like all of those pieces magically blended together. And as an album, they do a really nice job of lining up songs so that just when you are feeling a bit worn out by the electronica, you get a beautiful ballad with no techno-sound at all. And to that point, I think the ordering of songs here is just about perfect.
That said, you do have to like all the ingredients here. You have to like the Scottish sound mixed with the rock sound (any Waterboys fan will), and you have to be willing to go with the electronica/techno (my wife would say noise) factor as well.
The lyrics are quite wonderful, albeit sad and searching for the most part. The slow tunes are most notable here. Perhaps the most beautiful song on the album, "Small Stretch of Land," is a perfect example. I always intended to have it as a sample for this post, but since even parents like this tune (and you can hear this great tune at that link), I thought it not very representative of the album and am going to give you some other samples. Still, here is the first verse to give you a sense of the lovely lyrics on this album
It's a beautiful way to get lost
All you need is a bottle and a few nagging thoughts
And a strong sense of all you ever wanted
And the strength to hold it to your chest as you kill it off
Oh, the road it will light up and guide you home
To a place as unfamiliar to you as a soul
There is nothing left now not to understand
And you were lost on such a small stretch of land
The writing on the upbeat tunes are similarly pensive and searching.
Now, one note. I am no engineer, but I assume that some of the "roughness" of the album comes from being a bit of a lo-fi production as the starts and stops are a bit abrupt and there is a certain amount of tape-hiss going on, but ultimately this ends up being part of the endearing quality of the recording. It adds to the feeling that you might be in on the early recording of a band that is going to get more attention in the future.
So for all you Scottish, techno-folk rockers out there who have not heard Meursault, let me be the one to introduce you. First up in the samples is the title tune which is the song I first heard that got my attention and I think well exemplifies the mix of the three basic ingredients on this album. This is followed by "Salt, Part 2" which follows the title song on the album and is a fine example of their slower songs. And lastly, "A Few Kind Words," an upbeat, techno-oriented tune that bops along while the lyrics tell a somewhat less upbeat story.
A Few Kind Words

All and all, quite a fun album that deserves more attention than it appears to have received here in the States.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Three To Consider: Daytrotter Sessions

If you don't know about Daytrotter (or haven't visited in a while) you should get yourself over to the Horseshack and check it out. What happens there is that bands and performers of all stripes stop in, drop a few live tracks down on Sean and the gang that they then roll those original performances back out one a day. And the lists of bands who have stopped in to do sessions over the last few years is simply damn impressive.

Still, I am not sure that justifies the level of self-righteousness in their "About statement." I mean really, we don't all have studios and a crew to produce music with and many of us are trying to ethically promote music and artists. But I digress.

The point is that Daytrotter provides a way to hear new music and original recordings of bands you already love. Here are three from the last week that are all on my "to get" list. Click on Daytrotter's embed player to listen, but also you really should follow the links in each description to read the session notes as well.










First up is Rural Alberta Advantage who recently released their debut album, Hometowns. Not shockingly this indie rock band hails from Alberta, Canada and writes and sings about just that. They sound great here in this session and appear to be on the way to a successful start. Hell, even Pitchforklikes them! Check out the full Daytrotter session and their album can be picked up atSaddle Creek Records.









Next up is Nomo, the Ann Arbor, MI "post-Afro-beat dance explosion" jazz band that plays, as Sean describes in the full session notes, "street jazz or the kind of jazz that academics do when they're slumming it and actually enjoying themselves a little more than they thought was possible." Bottom line--whole bunch of folks, making a whole bunch of sound. You can pick up Invisible Cities and other efforts at Ubiquity Records.










Last up is the one I am most excited about from listening to the Daytrotter sessions and that Daytrotter seems most responsible for pushing out there into the noise of all the music floating around the nets: Union Suit Characters. This Joliet, IL duo earns the title of Daytrotter's "Favorite Lo-Fi Wonders" in the full session notes (which you must read). And, really, you have to give Sean and crew props here since once you go looking for the album you will find it is only available from the band directly and in mp3--all of those options are available over at their MySpacey place.

So if you haven't already, get on over to Daytrotter and check out the wonderful stuff they are doing. You can also follow their daily tweets so you know when each new session is up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Trying to Keep Tempo with Jazz

One thing I have always wish I did better here in The Room is offer up a bit more discussion of different musical genres, particularly jazz. Sure, there have been the occasional post, but as I look back over the posts, this blog is definitely heavy in the indie-rock-folk-pop-etc. vein which does not necessarily reflect the balancing of listening that goes on here in the homefront. I think that is in part due to, at least, three things.
One, I haven't found a good way to write about music that I have listened to for a long time and have been more focused on new music. That is related to the second item which is that I don't buy as much new jazz as those other categories (or classical for that matter) which leads to the third reason, which is that I tend to think of jazz albums as having more staying power and therefore I am willing to listen to them more often over time and feel less need to search out more or new albums.
Now I believe I have a solution to the first problem which I will be trying my hand at soon. As for the third reason, while the staying power of certain jazz albums is accurate I think, it is also a mistake to assume there is not more and different efforts coming out that deserve a listen (which means I am just being lazy, right?). Which leads back to the second issue of searching out and checking out (literally) more jazz. So over the last few days, here and there, I have been trying to track down different resources for finding new jazz. Here are a few that I have found interesting and will be checking in with in one form or another.
In the obvious category, Downbeat is still the staple and serious consideration to renewing a subscription is occurring. Actually, I just need to do it, in part, because their website is, well, not really all that helpful, which I find curious.
The Checkout is an NPR a show by Josh Jackson about new jazz music which appears on the big jazz station WBGO streaming out of Newark, but The Checkout also has a great website where you can keep up with new music and hear live studio sessions like this nice interview and session last week with Gretchen Parlato whose new album is on the to get list. WBGO also has a fine blog for keeping up with the jazz goings-ons. And, of course NPR also has it's own blog devoted to jazz, A Blog Supreme, which is worth following.
Another interesting effort, which we recently tweeted about is Nextbop which is a site by two young guys trying to offer up jazz catalogs on line for folks to check out--although they have been running into a few hiccups that will be familiar to all of us who have been discussing post take downs, recording companies, and the ethics of what we try to do with music blogs.
Lastly is Jazz.com which has got a great aggregator page of perpetually updated links to all the jazz news that is breaking at other sites--just point and click. They also have a fine blog.
That is a start. Obviously there are a lot more out there and I would love to hear about resources you follow for jazz, whether they be print, web, Twitter or somewhere else. And hopefully, this will all lead to a bit more jazz talk here in The Room.

