Friday, January 11, 2008

Great Releases From 2007 That you May Not Know About

2007 was a good year for music. We’ve been fortunate in the quality of discs released. Here are a few great selections from the previous year.

The Cave Singers – Invitation Songs (25 Sept 07 Matador Records)
You may remember me raving about this band. Well I still love them and this is one of my favorite releases of 2007. Some compare Peter Quirk's voice to Arlo Guthrie. I can hear a little of Arlo in there. And the sparse arrangements with the repeating melodies reminds a little of Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon.) But it's the simplicity of the songs that caught my attention; two or three chords on acoustic guitars, minimal percussion, an occasional harmony. It's the formula that some our greatest folk musicians have successfully used to tell their stories. These guys have assembled one amazing folk album. Buy this CD now!

The Blakes – The Blakes (16 Oct 07 Light In The Attic Records)
I mentioned this band from Bumbershoot '07 before. The Blakes owned the stage. They rocked it. The trio, formed in Seattle, sounds like the bands from the '60s British Invasion. It's funny because according to Snow Kiem's bio on the Light in the Attic website the boys weren't allowed to listen to Rock music growing up. Somewhere along the way they had a crash course. While a few of the tracks have a bit of an edge, this disc has several up-tempo cuts that'll get you out on the dance floor (or bouncing around your living room.) Another great release from 2007.

Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer (30 Oct 07 Vanguard Records)
Levon has been one of my musical heroes since he sat behind the kit and sang for The Band way back when. And on this disc he hasn’t disappointed me. He’s taken five traditional songs and some tunes penned by a few of Country Music’s greatest songwriters and delivers them with his signature drawl, loose and lively arrangement and a real down-hominess for which he and The Band were most appreciated. Dirt Farmer comes from his Arkansas roots and is a slice of Americana. You may recognize the harmony vocal on many of the tracks, Amy Helm, Levon’s daughter and a member of the band Olabelle.
In recent years Helm has survived throat cancer, watched his studio get destroyed by fire, dealt with the death of former band-mate Rick Danko and presented biweekly concerts at his barn in Woodstock to pay the bills. Fans of The Band’s acoustic stuff will want this CD.

Giant Bear – Giant Bear (14 Aug 07 Red Wax Music)
They refer to themselves as, “…the world’s only five-piece Orchestral Funkabilly band…” The group was formed in Memphis a couple of years ago and has toured incessantly since. It shows. Their CD sports a dozen arrangements with very high production values, thoughtful lyrics, good hooks and exceptional musicianship. Giant Bear has the most complete sound I’ve heard from a Folk Rock combo in many years. Check out Annie & Nashville. “…a band that plays what I want to say…” I love the vocals. Great songs!

Maktub – Start It Over (6 Nov 07 Kufala Recordings)
A couple of years ago Reggie Watts, lead vocalist for Maktub, left the band to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. I was bummed. After all Khronos, their second album, was one of the musical highlights of 2003. Alas, time moves on. Then I ran into Thaddeus Turner, guitarist extraordinaire for the band, on the Kingston ferry last fall and he told me that they were mixing a new disc. There is a God! (Kurt Vonnegut said, “My epitaph, should I ever need one, God forbid: ''The only proof he ever needed of the existence of God was music.'') Maktub is my favorite contemporary R&B/Soul/Funk/Rock band. I’ve seen them twice and the live show is something to behold.
To get an idea of their sound combine Jimi Hendrix with Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Billy Preston & George Clinton. Start it Over is every bit as good as Khronos. According to Daniel Spils, Maktub’s keyboard & sometimes guitar player, the disc was written and recorded in 6 days in May 2007 of Seattle and funded by 200 fans. Reggie’s vocals are top shelf and the rest of the boys hold nothing back. These guys have found their groove. I’m just glad they choose to share it with the rest of us.

More to follow...

Friday, January 4, 2008


Dear Readers,
Apologies are in order. Please forgive my tardiness with the latest post as I have been distracted by seasonal commitments since mid-December and I suffered a debilitating injury recently*. I fully intend to resume my music reviews after a brief period of convalescence. Thank you for your continued support and kind thoughts.
All the best,

*Chrishankwaramsol is a seasonal celebration that was conceived several years back when I was looking for a way to incorporate practices from some of the more popular, traditional holidays into one big soiree. It takes place the weekend before the Solstice. Beginning Friday at sunrise, from sun up until sun down we fast (Ramadan) Beginning at sundown on Friday we share libations from a common chalice (Kwanzaa.) In reality our chalice is a 30 gallon trash can filled with fruit juice, all the white liquors and a ten pound block of ice.
We have two dreidals (Hanukkah) each the size of a soccer ball. One has a different color on each of its four side and the other has a right & left, hand & foot on each of its sides. These are used to play Twister. In addition each participant has to wear a Santa hat (Christmas.) If the hat falls off during play you’re out.
For each of the three days of Chrishankwaramsol we drink libations and play Twister from sundown until sun up, or until the punch runs out.
Unfortunately at this year’s celebration I fractured my left radius on the last day. It wasn't pretty.

More to follow…