Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tuku, Camp & Montana

Tsoka itsimba – Oliver Mtukudzi (28 Aug 07, Heads Up)
Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi hails from a group of people in Zimbabawe (formerly Rhodesia) who speak the Shona language. He has been singing professionally for three decades. On Tsimba Itsoka (means "No Foot, No Footprint" in Shona) Tuku uses the smokey timbre of his voice combined with the elegant blend of the traditional, polyrhythmic sounds of African music and Jazz to sing about challenges affecting the daily lives of people. It's smooth.
In an interview with World Music Central Mtukudzi describes his album, " Each person is moving on a different path through life. Some are traveling in a positive direction, while others are traveling in a negative direction. But everyone leaves their mark on the world, no matter how big or small …what kind of footprint are you leaving behind, based on the life you're living now? And what would that footprint look like to you if it were pointed in your direction, or in the direction of someone you loved? " If only some our leaders would look in the mirror and ask these same questions.

Camp Meeting – Bruce Hornsby (7 Aug 07, Sony)
Bruce Hornsby has had an interesting career. From his roots as the keyboardist in a frat house to Grammy winning performer Hornsby has had a little taste of everything music; sessions musician, part of Sheena Easton's touring band, pop icon in the latter half of the 80s, Grammy winner (more than once), Grateful Dead keyboardist, producer of Leon Russell's bluegrass albums, co-wrote "The End of Innocence" with Don Henley, "The Way It Is" has been sampled by numerous Rap artists, a bluegrass project with Ricky Skaggs and now this release of Jazz music. In other words he's been around.
Camp Meeting is a collection of songs penned by some of Jazz'z greatest legends (Monk, Davis, Coleman, Coltrane, etc.) and beautifully executed by Bruce on piano, Christain McBride on Bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Hornsby has always incorporated the Jazz sound into his solo projects and music writers track this latest effort back to his stint with the Dead. Evidently Bruce and Jerry Garcia pushed each other to expand musically. Don't expect to hear Rainbow's Cadillac, Jacob's Ladder or Sunflower Cat. This is a Jazz album. And it's a very good Jazz album by a trio of great musicians.

Montana: A Love Story – George Winston (12 Oct 04, RCA)
OK, so this album isn't exactly a new release. However, it's new to me so please cut me a little slack. I've been a big fan of George Winston's stuff since the mid 80s. Back then I made a two week trip on a tug. The AM/FM radio didn't work but the cassette player did. We had Dire Strait's Brother in Arms and George Winston's December. Even though it was April I listened to December at least 100 times that trip. I still love that album.
I don't know how I overlooked this disc because I have every Winston release (some on vinyl.) And Montana: A Love Story is very good. This is Winston's tribute to his childhood home and, as luck would have it, solo piano at its best. It's good to spin when you're sitting around with an empty head or when you want to hear an accomplished musician play a nice selection of tunes. And it makes a wonderful soundtrack for many activities ( i.e., great background music.)

More to follow...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Music

You’ll probably notice that I used the “C” word, not exactly proper behavior in this politically correct time. God forbid I exclude a group by talking about the end of the year holiday that my family celebrates (oops, I said God, apologies to those of you who recognize a different supreme being/force/energy or none at all.) Any way…I did not grow up celebrating Kwanza, Hanukkah, Solstice or Festivus so it’s more of a challenge for me to recommend selections for those holidays. And since this is my blog I’m making a conscious choice to talk about Christmas music. It doesn’t mean that I have any less respect for those of you who choose to celebrate Kwanza, Hanukkah, Solstice, Festivus, etc.

At this time I should tell you that my intention for this week’s article was to compile a comprehensive list of the best Christmas music available, a daunting task. I can’t help it. My obsessive compulsive disorder compels me to approach all my projects this way. Fortunately for me my ADD kicks in shortly after I begin the task and as I get distracted I save myself a lot of work.

As many of you have determined there is an abundance of Christmas music for sale. Some choices are great and some not so much. (I have this vision, courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Special Past, of Cher singing O Holy Night like it was Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.)

Here’s a breakdown of Amazon’s ten, best selling Christmas CDs.

Noel – Josh Groban (9 Oct 07, WEA/Reprise)
13 tracks of standard Christmas tunes by the Grammy winning, mega-talented, classical cross-over artist. Unfortunately he sings the tracks like he’s performing selections from Tosca. His voice is great but it’s a little stiff. It lacks the warmth of Andy Williams or the jolliness of Burl Ives. Christmas songs should feel like they are being sung by people wearing sweaters standing in front of an appropriately decorated hearth. Not by a guy wearing a tux standing on a stage above a symphony pit. Sorry Josh but it’s a little too formal for my liking.

Let It Snow - Michael Buble (19 Oct 07, WEA/Reprise)
Buble’s EP of six Christmas songs is nicely produced and he’s approached it with his trademark, swinging sound. While he’s closer to the sweater and hearth scenario mentioned in the Groban review, I have this visual of Mr. Buble holding a brandy snifter and a cigarette ala Dean Martin.

A Christmas Celebration – Celtic Women (3 Oct 06, Manhattan Records)
This is nice and these gals can sing. I particularly like Ding Dong Merrily On High and Christmas Pipes. I have to warn you. Some numbers lean a bit toward a New Age style (think Windham Hill.)

One Chance – Paul Potts (19 Sept 07, Sony)
Not really a Christmas album. It’s mainly an opera greatest hits disc with a few Christmas tracks (O Holy Night and Silent Night.)

Christmas Song - Mannheim Steamroller (9 Oct 07 American Gramophone)
Has Mannheim Steamroller, aka Chip Davis, ever done anything beside Christmas albums? Just kidding, they did a Halloween disc a few years ago. These tracks, mostly instrumental, are a melding of orchestral and electronic instruments and it’s way too syncopated for me. It’s like a Miami Vice Christmas album.

James Taylor at Christmas – James Taylor (2 Oct07, Columbia)
I love James Taylor. I’ve seen him numerous times. He’s a great songwriter, wonderful musician and a consummate performer. With the exception of River, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Who Comes This Night James misses the mark due to his arrangements. His blues-up approach to Jingle Bells is really bad. This is not what I look for in a Christmas album!

The Lost Christmas Eve - Trans-Siberian Orchestra (12 Oct 04, Lava)
I didn’t know Meatloaf did a Christmas Album!

Wintersong - Sarah McLachlan (17 Oct 06, Arista)
Sarah has done a nice job here. She has the right voice for Christmas songs. I like her take on some of the more traditional songs. She dresses them up a little but stays true to old forms, mostly. Song For A Winter’s Night is my favorite track.

The Christmas Collection - Il Divo (25 Oct 05, Sony)
Again, the classical crossover guys singing Christmas songs like the libretto from an opera, they show emotion in the presentation, but it’s too over-the-top for Christmas music. Stick to Puccini fellows.