9/14/09 Update: A Blog Supreme just launched Jazz Now designed to introduce jazz artists of the present--great idea!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Wonderful Ruckus of Music and Lyrics

Late summer. The air hangs close with humidity, the cicadas riot in the trees and the world seems overgrown from some sort of mad crush of production before fall arrives. A perfect time to talk about Frontier Ruckus. With songs that are thick with harmony, a full, backwoods acoustic folk sound and crammed full of lyrical poetry, this indie folk band from Michigan provides a bounty of sound and imagery that seems to revel in the physical and natural world while simultaneously worrying about the inevitable changes of season, spirit and time.
The album in question here is The Orion Songbook released in 2008 which you can pick up over at Quite Scientific Records. There is also an extended version with new songs an additional EP available on vinyl over at Lower Peninsula Records and there are lots of other songs for the listening over at their MySpacey Place.
I will say right off, that had I stumbled on FR last year, they would have definitely been on the list of albums from 2008 to pick up. That said, these guys are either a "like 'em or leave 'em" band for most I imagine and that has much to do with front man Matthew Milia who also writes all the songs on this album.
Let's start with the lyrics (which makes me wish we had a poet here in The Room to help with the analysis). Milia's songs, while not all the same by any stretch, are primarily a free form set of images on a theme. Some songs do have verse and chorus, but many are much more like blank verse starting with an image and pushing that forward with smart connections and related imagery. I don't think it is unfair to suggest you may think of Dylan when listening to the lyrics here (no, Dylan fans, I am not saying he is Dylan, but the form and approach is similar).
Themes are focused on love and relationships, growing up and family, religion and (to my delight) these are often overlaid with a good deal of Michigan imagery and references. As I have suggested, Milia seems very focused on the physical and natural and there is a whole lot of animals, bodies, fluids, love, plants, smell, decay, death and the everyday physicality of life (perhaps Whitman is the better reference here than Dylan?).
Now the music needs some discussion, because I imagine this will have more to do with your reaction to them. First, Milia has a very warbley, tenor voice and you gotta dig that if you are going to like this album--think Colin Meloy from The Decemberists or even Pat McDonald from Timbuk3 at times. Of course, most songs also enjoy the harmonies of Anna Burch which are key to the music (and their voices together are what made me think of Timbuk3). The two together have a wonderful sound and they sing with such sincerity it is hard not to get caught up in their singing.
Milia also plays some wonderful guitar on this album. His musical partner in crime here is David Jones who plays banjo throughout the album, providing both a steady rhythm to many tunes, and some nice fills and leads, particularly on the upbeat tunes. There are a variety of instrumentations here with harmonica, dobro, piano and trumpet added in, but we cannot finish this post without discussing the saw. Yes, the saw.
I don't think that I have another album where the singing-saw plays such a role (or any for that matter). Now not to pick on Zach Nichols who plays the saw, but it is a bit overdone here. There are songs where it is understated and add a haunting texture to the song, but then there are others where it seems like more novelty than anything and I would have preferred another instrument. But this is a small complaint in the end compared with the overall strength of this album.
Okay, so I have already told you where to go get the album, so let's check out a couple tunes. As usual with discs I really enjoy, choices are difficult. I probably could have given you a couple others to convey the full range, but here are two that I really like both musically and lyrically.
And as an added bonus, here is one more of those great wandering around Michigan videos that made me want to hear more of this Ruckus. This also happens to be one of my favorite tunes on the album.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dexateens Serve Up The Summer Album of 2009

Earlier, I hinted that you would be hearing about the album I thought was the find of the summer, but really all the credit goes to LD over at the The Adios Lounge who has been carrying the Dexateens torch and got me to pick up their latest effort Singlewide. I suggest that you do the same. First, a little background for those of you, who like me until three months ago, didn't even know this band.

