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

More to follow…