I don’t wish to be critical (well actually I do), but I have a very specific idea of what good Christmas music should sound like and I’m sad to say that most of these miss the mark. I’m a little disappointed, but not surprised, that the record labels have taken advantage of their big attractions by having them do a Christmas album. Just because you sing great Opera or Jazz doesn’t mean you can sing Christmas songs.

My picks: for Christmas Music:

White Christmas – Bing Crosby (1 June 95, MCA)
Older recordings show their age but Bing is great!!!

The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole (27 Sept 07, Sony)
Who does a better version of The Christmas Song?

A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra - Frank Sinatra (18 Sept 07, Capitol)
The Chairman of the Board shows how it’s done.

A Very Special Christmas – Various Artists (25 Oct 90, A&M)
How can anyone trim the tree without Bon Jovi singing Back Door Santa?

Complete Christmas Collection – Vienna Boys Choir, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal College Of Music Chamber Choir et al. (13 Aug 91, Sony, 4 CDs, out of print)
It picked this up at Costco years ago and it is one of my favorite Christmas sets. It has excerpts from The Nutcracker and Messiah as well as lots or traditional Christmas songs including my all-time fave O Come O Come Emanuel.

December – George Winston (25 Oct 90, Windham Hill)
Amazing solo piano versions of Christmas classics!!!

A Winters Solstice (multiple volumes) – Various Artists (1985-, Windham Hill)
New age recordings of traditional and very old school Christmas music.

Christmas Remix : Holiday Classics Re-Grooved – Various Artists (21 Oct 03, Six Degrees) If you liked the originals by Bing Crosby and Mel Torme but felt they needed a little more drum & bass then this is your Christmas record.

With the exception of the last two sugestions I’m pretty traditional. I do appreciate new versions of the older songs, but stick to the basic format & melody. The original arrangements are good and performers who choose to depart from that formula do so at their own peril. Like the man says, “If it ain’t broke…”

Please enjoy the holiday season, regardless of how you choose to celebrate and permit me to extend my best wishes for a great New Year!

More to follow…

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Loyal Readers,
Esion is at the Ayurvedic Center for the Affirmation of Vital Principle in Head Tide participating in a Thanksgiving workshop honoring the life force of all creatures. Then he’s going hunting for white tail deer in Washington County.
The blog will resume next week.
More to follow...

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Large Band and the Hammer of the Gods.

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band - It’s Not Big It’s Large (28 Aug 07)
On Easter Sunday 1988 I left a perfectly good job to head north and try my luck in the second Alaskan Gold Rush (i.e., commercial fishing.) It was on that trawler somewhere southeast of Kodiak Island that I first heard Lyle Lovett’s second album, Pontiac. I listened to it non-stop for 5 months. I loved it, but who ever heard of a country musician employing cellos for their compositions? And the very non-country sounding arrangements? Lyle was an enigma, defying conventions.
Ten albums later, not counting soundtracks and compilations, and Lyle hasn’t made it any easier for clerks shelving his discs. Does it go in Country? Jazz? Pop? Who needs a genre?
It’s Not Big It’s Large opens with tight rendition of an old Lester Young tune, Tickle Toe, then scoots right in to the very Bluesy I Will Rise Up, followed by Lyle’s very country thank you note All Downhill From Here and finally, before any stylistic repeats, offers a Folksy dirge, Don’t Cry A Tear. Make It Happy is a funky little ditty with a backing quartet featuring Arnold McCuller (worked a lot with Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt among others) and then he rolls right into the gospel laden Ain’t No More Cane. Of the twelve tracks I’d say one is big band Jazz, two are Blues, one is Gospel, one is funky, four are country and three are definitely Folk featuring a finger-picked guitar. I’ve listened to it three times since yesterday and I like it better each time.
I was fortunate enough to see Lyle with his Large Band on the Pier in Seattle a few years back and it was every bit as good as I thought it would be.
By the way, for those looking to apply a label to Lyle’s work, I suggest “big band arrangements of chamber music as approached from a country/bluegrass/folk perspective.” Close enough for ya?

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (23 Oct 07)
By the sword of Oden, what madness has produced such an unholy union? The lead singer of the most successful heavy rock band of the 70s teamed up with the sweetest, if not the most talented, singer in bluegrass. Is the lamb to lay with the lion? Surely the world has tipped on its axis.
But you know what? It’s amazing! Talk about a perfect blend of two voices, this is it. There’s nothing on here that sounds like Stairway to Heaven from Plant’s earlier efforts or the Grammy winning, Baby, Now That I’ve Found You from Krauss’s back catalog, but both bring what they’ve learned to this session. Only one track was written by Plant & Page et al. (Please Read My Letter) the rest on this T Bone Burnett production are by Tom Waits, The Everly Brothers, Townes van Zandt & Mel Tillis among others. The overall tone is a bit somber and reserved, although Plant manages a few, albeit, softer Hey, Ho’s toward the end of one track. For those of you looking for upbeat pop music to get the party started, this ain’t it. For those of you looking for a CD chock full of excellent recordings by two of the music industry's giants, then look no further.

More to follow…

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Civilians Up Front and Live at the Monterey Jazz Fest

Sorry folks about the lack of up-date during the previous week. I'm sad to say that I had no new discs to say positive things about and mom always said, "If you can't say anything nice, sit next to me" Anyway...
This week was much better. The following three recordings have received constant rotation on my playlist.

Joe Henry Civilians (11 Sept 07)
OK. So Joe’s made us wait four long years since Tiny Voices (2003) We should forgive him because he’s been very busy producing albums and helping other artists find their sound, everyone from Solomon Burke to Ani DiFranco, including a project he did with his buddy Loudon Wainwright III that became the soundtrack for Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up. Well folks Civilians is here and was worth the wait. Joe Henry is a great songwriter. He writes hummable melodies with poetic lyrics about real situations and the people in them. He doesn’t have the greatest voice (with a few cartons of Old Golds and several quarts of Chivas Regal Joe could sound a lot like Tom Waits) but it fits well with his casual approach to the instrumental parts. On the title track he incorporates a slight discordance with the guitar that compliments the vocal nicely. He adopts a similar approach for Time Is a Lion. The rest of the album is filled with ballads, blues, lullabies and songs about folks who can’t catch a break. And as busy as he is, the man’s been married for over 20 years to the same woman (Melanie Ciccone, whose has a sister named Madonna)

Teddy Thompson Up Front and Down Low (24 Jul 07)
Take the son of music legends Richard and Linda Thompson, give him a tight group of accomplished musicians (including his dad), and turn him loose on a dozen Country standards and you have all the ingredients for a classic Country & Western album. It’s surprising considering he was born in a Muslim community outside of London, about as far from Nashville as you could get. However, Teddy does his level best to take the songs of Ernest Tubbs, George Jones, The King and Dolly Parton among others and make them his own. His twangy, heartfelt delivery could easily have him in regular rotation on any country radio station in the nation, but it won’t. The Clear Channel stranglehold on the airwaves will continue unabated and deprive listeners of new talent that subsists outside of the “structure”