The Dexateens are based out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and are centered around the writing, singing and playing of John Smith and Elliott McPherson. They have actually been around for a decade in one form or another and Singlewide is their fifth album as far as I can tell. A big question will be where to go in terms of other albums since this outing is so strong in my opinion. But first to the album at hand.
First off, this album hit at just the right time. The great garage country sound was perfect for the summer. The tunes are toe-tappers and laid back all at the same time. The duo sings like a southern version of the Jayhawks with their southern accents coming through loud and clear.
But this is not just a simple summer album either. The songs are varied enough in tempo and sound to keep you interested all the way through and the lyrics, while not overreaching, are solid. I mean anyone who can draw a line from Charlemagne to Jesse James through to Bob Crane has got it going on--the connection being the devil who shows up a couple times on this album. There is definitely a sense of these guys finding themselves and learning to accept who they are. The highlights in that vein are the two slow tunes "Singlewide" and "New Boy."
Ultimately, this is one of those albums I keep finding fits my mood whether I am driving, hanging out or dancing about in the kitchen while whipping up a meal.
Let me leave it there and let the music speak for itself. First up in the samples is the opener which exemplifies both the live feel of the recordings (you have to wait a moment until someone in the booth suggests they get going). Second up is perhaps my fav song, "New Boy" which captures a feeling I often have of wanting to change, but also accepting who we are: "I want to be a new boy, but I can't regret." Lastly is Charlemagne with it's intricate lyrics looking at forces that drive behavior that might be thought of as a bit on the deviant side. Could have picked just about any of the songs, so you are just going to have to pick this one up to hear it all.
Dexateens / Singlewide (Buy Album)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hiromi Makes Me Smile

So I realize that I haven't been bringin the love lately on the albums I have reviewed and I had every intention of posting about what has been my favorite find of the summer tonight (and promise I will in the next couple of days), but truth is it just wasn't in the cards today. I just returned from taking the family up to Cleveland this weekend where they are going to hang a few days before we head up for vacation on the big lake and had to return for a few more days of work and that just put a damper on the mood.

But while finishing up some work around the house and dealing with the prolific garden, I heard a great interview on WPFW with Hiromi Uehara who is playing at Blues Alley this weekend. Now Hiromi is someone who has been getting a lot of attention for the last few years as a young jazz/fusion piano player because one, she can play the ivory right off of the piano keys and two, because she is a young phenom who seems to attract some of the greats of jazz--Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and more. But I am a bit stodgy about jazz, so I have my reservations.
But in her interview today, Larry Applebaum asked her what she thought success was for an artist and she said she just wanted people to smile--and was she was so damn sincere and innocent sounding, you had to believe her. So a little poking around on the tubes led me to some various tunes, and watching and listening to them, I could not help but, well, smile. And that is truly a wonderful thing. So while I am not able to offer up much critical reflection on her music (happy to hear it, if you got it), I am going to share a couple videos that will hopefully make you smile as well.
First up is some totally funked out jazz.


Next up, Oscar Peterson meets Tom and Jerry.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Son Volt's Long, Slow Trip

The new Son Volt effort, American Central Dust, has me thinking about driving across Nebraska in the summer time (and I don't mean the short way, I mean east-to-west or west-to-east). Here's the deal.

I have driven across Nebraska in the summer, both directions, a few times. There is no way to get around the fact that it is a long drive and as you make your way, you can't help but be amazed at the sameness as you pass mile after mile. There are wonderments along the way, like the moments when the Platte drops down and winds around the highway and you can't imagine how that water keeps moving through this flat plain and isn't it wonderful how it connects the mountain water from the east of the continental divide with the big ole' Miss. Or when you hit the western end of the state as you start climbing into Wyoming and the outcroppings of rock begin to appear and the fields of sunflowers bending to the slanting sunset stretch for miles. But ultimately, when you are driving through Nebraska, you are generally pretty much just looking forward to being in Wyoming or Iowa and, well, that is saying something isn't it?
And that is how I feel about the new album. There are a few interesting moments here and there, but the sameness comes across less as a well thought-out consistent collection and more as a somewhat unimaginative routine effort. I have put this album on a lot in the last few weeks since I got it along with the new Wilco album (couldn't help it), but I continue to find myself losing attention and then wondering where I am--what song I am currently listening to as it sounds a lot like the other songs?
The album opens just fine, but then never really goes anywhere. There are moments when you say that is a nice waltz, or nice low-key growly guitar, or etc. But there are just as many times that it is unremarkable at best. I could kind of dig the long, slow musical dirge as I watch the miles past theme if the lyrics were stronger, but they end up being somewhere between overstated to bad poetry for the most part.
Now, I am over-doing it a bit here--I am still hoping for another Son Volt album that I can really dig, but for now, I am going to always choose Trace or The Search from the spectrum of SV albums before this one.
So before this post starts to feel like dirving across Nebraska, here are a couple tunes to give you a sample. It was hard to choose given the sameness of the album, but here is the opener and one of the few electric guitar tunes on the album.

Son Volt (Buy Album)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mike Clark: It's About the Jazz

Summertime isn't necessarily a heavy jazz-listening season for me, but I have had Mike Clark's 2008 effort stacked up in my potential blog posts for a while, so I thought we would switch gears for a minute here and talk a little jazz.

So first off, I am going to bet that the name Mike Clark is not all that familiar even to jazz listeners--at least it wasn't to me until this album. That is probably for two reasons. One, I am hopeless about attending to who plays on what album in supporting roles. Two, I am not a big fusion fan and so don't have a lot of Herbie Hancock coming through the Headhunter phase. And it is there that Mike Clark got his real recognition, playing with Hancock on several albums though the mid-70s.
But with this album, which is part of a series intended to focus on "some of jazz music's eminently worthy but less widely known innovators," Clark, according to the liner notes, is out to
defy the stereotype of my identity as a funk or fusion drummer. I have devoted my entire life to playing jazz--the music I love the most--both before and after my successful association with Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. While I made a name of myself during the early years with Hancock, specifically on the Thrust album, and I love that music, has has always been where my strongests talent lies and my devotion begins.
Many seem to believe he succeeded as this album was clearly well received, getting solid reviews including making Downbeat's Best of 2008 list.

