Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Open Thread: The Whispertown 2000

What say ye?
  • Hot new indie band?
  • Wait and see?
  • Ain't no Jenny Lewis or Rilo Kiley?
  • Who?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Drowning in Harmony: Olson and Louris

I am an old and angry man
Can’t you see that the trap’s been set . . .

Despite this not being an official Jayhawks’ album, the latest effort by Mark Olson and Gary Louris will surely suffer from the burden of expectations. As a result you get lots of luke-warm assessments such as that of Rolling Stone:

Mark Olson and Gary Louris' new disc may not be the Jayhawks reunion some fans hoped for, but it's a respectable set of mostly acoustic folk songs sweetened by the duo's bright, sibling-like harmonies.

Of course, one might split hairs and (again) point out that this isn’t in fact “the Jayhawks,” but that is a bit disingenuous. I do think it is fair to say that this album is definitely Olson and Louris in a very different place than when they were writing and performing as the J’s. Here we have two talented guys who get compared to other very famous duos. But unlike Lennon and McCartney or Simon and Garfunkel, these two are getting back together and aren’t just reliving past hits. Rather they seem to be figuring out how to make new music and move forward. And, in that context, I have to say that as I have listened to this album a lot for the last month, it is a really nice reunion that I hope leads to more collaboration as they clearly still have a lot of music in them.

The approach here is simple and straightforward. It isn’t going to blow you away. Rather it will court you patiently. Most tunes are slow to mid-tempo with the instrumentation being focused mainly on two guitars and a rhythm section. That said, there are some nice subtle musical arrangements with the rhythm guitar nicely countered with clean acoustic leads and fills as well as nice use of electric guitar, organ and harmonica on various songs, but the bottom line is two guys with guitars playing tunes.

And of course, there is the harmony—oh the harmonies. Anyone who likes to sing along with a song and add your own harmony, there is no disappointment here. Olson and Louris haven’t lost that great blend of voices, but like a good gospel tune, there is always room for you to add another harmony to their songs as you sing along.

The lyrics are searching and sometimes a bit too much Salvation Blues to me. Most songs are center on loss, growing older, trying to stay focused on the good—trying, and generally finding one’s way through the messiness of life. They all have a real sincere feel to them, but they aren’t what you would call uplifting. Even when you get a more rockin’ tune like “Chamberlin, SD” the lyrics about “draggin’ the Missouri river” give pause.

I wouldn’t mind the disc being a bit shorter—but I ambivalent on that point, since two of the tunes I really enjoy are considered “Bonus Tracks” since I assume they are not on the vinyl—too bad, as they are both nice country-oriented pieces.

So perhaps it has to do with my own identification with some of the themes here or that I just appreciate the sound of the album which has the very natural feel of two guys sitting together and sharing music (the trap was set), but I have found myself listening to this over and over and growing fonder of the album each time. Good albums to me are ones that have songs I immediately like and others that I come to appreciate—adding up to an experience that is, overall, really enjoyable. I suspect I might be enjoying this one more than others will (and in many ways it has been a musical oasis in a desert of work these last few weeks), but that is my take.

As I have been listening to it a lot, it took me a long time to decide on samples, but here you go.

Ready for the Flood (Buy Album)

Saturday Morning on Sunday Street
Cotton Dress (Bonus Track)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Now We're Cookin: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

If you aren't one of the folks who already knew to check out the new An Album A Day blog, then let me suggest you do. Why? Well, because this random, wonderfully written daily review of albums (every day!) based on whatever happens to hit this blogger's fancy will make you want to revisit classics, pick up something new you haven't heard about, or remind you of albums you should pick up but you haven't. And that is the case for me with Wes' review of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings third album, 100 Days, 100 Nights.

Bottom line here is that this is a wonderful take on Stax-era soul. I will only add a couple things to Wes' review. First, I appreciate the tempo of this album. The DK's resist any temptation to speed up the music to the quicker hip-hop tempos of contemporary music and keep the tunes at that wonderful tempo of early soul. And second, while there are great horn parts here, it is all mixed wonderfully behind Jones' vocal--it is afterall Sharon Jones and the DK's and not the other way round.