Miles Davis – Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (31 Jul 07)
This recording is from 22 Sept 1963 when Miles was in a period of transition, between his first great quintet with Coltrane and his second great quintet with Wayne Shorter. The group features a young (23) Herbie Hancock on piano, the rest of the players; Miles – trumpet, George Coleman - tenor saxophone, Ron Carter – bass, and Tony Williams - drums. Not bad for a transitional group!
As Sam Cell stated on Allaboutjazz.com, “One doesn't know whether to express gratitude to the producers for releasing a recorded event of such historic significance and rare beauty, or annoyance at those responsible for keeping it on ice for all these years.” And that’s exactly right. The recording is crisp and clear and the musicianship is exceptional. It’s a glimpse of Jazz history. A must hear for any Miles fans.
Note: The Concord Music Group has created Monterey Jazz Festival Records to share some classic performances. I’m glad, but must confess that my musical palate wasn’t developed enough to appreciate Jazz until just a few years ago, although my mother says I loved Nat King Cole at a tender age. “Profits realized by the Monterey Jazz Festival from this series will be re-invested into its ongoing jazz education programs.” -From Concord’s website.

More to follow…

Friday, October 26, 2007

Miles, The Boss and Steve Earle

It's been a quiet week on the island, musically speaking any way. I did get quite a few newer releases yesterday but haven't had a chance to listen to all of them. I'm sure I'll get through them by next Friday. OK, on to "What's Esion listening to this week"

Miles Davis - Evolution of the Groove
Is it Jazz? Is it Hip/Hop? I'll tell you what it is. It's a 5 track* release featuring Nas on one cut and Carlos Santana on another. Miles may have liked this disc for it's original spin, but I feel slightly duped. It was nice hearing Miles speak on Freddie the Freeloader (croak actually, Miles didn't really speak) and I do like the remixes with the drums and base cranked up. However, four tracks? And only one track clocking over three minutes. Please!
Since I'm a Miles fan and have a lot of his stuff I was able to listen to the original songs. It's About That Time, the track featuring Santana, is great but less than half the length of the original. Once you change time keeping from the rider cymbal to the snare and turn up the bass line, the song is really funky, much more so than the original. Add Carlos trading licks with Miles and you've got a nice tune. I should clarify that the first version didn't need work.
I really like the slow build intro on the original recording of the bluesy Honky Tonk. Again by trading the rider cymbal for snare & kick-drum the whole feel of the song is different. It has more umph. I like it.
This disc will appease some Miles fans and offend others. I have to say it is an interesting exercise in what can be accomplished with technology. It's a shame that someone took the time to secure the rights, gather the musicians & techs and then said, "We're only doing four songs*" It's like dinner without dessert.
*There are 5 tracks but Freddie the Freeloader is an incomplete outtake.

Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade
I totally messed up by missing Steve Earle at Bumbershoot '07. I was tired of the crowds, I couldn't eat another bite of that wonderful African food from Horn of Africa and I had seen Steve with the Bluegrass Dukes at the Woodland Park Zoo a couple of years before so Iwent home. Admittedly they weren't good excuses, but they were the only ones I had.
After listening to Washington Square Serenade the first time through I understand my error. I should have sucked it up, gone to the special KEXP, invite-only performance and then stayed for the evening show. My buddy John said both shows were excellent. Oh well, I'll always have the KEXP archives.
Steve Earle is one talented SOB. He doesn't just write songs. He paints pictures with words and music, sometimes a portrait, sometimes a landscape, sometimes a portrait within a landscape, in the same tradition as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon or Tom Waits. I agree he can't sing for shit, but his gravely, twangy, sometimes whisper, sometimes growl, mainly average voice fits perfectly with the picture he's crafted.
Steve never strays far from his country roots, even when playing the bozouki on the bluesy Red is the Color. City of Immigrants, with its Calypso feel, is as far as he gets from Nashville, but it has a hint of down-homeyness. Maybe it's the southern drawl. Anyway, Washington Square Serenade won't top the many releases by Mr. Earle. That would be a monumental feat with a body of work featuring masterpieces like El Corazon, I Feel Alright and The Mountain. However, this disc is very good and one I'll add to my collection.

Bruce Springsteen – Magic
One of my girlfriends in high school was from New Jersey. She listened to The Boss before he'd made the covers of Time and Newsweek and shared his music with me. It seems like The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle received constant play for at least a decade.
I've listened to Magic several times now. It's comforting to see Bruce return to his roots, namely, making great music with a fantastic backing band. Bruce puts the familiar themes of lost love, lost youth and lost innocence to some wonderful melodies and comes up with tracks that sound like they came from the sessions for The River. It's very good, classic Bruce and the E Street Band is in fine form. I think it's the best disc he's done since The River. Radio Nowhere, the track he gave away as an MP3, is an up-tempo number that laments the sad state of music radio and makes the statement "I just want to hear some rhythm." Well folks, Magic definitely has rhythm and I recommend purchasing the CD.

More to follow...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Foos, Arlo & Rani...

I must apologize to the regular readers of my music blog (yes, both of you.) I’ve been trying to have a new post ready by Friday, but this week was so busy that Sunday afternoon was the first opportunity I had to get to it. I confess that I didn’t listen to as much music this week. I was finishing up two audio books: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (excellent account of what Vlad Drac’s been up to for the past 500 years) and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (a wonderful, often humorous tale of all the disciplines in science and mathematics and the super geeks who gave them to us.) I highly recommend both. OK, on to music…

Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (Sept 07)
I’m listening to the newest Foo Fighters release, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. I have to admit, I never really liked grunge and I didn’t care for many of the bands that style of Rock’N’Roll produced. It’s a shame when you think about it because I moved to Puget Sound, ground zero for grunge, a few years before flannel and poor personal hygiene became fashionable. The Foo’s have a distinct sound. It’s a sound Dave Grohl has been perfecting since the early days of grunge. It’s a bit more refined, mature and melodic approach to Rock than one of his earlier bands, Nirvana. I like this very much. Most of the tracks are up-tempo rockers. Summer’s End is my current favorite cut. Let me add that Grohl isn’t just another drummer-turned-songwriter. He’s a talented, adept tunesmith and apparently, from the articles I read, he’s one of the nicest guys in the music business. Evidently everyone loves the man.