This is definitely a strong album--with Christian McBride on bass, Patrice Rushen on piano, Christian Scott on trumpet, Donald Harrison on alto (who many think steals the show) and Jed Levy on tenor (see that is me attending to the cast of characters)--but you have definitely got to be into the bop and still a little bit into the funk for this one--don't be hanging around waiting for the slow-swinger here.
Now, I have to say that I am not a huge follower of bands led by drummers with the notable exception of Art Blakey. The reason is that I am not real keen on either drum solos (which in my estimation should be left to live performances as they are in part visual spectacle) or, quite frankly, the drums being way out in front musically. Don't get me wrong, I love a strong drummer in the rhythm section who drives the beat and a well-done drum fill is a thing of beauty, but I am too hooked on melody to have the drums leading the song. And in some cases, that is a problem on this album for me, but only a little.
The tunes have a certain quality that is reminiscent of some great 50's Blue Note bop with the theme laid down and the band, which is definitely tight, passing the improvs around but with the theme re-emerging throughout. From a musical performance standpoint, you can see why the album received high marks. Most of the songs are straight jazz and even when they do veer into a funky attitude, it fits. Clark's drumming is quick and light, although very omnipresent in these songs--space is not really the goal here.
Ultimately, you gotta like the bop and you gotta like the drums and a lot of sound to dig this album. Here are three tracks to give you a taste. First up is the opener "In The House" which is a really solid opening track but a perfect example of a drum solo that is more an interruption to me than a highlight. Next up is Tim Ouinette's fine composition, "10th Ave. 1957" which brings some fine New Orleans swagger to the album. And last up is "Loft Funk" which brings the bop/funk sound fully together.
See what you think.
Blueprints of Jazz, Volume I (Buy Album)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Forbidden love; or, Wherein wobs has his posting privileges summarily revoked



Craig had some awful nice things to say about me in his introductory post. I do like to think that I have a good ear for music and that my understanding of it has evolved past the Beavis & Butthead binary of "this rocks/this sucks." I think it's fair to say that my appreciation of music mirrors my appreciation for beer - I have a palate for all of the various incarnations, I have an understanding of the processes that go into producing each type, I can intelligently discuss the subtleties, and, of course, I can spend hours enjoying it.

And with music, as with beer, there is some (what some might term "sub-standard") b(r)and that led me down the path to a broader appreciation, a b(r)and to which I continually return - shamelessly - for reasons of nostalgia and because, quite frankly, I still like it. Ladies and gentlemen, David Lee Roth-era Van Halen is my PBR of music.

So what if the lyrical content never veers beyond your standard "beers & broads" hair band fare? I defy you to name a band that did it as well, or who did it in a way that withstands decades of listening. Over 30 years after its initial release, Van Halen still possess in its rawness and aggressiveness, in Roth's smirking delivery, in Eddie's pyrotechnic genius, and in Michael and Alex's unremarkable but competent rhythms, an undefinable joy that still draws me back years later. Their whole Diamond Dave-era output is worth revisiting, but honestly, there is one reason I will always return to this band: the opening drum solo and guitar licks of 1984's "Hot For Teacher" played at speaker-blowing volume. It's the equivalent of an ice-cold tall boy of PBR on a hot summer day.



Our musical tastes had to start somewhere. Mine started here with a band that never sucked (at least until Sammy Hagar showed up).

Sprucing Up the Room with a Little Birdie

For all you little birdies down on Jaybird Street who love to hear that tweet, tweet, tweet, we are trying a little experiment here at The Room. We have added a Twitter feed (really, look over there on the right). The idea is that since there might be days between posts (we are busy people after all), that doesn't mean we aren't listening and checking in on music, artists and other music bloggers. So this will be a way for us to keep a little stream of interesting tidbits about music flowing here (and occasional bad musical references in relation to other world events).
So check in with us for updates, or just follow us over at Twitter. If you got some interesting music news, tweet us for a retweet. And please, if you are following interesting music tweeters, please share with us so we can too!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hosapple and Stamey: Memories and Ambivalence

So here is an ongoing internal question I have. Since this blog is intended to be about the love of music and sharing that music, should we include reviews of albums with which we are, let's say, less than impressed. My first reaction is to stay focused on the positive, but then I realized that that might make me write reviews that were a bit misleadingly positive (this one comes to mind) in my effort to be supportive. And then, I keep imaging this discussion between me and a good friend.