So while we have been busy the last few days with this and that, there has been plenty of dancing to these tunes as we cooked up a storm of food. If you are a fan of Otis, Booker, Wilson, early Aretha, or any others of that era and you haven't picked this one up, then send a word of thanks to Wes, pick up the disc, and get ready for some swingin and rockin. Here are a couple to get ya started.

Nobody's Baby
Be Easy

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Furry Memories

Wow—just seems impossible to find time to even think about music say nothing about write about these days. Either that or the cable package we just got after nearly ten years without it is rotting my brain. For instance, I could have been listening to and/or blogging about music the other night when I found myself watching The Wedding Singer (and yes, enjoying it—I admit that).

I take it that when you watch that show, you are supposed to giggle at that wacky 1980’s music and I did . . . until I started to realize that I owned, at least at some point, almost every album that is featured in that film. And I liked a lot of them too. In fact, I noted that I still have quite of few of them and even listen to them occasionally. It had been a while though since I dipped in any Psychedelic Furs who get some good air time in this flick.

Ah the Furs—how can you not like the wall of sound that comes through in their (earlier) music? And c’mon, you’ve got to dig Richard Butler’s voice, right? And they even have some kind of cool and punky lyrics if I recall. All I know is that they make me think of house parties that I remember fondly and am now worried about my children attending.

But we still have a few years for that (I think). So muss up that hair, turn up the volume and enjoy a few Fur tunes for old time’s sake—and really, you want to hear those movie hits I know it. First up is the tune that probably go them more air time than any other thanks to the movie by the same name (although that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great tune). Then we have another hit which is the tune that gets most time behind Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the Wedding Singer. And lastly, just for a change of pace, here is the single (and title track) from the Furs greatest compilation which represents a nice return to the earlier sound.

Pretty in Pink (Buy Album)
Love My Way (Buy Album)
All of This and Nothing (Buy Album)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Emmylou: As Slow, Sad, and Beautiful as Ever

Someone once said that Allison Krauss could sing the phone book and it would be beautiful. True. I submit that if Emmylou Harris sang the phone book, you would end up feeling like you knew the people she sang about and even more, you would empathize with them. I mean really, can anyone sing about buying someone a crescent wrench without sounding silly? Emmylou can.

Now her 2008 release, All I Intended to Be is certainly not the kind of adventurous and remarkable album, that say Wrecking Ball was. The songs are all straightforward constructions, with a standard country feel and sung at Harris' favorite tempo: slllllooooooowww. That said, it is a beautiful album with spacious arrangements that allows you to hear the wonderful warm tone of Emmylou's voice and the sincerity of her singing.

The tunes include a few originals and collaborations with Kate and Anna McGarrigle, but there is also a healthy dose of covers here, including tunes by Merle Haggard, Tracy Chapman to Patty Griffin, but all fit together well in a landscape painted with personal history, self-reflection and the lessons of life. Standard Emmylou--picking great songs and weaving them together as if they all belonged there.

This is definitely a sit on the porch and watch the sun go down kind of album--there is no dancing around to Bill Monroe tunes here. So settle in and take a listen if you haven't.

Hold On
Kern River

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Three to Consider: Blues, Pop and Disco Be-bop

Here are three to consider from the recent Relix sampler. A bunch of dudes, but all with a very different orientation.

First up is the Jaik Miller Band featuring NYC frontman, you guessed it, Jaik Miller. I won't try to give you the whole history as I know little to nothing of ancestral efforts including Xanax 25. The new band includes Ryan Adams and the Cardinals guitarist JP Bowerstock (who also produced the album) and got quite a good deal of positive feedback for this self-titled album. Not sure what I think about the whole enterprise overall, but this slow blues tune has a nice feel. If you like it, visit their site to learn more.

Orange Sunshine

Next up is "him" otherwise known as M. Ward who most recently became famous as part of this duo. Of course it will be interesting to see how things change for, er, "him" on his seventh solo effort after that popular album. If this cut is any indication, I imagine he is going to find a larger following since it has much of the great pop feel of the duo album--in fact, I think you might hear a familiar voice in the background. For more on M Ward and the new album Hold Time, check out the release site.