Arlo Guthrie - In Times Like These (July 07)
On a completely different note (pun fully intended) I have a copy of Arlo Guthrie’s In Times Like These. It’s a live recording and Arlo is backed by the University of Kentucky’s Symphony Orchestra. I feel compelled to comment; Outside of recordings by the Moody Blues, I’ve rarely liked Rock/Folk/whatever combined with a Classical sound. Don’t get me wrong, I love Classical music. I just don’t think it mixes well with other genres. The result typically makes me feel like I’m in an elevator. This CD is an exception. The mix is nice, not overproduced. Arlo’s voice is strong, the song selection is great. I found myself tapping my foot and bobbing my head along through all twelve tracks including a very Bourbon Street sounding St. James Infirmary Blues and, of course, Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans. Granted it’s not on par with Hobo’s Lullaby, Alice’s Restaurant or Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys, however, any fan of Arlo Guthrie’s music will want to hear this.

Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem - Big Old Life (June 07)
Now comes my favorite part of my post, telling people about a not-so-well-known artist. Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem and the CD is Big Old Life. American roots music featuring: vocals, fiddle, bass, banjo, guitar and drum enterprise (cardboard box, cat food cans, an old cookie tin and a suitcase). I discovered Rani Arbo back in 2001 with her first release called Cocktail Swing and have been a fan ever since. On the new disc one song has a Cajun, Blues, Jazzy, Funk Gospel sound (Joy Comes Back), another has a real old-timey C&W feel and would be right at home on an album by Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton (Big Old Life) then a traditional Bluegrass track (Red Haired Boy) followed by a Folk song (Roses) And that’s just the first four cuts. Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem can’t be labeled except to say that they play great music and they play it well. I like their sound a lot! You can hear three tracks from the new disc on NPR’s All things Considered website

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Oct '07 Playlist (1st-13th)

What am I listening to now? Why would anyone care? To that I reply, “Due to my access to many different artists across many different genres I may be able to offer a few suggestions to those who are bold enough to venture into unknown musical territory” Here are the discs receiving regular rotation on my playlist. Note: Some of the music I’m suggesting is older than 2007

Ray LaMontagne – Til the Sun Turns Black (Aug 2006)
Ray’s a fellow New Englander who moved to Maine after high school and this is his sophomore release. I know it’s over a year old, but I’ve been playing this disc a lot this week. Actually, it’s one that keeps popping up in my player and I prefer it over his first release Trouble (Sept ’04.) Although Ray’s stuff is folk based, he stretches his legs a bit on this one, incorporating horns and an R&B feel to Three More Days, as well as on my favorite track, You Can Bring Me Flowers. The tone is a bit somber, partly due to Ray’s breathy, almost whispered delivery and partly to his lyrics (I’m guessing you wouldn’t describe him as a chipper fellow) but the music is wonderful and definitely worth a listen.

Patty Griffin – Children Running Through (Feb 2007)
Another Mainer (Old Town) who’s achieved international recognition. There aren’t many in folk, rock or alt. country who hold a candle to Patty for her song writing skills or her passionate vocals. I first noticed Patty when I heard Useless Desires from the 2004 release Impossible Dream, but I have to say that Children Running Through, Patty’s 7th release, is my favorite. Berit (my reason for living) and I saw Patty at the Woodland Park Zoo this summer and she was fantastic!!! We sat near Dave Matthews and his family, but I digress… Children Running Through has it all; soulful deliveries, jazzy arrangements, up-tempo rockers, folksy stories and heartfelt ballads that will stop your conversation and have you hanging on every word. Buy this CD now!

Without Gravity – Tenderfoot (Jun 2005)
This Icelandic acoustic quartet won’t rock your world, blow your mind or, damn, I’ve run out of clichés. Any way I love their sound. When co-founder Kalli Henry was asked what it takes to start a band he replied, “Two guitars, a living room and some time” Simple enough? That’s exactly how Without Gravity approaches music; two guitars, light drumming, double base and occasional piano. They assemble spare arrangements, sweet melodies and simple harmonies into some great stuff. If you’re looking for music to put on after work while you kick back with a beverage, this is it.

The Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed (Jun 2006)
The Long Winters formed in Seattle in 2001 and have roots to Harvey Danger, Deathcab For Cutie, The Posies and Sky Cries Mary, some of the Northwest’s bigger acts of the past two decades. Putting the Days to Bed, their third release, is my favorite. From the bands website John Roderick’s “…truly important life-lessons: keep your powder dry, know a good Audi mechanic, and never feed your dogs first.” And his wry wit is evident in his lyrics. The music reminds me a bit of Toad the Wet Sprocket for its easy rocking tempos, fine harmonies and all-around catchy tunes, my personal favorite, Pushover.

Joni Mitchell – Shine (Sept 2007)
Wow! Joni’s first new studio album since 1998’s Taming the Tiger. And it was worth the wait. The first spin through new disc I was thinking, Joni really has adopted a jazzy, almost new age approach to music, when did that happen? Duh, it’s been present since the beginning. That’s not to say there’s nothing new here, quite the contrary. She has her style, her sound, but it’s fresh as ever. Typically I have to listen to a disc a couple of times through before some tracks “grow” on me. Not the case with Shine. It’s wonderful. It’s been a while since I listened to a disc that was chock full of great songs. Drop whatever you’re doing and get this CD.

I included the Myspace links for the artists who have pages. Just click on their names.
I would like to add that whenever possible buy CDs directly from the artists (at shows, from their websites.) Sure it may cost a buck or two more, but they get the lion’s share of the cash and the major label record company executives who’ve done everything in their power to ruin the music industry will be forced to suffer the humiliation of downsizing to a domestically assembled, economy car.

More to follow…

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Black Crowes at the Paramount Theater

On Tuesday 2 Oct 07, 7:00 PM my friend Kirk and I went to see The Black Crowes at that “magnificent cathedral of entertainment” the Paramount Theater in Seattle, WA. It was fantastic!!!

Way back when, I was vaguely familiar with the Black Crowes. A friend had a copy of Shake Your Money Maker that he played constantly through most of 1990 and 1991. It was OK but it wasn’t where I was in my musical “journey” so I moved on to other things. Fast forward to 2000 and The Black Crowes collaboration with Jimmy Page at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA. Now that piqued my interest. I went back and listened to their catalog and discovered that the brothers Robinson have written some great songs. They’ve taken the chugging rhythm of Ronnie Wood, combined Keith Richards tasty licks & catchy hooks and finished with Rod Stewart’s (Faces era) boozy swagger. It's what Mick & Keith would have sounded like they were raised in the south eastern US. They rock. To describe the Black Crowes music in one sentence; The Rolling Stones meet The Allman Brothers. How could anyone not like that!!! Needless to say the boys have received regular rotation on my MP3 player ever since.
When I heard about the Paramount show I knew I was going to go. However, I had no idea what to expect. The 4000 seat Paramount has great acoustics and no bad seats. I was thoroughly familiar with the Crowes’ body of work and liked nearly everything. However, I approached the show with trepidation due to some bootleg files I’d heard from shows (how accurately can one duplicate the live music experience while surreptitiously recording the artist with a, more than likely, sub-par system?) I also had concern with their lack of sibling harmony, Rich and Chris have been known to bicker and The Crowes have had considerable and frequent changes in band personnel over the years. Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound.