GF: So I just picked up the new album by "random artist" and boy was that a let down.
Me: Yeah, I know.
GF: What?!
Me: I mean I thought it was pretty unimpressive too.
GF: You have that album?
Me: Yeah, I got it a couple weeks ago.
GF: What the hell?
Me: Huh?
GF: You didn't write anything about that on the blog--you could have saved me the trouble!
Me: Sorry, didn't know that was my responsibility.
GF: You stink!
Me: YOU stink.
Me: Like poop.
GF: I am never reading your stupid blog again.
Me: Fine.
GF: Fine.
Okay, so that is a bit of an exaggeration (other than the fact that I do now argue like my children) but it does strike me that perhaps it would be fair to at least mention albums that have met with my ambivalence in case that might matter to anyone. But I will try to keep such posts short rather than long Pitchfork-like tear-ups.
So, a while back I read that Peter Hosapple and Chris Stamey, formally of the dBs were about to release a new album. This news caught my attention because I had such fine memories of their last effort Mavericks from way back in 1990. I hadn't heard that album in forever as I had it on a long-gone cassette. So I ordered up the recently re-released disc version which includes a few extra tracks as well as the new album Here and Now.
You can see what is coming right? Disappointment.
Now these guys still know how to craft a pop song and they still have really solid harmonies, but the problem (for me) is that most of the songs are, well, corny. Now you have to realize that "Mavericks" was basically a whole set of love songs (true and broken), so nothing all that fancy. On H&N they take on a variety of topics including one of my favorite these days--growing older--but they end up coming across as more silly than reflective. So we get songs about "just wanting to hang out with you" and how it's okay that now they "get up early in the morning."
Then there is seeming obsession with self-refernce to the reunion itself which is the text of the title track. As PopMatters notes in their review:
Indeed, Holsapple and Stamey reference their new connection so often that even songs on a different subject begin to feel like more steps along the same path. For example, once you’ve heard “Here and Now” and “Broken Record”, “Begin Again” (Holsapple’s ode to his fragile New Orleans home) seems like a reunion reference. And after hearing “Long Time Coming” and “Tape Op Blues” (a tune about being in the studio), it’s hard to wonder if even “Santa Monica”, with its chorus of “I want to hang around with you… until my life is through”, should be interpreted not as an ode to a lover, but to a treasured bandmate.
There are some great sounding pop tunes more reminiscent of the dBs, which are wonderfully boppy background music, but lyrically just don't make it for me. Then there is some odd use of saxophone on a couple tracks which I joked was probably added in because they had some friend who plays sax that they wanted to give a shot. Turns out it is Branford--oops!
Of course, once I started deciding to write through my disappointment in the album, I kept listening and started to feel like perhaps I was being too hard, but I don't think so.
Now that said, if you don't have Mavericks, I would still recommend grabbing a copy of that. It still holds together well despite the 80's sounding production and the somewhat heavy use of reverb or chorus (or whatever you call that somewhat echo-y sound with techno sounding drums). So let me serve up a couple tunes from that album as well as the opening track from H&N, a cover of My Friend the Sun, which had me hopeful the first time I listened to it. And if you want to hear more from the new album--they have much of it streaming over at their site.

Mavericks (Buy Album)

Here and Now (Buy Album)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Country Music, Monsters of Folk and a Frontier Ruckus

I have a stack of music to write about, but I haven't quite settled in enough with any of it to actually compose a coherent post. On top of that I am in a crabby mood and I figure it isn't fair to write about a disc in that state, so let's see if we can look at a few random items designed to lift the spirits a little.
  • First up, if you hadn't noticed the new little badge down there on the right side, we are now subscribed to Review Shine, which is a neat new site designed to connect artists and music bloggers. Artists can upload their tunes (please do!), and bloggers then get the right to review and share that music. In the first week, we have already had several albums offered up to us for review which is cool, but I can't help but notice that most of what has ended up in the ole Tuning Room inbox is very country oriented and a lot of tunes have to do with drinking. Hmmmm. Is this some commentary on the content here? I will let you be the judge.
  • Then there is all the commotion going on about the upcoming album from Connor Oberst, Jim James, and M. Ward known as the Monsters of Folk. And today, we find out that the first single is being offered up for free download over at their site. Just say "please" and the tune is yours.
  • And lastly, I was recently surfing around and ran into this great video of Frontier Ruckus live in the Paste studios which made me explore the band a bit more. That exploration taught me that these guys are from Michigan (bonus!) and that there a bunch of videos of them popping up all over the Great Lakes State and playing tunes. Here is one of my favs shot on the side of the road in northern Michigan which made my boys wonder if we will see them on our vacation--that would be too cool. You can count on some further exploration of this band's music in future posts.


Wow. I feel better already!

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Tuning Room Welcomes Wobs

Some big news here at The Room. As of today, The Room officially has a new contributor. For all of those of you who fondly remember The Medulla Noodle with its regular PRM installments or were fans of Organizing Grievances, then you will know that we are lucky to have Wobblie join us here at The Room.

Personally, I am excited, because it is in no small part because of Wobs joining me as a colleague at work that I got refocused on music. I had a period of life where I really lost track of new and hip music and Wobs caught me up on several important groups from that period. Just to name a few: Wilco, Flaming Lips, Phish and The Walkmen. There are others, but that is a pretty impressive list right there, ain't it?
I think we can expect a few changes here in The Room which will definitely expand our focus. I am going to forecast that The Room will now be a bit more funky, punky and groovy. And won't that be fun?
So I hope everyone who checks in here regularly, will welcome Wobs. Likewise, we also welcome all those who will surely now check in with us because Wobs is "in The Room!" (sorry, couldn't resist)
And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging about the tunes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wilco Offers Up Its Big Sonic Shoulder