Never Had Nobody Like You

And lastly we send a shout out ot anyone from Ann Arbor, MI to tell us about Macpodz who have coined the term "Disco-Be-bop" to describe their music. You have to be thinking Medeski, Martin and Wood here, but I don't have lots of info. This is their third studio album and they appear to have developed a following, but let's hear what others have to say. And like any good funky fun band, you can hear lots more just by heading to their website here.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Trying to Get into the Present Tense with James Carter

I remember the first time College Roomy had me sitting in his back room (post college) and put on James Carter's 1995 release, The Real Quietstorm which opens with the phatest baritone sax openings of "Round Midnight" one could ever imagine. It was a sound that made you melt the minute you heard it. That whole album, which I picked up the first chance I could after I heard it, was simply wonderful all the way through with that totally sexy late night jazz feel to it. I thought, this is a player I am going to be listening to for a very long time. Carter's contrbutions on Robert Altman's 1996 Kansas City soundtrack did nothing but confirm that sense as Carter's distinctive growl on any saxophone he touched--whether bari, alto or soprano--and on any style of song he played, was both distinctive and a pleasure to listen to. As Pico puts it:

When you hear Carter play the saxophone, it's pretty unmistakable that it's him: he's got the soul of Lester Young, the grit of Eddie Harris and the technical proficiency of John Coltrane.
But alas, I didn't keep up (at all) and it was only recently that I picked up my second James Carter album--his 2008 release Present Tense. Now you have to be a real curmudgeon to not enjoy Carter's playing, but I can also understand some of the slightly, er, nuanced reactions to this album. It has exquisite playing throughout and great mixes and each song is worthy of comment, but it doesn't quite hold together as a whole.

Carter plays just about anything that has a reed and requires wind and then throws in a little flute for good measure--so talent is not an issue. And the album contains a variety of influences from standard swing, to Latin, to alternative jazz, so you have to respect the variety. And all of it does have a certain Carter touch--this isn't just a cat with a sax showing off his skills . . . but it still doesn't move me as a great disc (although it has, for the most part received some very solid reviews).

The disc opens with "Rapid Shave"--a swinging Blue Note era sounding bop tune by Dave Burns that sets the tone. That is followed by "Bro. Dolphy"--a Carter original that leans toward the atonal, alternative jazz Dolphy played and Carter, on the bass clarinet of course, does Dolphy justice. That said, the tune throws off the album for me as it is as if I just hit the shuffle button on the iPod and jumped from one era to the next. Eclectic and wide-ranging yes, but not really how I like my discs to flow.

In fact, I think it is this moment in the disc which is the real hitch for me as after that we settle in with a Django ballad (never can you go wrong there) and a slow cha-cha piece where Carter's growling sax is at its best--slow and menacing. We then move into a pretty nice mix of pieces although I have to say I am not real keen on jazz albums where the artist is dueling himself on a multi-track mix of, well, himself, which we get on "Song of Delilah." The disc has some nice pieces in the later half with a great swinging version of Gigi Gryce's "Hymn of the Orient" and some nice Latin-flavored pieces.

Ultimately though the breadth of styles becomes a bit too much of a mish-mash for me. I don't want it all to be the same, but I would really have liked a bit more sense of how it all fits together. Perhaps I am a bit too wed to a certain type of jazz album and am just still trying to figure out how to move forward with jazz rather than being hung up in the classics of the past. There are many wonderful moments here (with Dwight Adams' trumpet work and D.D. Jackson's piano providing great complements to Carter's sensibilities) and it is definitely worth a listen. It just doesn't reach the level of classic to me--a high bar I suppose, but one that this guy has the talent to reach. Of course to be fair, I should listen to something from the previous 15 years (and if you have a sense of offerings between Quietstorm and Present Tense that should be looked into, please advise).

Check these out, which I think are a few highlights of the album (which you can buy here).

Rapid Shave
Sussa Nita
Hymn of the Orient

And if you haven't heard this from Real Quietstorm which you can also buy here, well then let me share!

Round Midnight

And lastly, check out this swinging tune from Kansas City, on which JC takes a rippin solo (oh and you can buy that there too).

Moten Swing