A roadie moved an incense burner to each side of the stage and the jasmine smoke wafted up to fill the auditorium with its mellow scent in a matter of minutes. Shortly after that the lights went out. No dimming, someone just flipped the switch off. You could just make out the boys in the glow of cigarette embers and amp lights strolling to their spots on the stage. With the first chords of Virtue and Vice I knew it was going to be a stellar experience.
With the current line-up of: Vocals & Guitar: Chris Robinson, Guitar & Backing Vocals: Rich Robinson, Drums: Steve Gorman, Bass: Sven Pipien, Keyboards: Adam MacDougall, Guitars: Paul Stacey, Backing Vocals: Charity White and Mona Lisa Young (I think) they moved quickly from song to song and delivered a set of popular singles, a couple of extended jams and a few covers. Chris, known for between number ramblings (his comments cost them a opening gig spot for ZZ Top in 1991) was surprisingly brief. With the exception of an early amp problem for Rich the mix was nice, if not a little loud. Steve Gorman hit the drums like he was swinging a pair of 5 lbs. mauls. Rich stayed to the left of his brother throughout the evening moving from Gone to Sting Me to Cypress Tree to Good Friday while barely taking a breath. At the end of each song the tech would be waiting behind the keyboards with another guitar, Rich would plug it in (they used long guitar chords plugged into the amps, no radio controlled shit, very old school) and just as the applause died down he’d launch into another tune. Chris, true to form and right on the mark with his influences delivered soulful, heartfelt, rocking vocals. And as with Stewart & Jagger he can't dance to save his life. It didn't matter.
The highlight of the night for me was Soul Singing. Great guitar work with a nice melody and Chris’s call-response chorus with Mona Lisa & Charity, it was brilliant! They added a very nice version of the CSN&Y song, Everybody I love You from Déjà vu and followed with William Bell’s You Don’t Miss Your Water. That began the jam period which continued with Downtown Money Waster transitioning to Thorn in My Pride which ended the show.
The encore was the Holland Dozier penned Don’t Do It. They leaned toward the version The Band performed on Rock of Ages and Last Waltz. The show was just shy of the two hour mark. Kirk and I were able to make it home at a respectable hour.

The Black Crowes are working on a new album slated for release in early 2008. Rumor has it they have 16 tracks in the can and they’re mixing them down. So far no material from the new sessions has been played live. This will be the first Black Crowes studio release since Lions in 2001 I am looking forward to it.
You can hear some of their tracks at http://blackcrowes.com/

More to follow…

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Desert Island Discs

The “Best of…” list is a highly subjective exercise by some expert attempting to convince us that their list of favorite artists, songs or albums has merit beyond being a list of personal favorites. I say this because selection criteria is rarely included with the list. If I don't know what it takes to "make" the list then why should the list have more significance than being an amalgam of favorite songs/artists? If you said “Top 50 Albums Recorded in Non-Smoking Studios” or “The Best 25 Singles With Left Handed Drummers” at least I’d know what you were thinking about when you decided to put the list together.
Two lists that support my perspective of “Best of…” lists are from Rolling Stone magazine.
They asked a group of musicians, critics and writers to pick their favorite artists and guitarists respectively, but then they promote the list as the ultimate authority on great artists & guitarists. Dress it up however you'd like Rolling Stone, it's still a list of favorites! Any way, here are the lists
1. "The Immortals: The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time" Note: Prince and Nirvana above Eric Clapton and The Allman Brothers Band.
2. “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” Note: Jack White is way above Mark Knopfler, Dickie Betts and Steve Howe.
When it comes to “Best of… lists, most of us take exception with the list’s order of priority, what they omit and what they include. Maybe that’s what makes them entertaining, we all think we can do better. And since most of these lists are a group of someone’s favorites, why not make your own list?
There used to be a weekly music magazine, The Rocket, which was available at any Puget Sound record store. Every issue of The Rocket included reader submitted Desert Island Disc lists. The idea is you are stuck on a desert island and have to choose 10 discs to listen to. Please don't ask how you'd play the discs on a desert island. Maybe I'll be address that in a future column. Here’s my DID list alphabetical by artist.

The Allman Brothers – Fillmore Concerts. Eat A Peach used to hold this spot, but then they released the concerts as a set.

The Band – The Band. Most fans would pick Music From Big Pink, but then they'd be without the songs Rockin’ Chair and Unfaithful Servant.

The Beatles – Abbey Road. Trying to pick a favorite Beatles disc is like trying to pick a favorite appendage. How does one choose between such greats as The White Album, Revolver, Rubber Soul & Sgt. Pepper? For my money Abbey Road, the group’s final recording together, is their best work.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Four Way Street Four Way Street. A fantastic live recording by America’s first “super-group” (even though one was British and one was Canadian), has something for everyone. Acoustic love songs, electric jams and harmonies that will make you weep!

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue. I can listen to this disc non-stop for days, weeks at a time. Miles was a god.

Bob Dylan – Blood On the Tracks. While Dylan single-handedly changed popular music in less than five years, his greatest recording didn’t happen until his second decade as an artist, after he’d gone electric and returned to his roots.

The Grateful Dead – Europe '72. If I was limited to one band to listen to for the rest of my days it would be The Grateful Dead. Granted their live shows could be a gamble and they didn’t always have the greatest vocals (Brent Mydland?) but Europe ’72, even without Dark Star, is stellar.

Jimi Hendrix – Electriclady Land. My friend Merritt and I used to listen to this on his older sister’s quadraphonic 8-track.”I’m standing next to a mountain, chop it down with the edge of my hand,” need I say more?

Led Zeppelin – II & IV (tie). I feel a need to clarify the tie for Led Zeppelin II & IV. I couldn't choose between the two because "Stairway to Heaven" is Led Zeppelin's greatest composition as well as one of the greatest Rock songs of all time. I must admit, when I heard the opening arpeggios drifting up from my family room two years ago, as my son was learning the song on his Stratocaster, it brought a tear to my eye. However, Led Zeppelin II is full of great songs with thick rhythm guitar & juicy licks that most aspiring guitarists attempt to duplicate at one time or another. Didn't every 14 year-old boy from my generation want to be Jimmy Page?

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon. DSotM, one of the biggest selling albums of all time and a great soundtrack for Wizard of Oz.By the way, this title has been on my DID list since 7th grade.

Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle. The best thing The Boss ever did!!!

Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street. Jagger wants to remix it, Keith finally likes it and Allen Klein wishes he had a piece of it. Captured during their most creative period, it’s the finest example of the Rolling Stones sound.