I know that while Wilco (The Album) has already been reviewed about a gazillion times in the first two weeks it has been out, everyone is waiting for The Room to weigh in. And for good reason. I am not a "true Wilco fan." The evidence:
  • I didn't own any Wilco or even really know about the whole Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt complex until only about a year ago. We will wait while you take that in (and hope it doesn't mean you will never return).
  • I would take Sky Blue Sky or Being There over Yankee Hotel Foxtrot any day, which is to say I like them the best when they aren't in their edgy, experimental mode.
  • I also like Son Volt very much which any true Wilco fan would probably consider at least a venial, if not a mortal, sin.
All of which gives me my particular perspective on Wilco. I don't have piles of expectations to heap upon this album (or any of their offerings), which also probably means I am not in a position to be hugely or even mildly disappointed. And that results in this incredibly insightful assessment of their new album.
I like it. Actually quite a bit. And like it more, the more I listen to it.
It is definitely more cool, groove Sky Blue Sky than dissonant Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but still there is something for everyone here I think. Of course, that might also mean that the album is not consistent enough in one direction to please anybody--I note that while those gazillion reviews are generally favorable they are all a bit tepid. Ultimately, though I think the All Music review has it down.
If Wilco (The Album) as a whole is considerably less ambitious than its predecessors, it compensates with its easy confidence and craft: it's the work of a band that knows their strengths and knows what they're all about, and it's ready to settle into an agreeably comfortable groove.
I am going to go out on the self-projection limb here and say that it is possible that this has a bit to do with age as well. Tweedy seems much more interested in relationships, reflection and adjustments than angst and being misunderstood.
But enough meta, let's look at "The Album" a bit shall we and let's start right at the beginning with "Wilco (The Song)" which is simply a fabulous Wilco pop romp to open up with and I can imagine it being a favorite show opener as well. This song got me thinking that someone should write about great first songs (someones, are you listening?) and this would be one of my choices.
For me a great first song immediately makes you know you want to listen to that album, right then--it is the right choice for your mood. It sets the tone and gives you a positive emotional feeling (not necessarily happy, but more at satisfaction). Now this opening song does, in fact, make me happy. After all, who can resist the charming refrain of having Tweedy tell you that "Wilco will love you baby?" And it is as they say a "big sonic shoulder" that you can cry on, but more than that. It is Wilco putting their arm around you and letting you know everything is okay--really, they understand. And somehow, that actually conveys and works with this song.
There are several other very Wilco pop/rock tunes mixing both Beatles sounding harmonies and music with a certain level of dissonance and feedback. "Sonny Feeling" offered up below is a good example. The only real edgy tune musically is "Bull Black Nova" which is the most Yankee sounding tune with guitars vs. techno sounds creating a certain repetitive discord with feedback and high volume lyrics resolving the tune.
Then there are the slower and mid-tempo tunes which form the majority of the album--although scattered so as not to feel like the album is dominated by them. Most have interesting musical identities from the Nick Drake sounding "Solitaire" to the 70's groove thing that is "Country Disappeared" which you can sample below. Then there is the "You and I" duet with Feist which is not quite Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand, but is, well, as close to that as you want Tweedy to get. Then again, it seems to work as the antithesis to "Bull Black Nova" which it follows.
And so all and all, this might just be a solid, but unremarkable album for Wilco, but I suspect that the more folks listen to it, the more they are going to find themselves wanting to listen to it more. And goodness knows if this were their first album, people would probably be thinking they were geniuses!
So check it out. Here is the opening "shoulder" along with two others to give you a sample.
Wilco (The Album) Buy the Album

Sonny Feeling

Saturday, July 11, 2009

While I Was Away: Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers

Here is another artist/band that got some heavy listening to (thanks to Payton) while I was temporarily off-line. Samantha Crain and her band, the Midnight Shivers, have put together a very solid first album, Songs in the Night, released earlier this year.

The first thing to comment on is Crain's voice which is as unique as any out there these days. It is also hard to describe. Yes, she is from Oklahoma so it has a certain drawl to it, but it is more than that. Most of the songs have her in a full, alto mode, but she also clearly has range and control allowing her to sing beautifully in higher ranges and on softer pieces with more delicate vocals. I think Rolling Stone's description is as good as any I have read.
Her voice is gorgeously odd — all fulsome, shape-shifting vowels that do indeed billow like fog.
And that voice is at its best when it is fully integrated into the rest of the band--which it is on most songs.
The tunes range from country to mid-temp rock to haunting dirges that make you feel like you now understand where the band thought up its name. They all have a bit of a dark sound given both Crain's voice and the fact that most of the songs seem to be set in keys (minor, I assume) that have that darker, blues feel. A few tunes don't seem as well constructed as others musically, but that is typically temporary and followed with an even nicer musical move to erase any criticism. For instance, the third track "Long Division" has a guitar line that seems a bit simplistic and separate from the tune (to me), but then the song recovers with some nice horns that really fill out the tune--and then the next tune, "Get the Fever Out" hits it just great right from the opening.
In the end, I have to say that I am a bit curious as to why this album has not gained more attention, although they did get some nice attention from the Times--in that Times kind of way.
As I have listened to them, I keep thinking, this is what would happen if The Pretenders came out of Oklahoma with an alt-country feel. No they don't sound like the P's, but they have the same make-up--strong and unique female vocalist out front with a guitar, with three strong guy musicians behind. A certain moodiness to songs, but with a swagger that makes them rock through the darkness. And the unique sound of Crain's voice.
You can be the judge--here are three. First up is "You Never Know" which is the second to last song and shows off their solid rock chops and song structure--nothing overly adventuresome, just a really good straight-forward tune. Next up is the last song on the album which might be my favorite. "The Dam Song" shows off some of Crain's best singing and is a wonderful end to the album. Lastly, I give you the first tune on the album, which is a fine opening, but is all the better on the all-important disc-replay rollover. Hope you enjoy.

Songs in the Night (buy album)

You Never Know
The Dam Song
Rising Sun


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Madness, Vivaldi and Other Conundrums

So lately I have been noticing more than a few music bloggers posting "random notes" about music as a way to fill in for a lack of more substantial posts. I recognize the strategy to keep some fresh content up without quite as much effort as I often do this on my work blog, but haven't really resorted to it here. Not sure why, since, even though it might be just a filler strategy, I often find these posts as informational as any in the long run--so here is one of my own.
  • I was totally surprised today to learn that Madness has a new album out. Madness I say! I was totally a fan of the whole ska thing in the 80's (and the more recent resurgence) and had lots of albums (vinyl that is) of Madness, The Specials, The Beat, etc.--although very little on disc. Here is the question. Check out the new album? Pick up favorite ska albums on disc or download mp3s? Get one of these? Just wait, this will pass? Do tell.