Doc Watson – Memories. If Bill Monroe is the king of bluegrass then Doc is his ambassador. He’s responsible for bringing that sound to the masses.

You've probably noticed that I have more than 10 titles. In fact I have 14 titles. Hey it’s my list. You can choose 25 titles if you’d like. The point: When it comes to deciding your favorites, you are the expert. So go out and build your own DIDs and support your local music scene.
More to follow…

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Music Resources: Print & Digital

The Internet is overflowing with music resources. Heck, Seattle is home to a few hundred music blogs and everyone is an expert at what they like. So how do you wade through all that information and find something relevant and helpful? First of all, READ MY BLOG!!! Secondly, try a few of the publications listed below. These are the resources I use to help me select music for my library system and I would consider them to be authoritative on all things music. Nearly all have print versions to supplement their web content (or vice versa.)
For those of you keeping score at home I have institutional subscriptions to:
§ Billboard
§ Dirty Linen
§ Downbeat
§ InRadio
§ Spin
And I personally subscribe to:
§ Global Rhythm
§ No Depression
§ Paste
§ Rolling Stone
§ Seattle Sound

Of course I get The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly. You can't swing a cat around here without hitting one of their distribution boxes and they have great content for the local music scene.

Have fun, feel free to let me know what you like and please, give me a heads-up for any great resources that I’ve missed.

More to follow…

Magazines, Newspapers and Other Resources
Christian Science Monitor (all genres) http://www.csmonitor.com/arts/musicPerformingArts.html
News, Pop-ups, Reviews, RSS feed,

New York Times (all genres)
Blog, News, Pop-ups, Reviews, RSS feed, New York venue calendar

Billboard (major labels, all genres)
Charts, News, Pop-ups, Reviews, RSS Feed

Entertainment Weekly (what’s hot, all genres) http://www.ew.com/ew/music/0,,,00.html
Charts, News, Reviews, RSS feed

The Stranger (major label and indie music, all genres) http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Home
Blog, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed, Seattle venue calendar,

The Seattle Weekly (major label and indie music, all genres) http://www.seattleweekly.com/music/
Blog, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed, Seattle venue calendar,

Rolling Stone (major label and indie music, all genres, but leans heavily toward Rock) http://www.rollingstone.com/
Artist info, Blog, Listen to Music, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed, Tour schedules

BBC Music Magazine (Classical, Opera & Jazz)
Artist Info, Concert Search, Reviews

Downbeat (Jazz)
Artist Info, News, Reviews

Gramophone (Classical & Opera)
Concert Search, News, Podcast, Reviews

Paste (major label and indie music, all genres, but leans toward Rock) http://www.pastemagazine.com/
Blog, Free music sampler CD with every print edition, Listen to Music, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS Feed

Seattle Sound (major label and indie music, all genres) http://www.seattlesoundmag.com/
News, Reviews, Seattle venue calendar,

Spin (major label and indie music, leans heavily toward Alternative Rock) http://www.spin.com/
Artist info, Blog, Listen to Music, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS feed,

Country Music (major label C&W)
Artist info, Charts, News, Reviews

Dirty Linen (major labels + indies, leans toward Roots: Bluegrass, Blues, Country, Folk & Rockabilly) http://www.dirtylinen.com/
News, Reviews, Tour Schedules

Global Rhythm (World)
Charts, Concert Search, Downloads, Free music CD with every print edition, News, Podcast, Reviews, RSS Feed

No Depression (Alternative C&W and Roots)
Blogs, Downloads, News, Reviews

Metacritic (what’s hot, all genres)

Pollstar (concert searches by artist, venue & city)
Concert Search, News, RSS Feed

Friday, September 14, 2007

Music on the World Wide Web

I listen to music nearly every waking moment. I have it on in the car when I’m driving, at work I listen all day to Jazz, Classical or World music through my headphones and at home I have a stereo turned on in my kitchen. I even installed speakers on the patio so I can listen to music while working in the backyard. What can I say? I love music.
Living in the age of technology offers many options for enjoying music via the Internet. With a click of the mouse we can be transported from our desktop to a smoky bar room or to an exotic land. The only downside about this is that there may be too many choices. Hopefully this passage will help.
For the sake of discussion I’ll group the Internet listening choices into a few categories: radio stations, performer websites, subscription services and general music sites.

Internet Radio
Many radio stations have live feed options, i.e., you can listen to the broadcast as it is taking place. Some stations have created an archive of past shows where you’re able to search for a particular topic or performance and listen to it.
My current favorites for streaming music are:
KEXP A listener supported, Seattle based radio station that put the independence back in music!!! You can: listen live to the broadcast, check out the playlists, read reviews for new releases, browse the archives to find an interview and in-studio performance with some great artists. Check out The Believers, Mark Kozelek or The Long Winters.
KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic with Nic Harcourt (author of Music Lust). From the site, “Morning Becomes Eclectic is committed to a music experience that celebrates innovation, creativity and diversity by combining progressive pop, world beat, jazz, African, reggae, classical and new music.” So you get a litle bit of everything. I like to go to the archive and scroll through old Morning Becomes Eclectic shows. I suggest listening to the following: Joe Henry, M.I.A. and Robbie Robertson.

Performer Websites
Websites maintained by the artist either on their own or through a social network site such as Myspace. This a great place to stay current with your favorite artist. You can hear new tracks, sample alternative takes, get free downloads not to mention staying on top of what’s happening: tour dates, current projects and general news. I used Myspace links in my last post. It was a great way to find out more about the bands I saw at Bumbershoot. And locating a band-maintained site is as easy as typing their name into Google and following the link.

Music By Subscription
There are many companies offering subscription services for music. I don’t subscribe to any so I choose not to speak to that option. However, there’s an excellent article from CNET which was written earlier this year.

General Internet
Mondomix is a great site to sample World Music, read reviews; find downloads and listens to three great music shows;
Archives of Charlie Gillett’s BBC world music radio show.
Ian Anderson’s recommendations from his monthly World Music magazine fRoots
Dori Stein’s Tangents
Note: Some of the links no longer work

Shoutcast allows you to listen to mainly, commercial free music by genre. It does require that you download Winamp media player which is pretty quick & painless with DSL or better. I find myself going to this option regularly during the work week. Where else can you hear Algerian Disco?

The result of The Music Genome Project, these folks have created an Internet radio station that builds playlists based on your input. You can search by song or artist and determine what you want to hear next by indicating what you like or don’t like.

Type in the name of an artist of band you like and LastFM will list and play similar artists. You can try it with tags (think genre) and listen to music that way.