  • Switching gears, the Allmusic Blog asserts that the best classical album of 2009 (so far) is Lara St. John's pairing of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Piazzolla's The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. The conundrum is that while I love Vivaldi's Four Seasons, despite its insane popularity and overuse, I already have two versions--neither of which I bought myself (and one which I am pretty sure Neats gave me just to get the poster of Josh Bell)--but I don't have the Piazzolla. Get another version of Vivaldi to get the other? Not worth it? Is there some other version of the Piazzolla I should have? If so, which one?

  • After restarting The Room, I have already received an email from someone clearly wanting me to review/promote a band. The band is Englishman which I have listened to a few times on their MySpace page. The music is intriguing--the next Iron and Wine perhaps? But what is one to do with these kinds of inquiries? Review regardless of what I think, good or bad? Just the good? Ignore because, really, who am I to judge?

  • Today I noticed that Nelson was celebrating his blog anniversary (belatedly I think) which made me realize that I started this blog over a year ago and so I missed my own blog anniversary. Or did I? Does it count if you stopped the blog midway and then restarted? When is this blog's anniversary? Hard to say.
Any and all suggestions welcome. Until then, I give you Madness!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Out of Season: Grizzly Bear


Some one who knows me well told me recently that I was "so moody" about music. His comment referred to my seasonal (music) affect disorder which basically means that I randomly think of certain music belonging to certain seasons. This tends to mean that if I get an album at a certain time of year that I might otherwise like, my reaction might be a bit cool if it is "out of season" so to speak.
This was clearly the case with the Fleet Foxes, for example. While everyone was going gaga last year over them, I just couldn't get into the album (but wisely noted that I should put it away for a bit). Sure enough, earlier this year during a few months when the Capital City basically turned into Portland, I returned to the Foxes and fell in love with the album. In that spirit, I am going to start a new category of post for albums that I recognize as having a lot of quality or potential, but that I fear might not be getting my full appreciation for the simple and random reason that it is just not the right season in my brain.
First up in that category is the new album by Grizzly Bear--and you thought this post was about hunting didn't you?! Veckatimest (apparently named after a small Massachusetts island) is getting really consistently solid reviews from all over the place and only a few listens will tell you why. It is both complex and interesting and definitely a unique blend of sounds and styles which is a bit of a challenge to describe. Imagine starting with the Beach Boys of Pet Sounds, throw in some pensive Walkmen guitar work, perhaps a bit of Flaming Lips synth and bass work here and there, a certain 70's vibe, a touch (just a touch) of Gabriel era Genesis, then add some glam-rock like vocals (although I can't real pin down one vocal comparison) and a choir, and maybe, just maybe, you get a sense of it all.
The tunes are mostly mid-tempo with lots of layers of both music and vocals and most with many different mini-movements to them. The front end of the disc is a wonderful set of five tunes that if I had this on vinyl might mean that the flip side might not see the needle very often. The back half have some strong pieces, but Pitchfork nails it in their review of the middle of the album.
Save "Cheerleader" and the lilting "Ready, Able", the stretch between "Fine for Now" and "While You Wait" wanders a bit; certain moments, like Rossen's "swim around like two dories" line and the wispy, wheezing "About Face", hit harder than others. But you'll be looking for a while to find anybody who thinks the center of Veckatimest is as strong as the stuff surrounding it.
That said, this is still obviously going to be one of those albums that a whole lot of folks talk about this year and I suspect at the end of the year when those inevitable lists get made.
So, wait, wasn't this supposed to be about my ambivalence or something? Well, the truth is that as much as I appreciate the album (and as some in my household might point out, I have listened to it "a lot") it is going into the wait for Fall pile because ultimately it makes me think of the kind of album you listened to as a hip new college band. Not a bar band--no, no--but rather one of those albums that is always on at some one's party, in a dorm room or college apartment, cuz, well, it is hip. I don't mean this in a superficial, hipster way--but rather to say that this album is, in fact, very cool--like an autumn weekend afternoon hanging with friends.
For those of you who don't suffer from my version of SMAD and think you might want to pick up some cool, hip Brooklyn-based tunes now, here are some samples which I think cover the range from the poppy beginning to the slower-tempo tunes and on to some more jangly guitar pieces.

Veckatimest (Buy Album)

Two Weeks
Fine for Now
While You Wait for the Others
Update: Had to take the mp3's down as they were getting pulled from Box, so I am trying to avoid my first Google take down since returning. Check out GB music here instead.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

While I Was Away: Sun Kil Moon

Somewhere in the last six months, the Pandora delivered a wonderful nugget via my acoustic station when the soft vocals of Mark Kozelek caught my attention. The song was "Carry Me Ohio" off Ghosts of the Great Highway by Kozelek's current project known as Sun Kil Moon. (I will say right off that I have none of his previous work with Red House Painters, but will be looking into it.) So I picked up Ghosts which was released in 2003 and subsequently have picked up the more recent release, April from 2008.

This is one of those bands who I found through listening and then listened to a lot before I really read anything about them other than some background info, so it was interesting to then head over to the big board and read various reviews that reflected much of what I heard (well the positive reviews, of which there are many for these two albums.) Still I find it hard to describe the music.

Let's start with the obvious. It is slow. I mean all of it. Even when the band plugs in a few more instruments, the tempo is still slow. This is certainly not to say uninteresting, just slow. The music is primarily Kozelek, which is to say guitar and vocal oriented, with guitar often layered on other guitar. Most of it is acoustic, but some of the nicest tracks involve a wall of low volume distorted electric chords running throughout. Within that context, Ghosts is more varied musically with a bit (I mean a bit) more rock to it.