More to follow…

PS. Thanks to Washington Representative Jay Inslee, for leading the charge to thwart the efforts of record company moguls to silence Internet Radio stations.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bumbershoot 2007 Day One

I recently spent three days at Bumbershoot, the Seattle based arts and music festival that occurs over Labor Day weekend. The event takes place on the 74 acres at Seattle Center and consists of seven music stages, three comedy stages, four performance stages, a film festival, an independent publishers’ exhibition as well as countless artisans peddling their wares, numerous street performers honing their craft and food vendors with a selection so ethnically diverse it’s like a trip around the globe. It is with bittersweet anticipation that I look forward to Bumbershoot each year. The conflict stems from the excitement of seeing many great performers in a small location over a short period of time for a reasonable price, but it is tempered by the fact that it signals an end to summer. In the immortal words of Robert Hunter, “Every silver lining has a touch of grey.”

Saturday: My wife and I arrive at the Mercer Street entrance courtesy of the Metro system and head straight to Horn of Africa for chicken, lentils and that wonderful, spongy, fermented bread. Over the previous few days I’ve scoured the Bumbershoot sections of the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, two of Seattle’s weekly newspapers, and made notes on my schedule to determine which acts we should see. Once nourished we proceeded to the Wells Fargo Stage to see The Cave Singers (Seattle Weekly pick) an acoustic-based trio and veterans of Seattle bands (Pretty Girls Make Graves) who play some pretty nice stuff. Their sound leans toward folk but the stripped down arrangements have a somber, almost haunting tone. I imagine that this is what Woody Guthrie would sound like if he’d been exposed to punk, grunge, rock, seemingly endless precipitation and great coffee during his formative years. Invitation Songs, their release on Matador is scheduled to come out 25 Sept 07. I would recommend getting it. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
After The Cave Singers we hustled through the crowd to the Mainstage to see The Shins (Seattle Weekly pick.) I know they are the most popular band to come out of the Pacific Northwest in recent years and they are quite talented, but my mood for the show was soured when Bumbershoot staff made me dump my water bottles out before entering Memorial Stadium because a full water bottle could be used as a projectile (I’m certain it had nothing to do with stadium vendors selling bottled water, evidently equipped with projectile-restricting technology, for $3 per half liter) and then shut down the line just as we were getting through the checkpoint. Inside the stadium was hot with nary a breath of air. We sought relief from the heat in the shaded seats on the side but the sound mix was muddled. We stayed for three songs and left.
We navigated toward the Starbucks Stage to see The Honey Dripper All Stars, a group of accomplished Rhythm & Blues musicians assembled for the new John Sayles film Honeydripper. These guys were tight! Great sound, great songs, great delivery, all in all an excellent show! I can’t wait for film. It’s due out this fall.
After that performance we worked our way into the Starbucks VIP area, in the cool, cool shade and sampled free lattes while we reassessed our game plan and poured over the pages of the Bumbershoot Official Program, The Seattle Weekly and The Stranger in an attempt to create a new itinerary. We decided to stay for The Avett Brothers, three young, good-looking musicians from North Carolina. The trio consists of upright bass, banjo & guitar with all three sharing vocals. At first I thought it was going to be a Bluegrass band but shortly in to the first song they started jumping and dancing and hootin' & hollerin'. It was more like Black & Bluegrass. I heard once festival-goer refer to the music as Punkgrass. Whatever it’s called I liked it, high energy deliveries of fun melodies. The Avett Brothers have several releases with Emotionalism being their latest CD. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
We topped off our lattes and waited for The Gourds (Seattle Weekly pick), a group of shit-kickers from Austin with ten years of touring and 9 albums under their belt. Sadly, most folks only know them for a countrified cover of the Snoop Dogg song, Gin & Juice. However, The Gourds’ are a talented bunch of boys who have a lot of fun playing music. They have a wonderful stage presence, they’re relaxed with the audience and you can tell that they are really having as much fun playing as the audience is listening & watching. To top it off their songs are wonderful! If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page. Unfortunately we had to leave their set early to catch a boat and get back home to feed the dog.
More to follow...

Bumbershoot 2007 Day Two

Sunday: I entered at the Broad Street entrance with the big man and four, 13 year old girls whose sole mission was to see Fergie on the Mainstage at 9:45 PM. The show was nine hours away. We set the ground rules, designated a meeting place in case someone got cut from the herd and came up with a cell phone “check-in” schedule. I found out later in the day that the wireless mics used at every Bumbershoot stage interfered with my cell phone signal so I couldn’t talk or text when someone’s performing. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Once the big man and I were happy with the details, we proceeded to Horn of Africa for chicken, lentils and that wonderful, spongy, fermented bread. We sat on the grass in front of the Bagley Wright Theatre and reviewed our options for entertainment and planned our day.
First up was The Watson Twins (Seattle Weekly pick) at the Sound Transit Stage. The LA based girls, who are actual twins, caught the attention of some while working on Jenny Lewis’ (of Rilo Kiley fame) solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat. The sound mix was a little shaky to start, not the girls fault. The techies couldn’t get the vocals sorted out until the fourth song. It was worth the wait. The blend of the voices was as good as it gets. Their Folk-Rock style betrays their Kentucky roots by leaning a bit toward country. The sisters traded lead singing roles and swapped an acoustic guitar back and forth. They spoke of a CD coming out at the end of the year, but for those who can’t wait The Watson Twins EP Southern Manners is available now. Check out their appearance on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
After The Watson Twins we set a course for the Mainstage and the other end of the musical continuum to see Kings of Leon. The Kings are three sons of a preacher and their cousin playing their version of Southern Rock. I say their version because it definitely ain’t Skynyrd. It’s Southern Rock as Jimi Hendrix or Joe Strummer would have played it and it’s very good. The boys have a tight delivery, tasty licks, nice hooks and I’m sure they would be very loud at an indoor venue. The big man was impressed as indicated by his nearly imperceptible swaying to the beat. The Kings of Leon have several releases including their latest Because of the Times. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
We left the Mainstage and returned to the Sound Transit Stage to hear Portland’s Stars of Track and Field (Stranger pick) excellent vocals over attractive melodies. The lads have talent. Unfortunately their sound seemed derivative. It lacked uniqueness. I really like bands who take a genre of music and make it their own. The Stars didn’t do it for me. Additionally, there was a similarity that was present in many of their tracks. Don’t get me wrong, what they do they do well, it’s just that there are so many others who’ve come before them who’ve done the same thing just as well. Sorry…I should say that the Stars have an EP and an LP available for purchase. The LP Centuries Before Love and War was released last winter. I encourage you to form your own opinion. Contempt without prior investigation is just plain wrong. Here’s the link to their Myspace page.
After the Stars the big man was feeling a bit subdued and needed something with more energy. I had no back-up plan on the itinerary so we started through the crowd for something else and ended up at the Starbucks Stage watching Rose Hill Drive, a Colorado Trio whose bass & guitar player looked like Greg & Duane Allman circa Fillmore East, sounded like a hybrid of early ZZ Top, AC-DC and Led Zeppelin. These guys rocked!!! We stayed for the entire set. Note: I went to their Myspace page and listened to some tracks. Reptilian was the track that most accurately captured the show witnessed by the big man and me. They have a self-titled release from 2006 and in the their Apr ’07 issue Rolling Stone magazine tapped Rose Hill Drive as one of ten artists to watch, which is exciting for the boys but I hope that’s not a kiss of death. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
After Rose Hill Drive we had to rendezvous with the girls. We met them alongside the Esurance Stage partially because that’s the stage they were nearest to and partially because I wanted to hear Barrington Levy, a Jamaican artist who was big in the 80’s. Believe it or not the girls hadn’t seen a single music act all day and two of them wanted to get in line for the Fergie concert that was still four hours away. Through negotiation, compromise and outright manipulation we convinced the girls to wait for another hour before entering the Mainstage. The big man had to leave and attend to other matters so I was flying solo for the rest of the night with four teens who were talking about getting close to the stage and crowd surfing, just what a dad wants to hear from his daughter and her three friends. I bought strawberry shortcake and had the girls accompany me to catch the end of Barrington Levy’s performance. I don’t think they enjoyed it as much as I did.
At 7:15 we began the gauntlet into Memorial Stadium to see Sean Paul on the Mainstage. Once inside I admonished the girls on crowd behavior, imposed a strict no-surf rule and we designated another cut-from-the-herd meeting spot. Lastly, I showed the girls my location for the duration of the show. I sat on the comfy field turf reading Sound Magazine waiting for the show to begin.
Around 8:15 the lights dimmed, the musicians took the stage and laid down a bass & drum track and we waited. The MC came out and at the end of a three minute intro engaging the crowd and getting folks hyped up for Sean Paul, another MC came out and did the same thing. This happened a few more times and after 14 minutes, I actually timed it, Sean Paul finally appeared with four very scantily clad women who proceeded to gyrate and grind suggestively for the duration of the show, pole dancing without the pole. Sean Paul rapped on ad nauseam about sexy women. I’m trying to be open-minded here. I do like some rap and some hip-hop, but all of his music sounded the same and it wasn’t that good.
The girls returned at the end of Sean Paul sans one of the quartet. They complained of being squished, pushed, bumped as well as subjected to cigarette and pot smoke. They decided that the front of a big concert was not the place to be. We busied ourselves with the task of finding the missing member before Fergie took the stage. We had about 15 minutes. The girls circled back up to where they were during Sean Paul and then went to the designated rendezvous point. I stayed where I was. They found their missing compatriot with two minutes to spare and then plunked down on the field turf beside me for the Fergie show.
I have to say Fergie has talent. She sings well. Her stage show is nicely choreographed, her band is tight and even though she’s not my cup of tea her performance was good. She left the stage around 10:30 with a simple thanks thrown over her shoulder as she sauntered to the wings. She didn’t return for an encore for a full ten minutes. By that time the girls had had enough and we were on our way to the bus. More to follow...

Bumbershoot 2007 Day Three + Wrap Up

Monday: I entered at the Broad Street entrance solo. As on the previous two days, I proceeded directly to Horn of Africa for chicken, lentils and that wonderful, spongy, fermented bread. I walked back across the Center and found a great spot next the red tube sculpture for The Blakes (Seattle Weekly pick) at the Sound Transit Stage. I finished my food while they completed the sound check. Wow!!!! The Blakes were great!!! I loved this band. High energy, Rock N’ Roll with catchy melodies, infectious beats all delivered with a presence and confidence to match the most polished veterans. Their EP, Streets is available now via their Myspace site.
After The Blakes I decided to go free style and dabble. I had no one that I really had to see so I and followed the recommendations of The Weekly and The Stranger. For the next hour I split my time and sampled performances at two different stages.
I ended up at the Esurance Stage enjoying Kultur Shock (Weekly and Stranger pick.) Gino Yevdjevich, the lead singer, describes Kulture Shock as, “Balkan punk rock gypsy metal wedding-meets-riot music from Bulgaria, the US, Japan, and Bosnia. Six members, and no two of us really speak the same language” And I can’t think of a more accurate description. This was a fun performance to watch and not a single person in the crowd was standing still. Go to their Myspace page and sample some of their tracks.
I spent 40 minutes with Kulture Shock and then returned to the Sound Transit Stage to see Viva Voce (Weekly and Stranger pick), a Portland, OR-based, husband and wife duo. Basically Rock N’ Roll with drums & guitar reminiscent of The White Stripes (the drumming was better, but the guitar wasn’t.) They were OK, it’s just that with a guitar/drum duo there’s only so much you can do before you begin to sound repetitious. 30 minutes was enough. If you’d like to hear a few of their tracks you can check out their Myspace page.
I had every intention of staying to see Steve Earle at either the special ticket KEXP performance (enter 3 Sept 07, 5:26 PM on the KEXP website to hear Steve) or the show at 8:30 PM on the Starbucks Stage. I caught a few tunes by his wife, Allison Moorer, at the Starbucks Stage while transiting from venue to venue. Unfortunately I ran out of gas before Steve was scheduled to play. What can I say? I'm no longer 25. I wish I had a better excuse, but I don’t. I walked out the Broad Street Gate down the hill to SAMs Sculpture Park before heading south on Alaska Way.

The wrap up: Bumbershoot was great as usual and once again the best acts were not at the Mainstage. However, it was clear from this year’s line-up that I am not a member of the Festival's target demographic. Fortunately, my diverse taste in music combined with a willingness to venture into unknown territory allowed me to not only see some artists that I was already interested in, but I was able to enjoy some great musical discoveries.
I couldn't sleep nights if I didn’t mention a couple of things to the folks at One Reel, Bumbershoot’s producers. While I appreciate the effort that goes into producing an event like Bumbershoot I’d like to share my perspective as a veteran of nearly two decades worth of Bumbershoot:
1. Thanks for making it easy to get tickets. Basically, any Starbucks has them prior to and during the festival. That’s a great move on your part. Please don’t increase ticket prices any more. $35 per day plus $10 for food not to mention transportation costs, makes the minimum per day investment approximately $50. Some would say that’s cheap for a day of great art & music, but fifty bucks is fifty bucks. It’s expensive enough for a working man, but nearly unreachable for a teen with a part-time job and the teen to twenty-something bracket seemed to be your target demographic.
2. Telling me I can’t bring a water bottle into Memorial Stadium because it can be used as a projectile and then trying to sell me bottled water inside for $3.00 is disingenous, greedy and wrong. Please change that practice before Bumbershoot 2008.
3. The temporary barricades installed to contain concert-goers enroute to the Mainstage literally bisects Seattle Center in an east/west line and nearly stops the flow of north/south foot traffic. Please figure out a better way to get people in and out of Memorial Stadium.
4. Please work with Metro to increase the number of buses leaving Seattle Center, particularly around the time that the Festival closes for the day.