The lyrics all have the feeling of haunting memories--although it is more poetry than story telling (with some exception). Ghosts has a much more historical feel while April seems more personal more often. Kozelek's vocals are smooth, embedded and almost lost in the tunes, but like the music as a whole, they invite you in to stay for a while and dwell with them.

Now this is certainly not for everyone. I think you have to start with a certain appreciation for a kind of alt-country sound that is a bit more stylized and then you have to be willing to hang with songs (Kozelek seems pretty set on only writing songs closer to seven minutes in length than three). Most are subtle variations on a theme rather than songs with radically different parts as Kozelek seems to want to work thourgh an idea or feeling, as well as certain musical phrases, in multiple ways before leaving them.

That said, I have found myself pretty entranced by the music. I think Ghosts is solid from start to finish with a wonderful mix of songs. April suffers from length a bit. It clocks in at about 73 minutes which is just too long for me (still a child of the 50 minute album ya know) and I could find a couple songs to drop (although there are only ten--again my point about longer songs). Still I keep coming back, finding a different song or sound or lyric catching me each time.
A nice aside about April is that there are four alt takes, but SKM has packaged them neatly on a separate disc for your consideration.

Okay, that is enough of an attempt at explanation. Let me give you a couple samples to see what you think. First from Ghosts, I am going to start with "Carry Me Ohio" since that is where I started. That is followed by "Pancho Villa" which is an acoustic version of "Salvador Sanchez" (which is the most amped up tune on the album and on my first listen seemed out of place, but I now love) which I think captures a key Kozelek sound. And then, moving on to April, I am just going with one tune (since the three together will require a bit of your time already). "The Light" is the second tune on the disc and will give you a sense of Kozelek's use of electric guitar which often sounds very Neil Young like.

Here is hoping you enjoy as much as I have.

Ghosts of the Great Highway (Buy Album)

Carry Me Ohio
Pancho Villa

April (Buy Album)

The Light

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Regina Spektor: What Say You?

So in the last week I have noted more than a few mentions of Regina Spektor's new album, Far. I have none of her stuff which always seemed beautifully sung, but a bit quirky, leading me to think I might not really listen to her music routinely (which I generally hope for when I buy an album). Then today, while running an errand, I heard this interview with her on Studio 360 which raised my interest again.



The last time, I considered picking up her work was based on Lisa B. playing this video for a while over at The Store--it is a beautiful tune.


Regina Spektor - Samson
by reginaspektor

So Spektor fans (or detractors), what say you?

Friday, June 26, 2009

While I Was Away: Justin Townes Earle

So one of the artists I was catching up with during my little blog hiatus was Justin Townes Earle.

You may insert your own paragraph here about his namesakes: Papa Steve Earle and best bud Townes Van Zandt. The questions of heritage, pressure, etc. have already been covered to death so I am going to skip it other than to say that his music has some influences and is at the same time different. Duh. Oh and then there is the obligatory discussion of his early addiction problems that have been now held in check resulting in these two albums which I am also going to pass on given how thoroughly that has already been covered.

No, the question before us, good readers, is the two full albums he has released in the last two years, The Good Life (2008) and Midnight at the Movies (2009). Here again, I am not breaking any new ground by suggesting that while they are both well worth a listen, the second effort clearly out does the first. But in my mind there is no real reason to evaluate them in that way. They are different in some significant ways, but I tend to think of them as two discs that simply should be listened to at different times in different moods.

First the similarities. Both albums are throwback, honky-tonk country albums with similar subjects. I am hard to live with, why do you put up with me? Your hard to live with, why do I put up with you? I have messed up enough in my short life, why should I judge you? You have your own problems, why are you judging me? Relationships, vices, family, overcoming vices and occasional character sketches.

They are both well mixed. Good Life is brighter with a more "live" sound while Midnight is more polished and orchestrated, but both are open with a solid balance of instruments whether it involves pedal steel, fiddle, or just guitars and the rhythm section. Each song on it's own is well-constructed and Justin's song writing abilities are clear.

The differences? From where I stand, Good Life is a good collection of songs like a good set at show. The songs are more upbeat overall than Midnight, but the latter album is just that: an album. It holds together better and ultimately the songs themselves are better for it. They are more complex and move from one to another better. Good Life feels a bit more like Justin is trying out different sets and styles moving from honky-tonk, to 2-step shuffles, to slow blues, while Midnight feels like it was put together in a more thoughtful way. It isn't that Midnight doesn't have variation, but more that it feels like variation on a theme--a theme that is, in fact, Justin's life--that makes for a good story.

So while I would clearly recommend Midnight if you were only picking up one, I would recommend both. Play Good Times early in the evening while hanging out with friends on a Friday night and things are getting going. But as the night progresses and you are chillin' a bit (and perhaps you have moved on to something requiring sippin'), throw on Midnight and let it drift over the talk. Or given that the two albums together only last a little over and hour, listen to them back to back as one flows nicely into another.

Here are a few to give you a taste. As usual it is hard to figure out how to just provide a snapshot of a whole album, so I am going with title tracks and then one other tune that reflects some of the variation. As it happens, if you let the player go, you will get the experience of one album ending and the next beginning. Bonus!

The Good Life (Buy Album)

The Good Life
Far Away In Another Town

Midnight at the Movies (Buy Album)

Midnight at the Movies
Halfway to Jackson