Monday, December 29, 2008

Paul Genova 1954-2008

Most often my musical touch points are bands, albums, and songs. But there are a few instances in my life when the touch point is a person from my past. Paul Genova was such a person. And sadly, he passed away on December 13, shortly before the winter Solstice and Christmas.

I first met Paul when I was perhaps fourteen. He was my youth advisor at our church and I also babysat for his two youngest kids. As a budding music fan, going to Paul and his wife Noel’s house to babysit was a revelation. There was all of this amazing music I had never heard—bands like Love Tractor and Pylon. And Paul was cool. He was one of the first adults that I really felt like I could identify with and talk to. Paul never condescended. He truly listened and cared. And looking back now, he has had a profound impact on the man I’ve become, especially as a father.

I know where I believe Paul is now. But wherever his spirit is, I know there’s music.

And thanks for everything, Paul.

I don’t know if Paul ever listened to Gas Lamp Anthem. But the band’s song “’59 Sound” has been in my head every time I think about him.

Well, I wonder which song they're gonna play when we go.
I hope it's something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow.
when we float out into the ether, into the Everlasting Arms,
I hope we don't hear Marley's chains we forged in life.
'cause the chains I been hearing now for most of my life.

Did you hear the '59 Sound coming through on Grandmama's radio?
Did you hear the rattling chains in the hospital walls?
Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over?
Did you hear your favorite song one last time?


02 The 59 Sound.mp3 -

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Best of 2008

For me 2008 was a year of great, great music. I discovered many new bands that I really enjoyed. What follows is a roundup of my favorite albums. I’ll have my list of the top shows and local music next week. If there’s any trend for the year, it’s great music recorded in cabins, as The Low Anthem, Delta Spirit, and Bon Iver all made their albums in this setting. That said, here’s my list in alphabetical order as, in the end, all of this music really moved me and it’s impossible to pick a favorite.

Also, I hope you like my new custom-made banner from Iron Design.

Top Albums

Beck: Modern Guilt
Wow! Take Beck and mix in Danger Mouse and Cat Power and you get Modern Guilt. While I love the whole record, “Walls” was one my 2008 musical obsessions. Thankfully, repeat and headphones exists. The beats, melody, and lyrics work so well together. This song is dark and speaks to the lassitude that so many of us in our country felt in the past year leading up to the election. I can’t help but to feel how this song, and really the whole album, is a reflection of our lives after 8 years of W—and damage that has been done to us and the rest of the world, not just physically and financially, but more important spiritually.

Bjorkestra: Enjoy!
You have to give Travis Sullivan credit. It takes not only vision, but also no small amount of courage to take the music of a much beloved and genre-bending performer and arrange it for a new musical setting. And a new setting, indeed, it is. Sullivan has taken Bjork’s music and re-arranged it for an 18-piece jazz band—The Bjorkestra. It’s amazing and exciting to hear the songs reinterpreted this way.

Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago
Recorded in a hunting cabin in Wisconsin, Bon Iver's album captures beauty, pain, and isolation in its songs and sounds. For Emma, Forever Ago is full of haunting music that stays with you as you close your eyes to go to sleep at night.

Cat Power: Jukebox
Cat Power (Chan Marshall) returned with her second disc of cover tunes, Jukebox. She recorded the album with the Dirty Delta Blues Band. This is another great album by Cat Power. There are some gutsy choices here, such as “Don’t Explain,” which was made famous by Billy Holiday and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” To attempt and successfully re-interpret songs by some of the great vocal stylists goes to show what an immense talent Chan Marshall is.

The Clash: Live at Shea Stadium
This live recording of The Clash’s epic gig at Shea Stadium, opening for The Who on October 12, 1982, is chill inspiring stuff—and that’s what matters most about this album. It’s a testament to the fact music can save your life. For me, The Clash was one of the first bands that proved this to me. However, Live At Shea Stadium shouldn’t be viewed as an epilogue to The Clash’s greatness. It should be viewed as further proof of their continued power and influence.

Delta Spirit: Ode To Sunshine
Delta Spirit fit into that amorphous rock, folk, Americana milieu. That isn’t to say they’re derivative, because they aren’t. From the first notes of Ode To Sunshine, the band’s debut on Rounder Records, it shows us its—well—spirit of music. Recorded live in a cabin, the San Diego-based band has produced one of the most immediate and best sounding albums of the year. No studio trickery, just great musicians playing excellent songs.

Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight
Like many others who look to the Internet to find new music, I found Selkirk, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit on YouTube. They write quirky/clever lyrics—but in a very intelligent way. The band also covers some of the big themes of life—such as religion—in addition to love. “Heads Roll Off” is a really lovely tune about faith and the belief that death isn’t the end. With two albums complete, the buzz is now building around them in the US and they’re poised to reach the much wider audience they deserve to.

The Low Anthem: Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
This record kicks off with what I think is the most beautiful song of 2008, “Charlie Darwin.” This indie-Americana trio played all of the various 27 instruments (including pump organ, zither, and a Tibetan singing bowl) used to make the album. And in doing so created a masterpiece that speaks to our search for meaning in a chaotic world.

Ra Ra Riot: The Rhumb Line
Syracuse’s own Ra Ra Riot released The Rhumb Line, their full-length debut, this fall. This fierce band uses both a cello and a violin as centerpieces of its sound. But the band is no chamber-pop outfit. They rock. The use of the strings works great with its sound. It integrates the cello and violin into the overall fabric and texture of their music. This album is beautiful. Poetic. And together the lyrics and the music produce what I keep describing to myself as joyous melancholy. Yeah, I don’t totally know what joyous melancholy means. All I know is this is how I can describe the way the music makes me feel—and I like it. Or perhaps this sound and the feeling it creates are connected to the rhumb line—a path of constant bearing.

The Watson Twins: Fire Songs
The Twins first full-length album, Fire Songs, is a beautiful collection of originals and one cover. Sonically The Watson Twins exist in the alt-county/folk/indie sphere. While this is well-traveled terrain, Chandra and Leigh definitely have their own sound and approach that lets them stand out in the crowd. Certainly the excellent songwriting featured on the record does not hurt. The tunes explore a world mixed with struggle and hope, sadness and joy. The Twin’s version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” is so very lovely and does what the best covers do: pay homage to the original, but still take the song in a new and compelling direction. The sister’s version transforms the song from the joy of the present to the melancholy of memory. In the end, The Watson Twins are wonderful singers who write powerful tunes—and that’s what makes Fire Songs so great.

Favorite Songs 2008
Top Songs Playlist


Favorite Shows
Neko Case at the State Theatre
Getting the opportunity to see her in a great venue like the State Theatre was a huge treat. The State is so intimate for a 1600 seat theater and even in the balcony the stage seems very close. But what made this show even more special, was the fact she was out for a very short tour to road-test new songs for her album that will, hopefully, be released in early 2009.

Billy Bragg at the State Theatre
It was Billy playing his guitar—mostly electric, but some acoustic as well—on a simple black stage. And I want to say that his influence as a songwriter in general is never questioned, but his amazing guitar playing is not often singled out. He really has his own sound on the instrument and I can totally say that he didn’t need a backup band to rock the theater. This show had the crowd sing-along of the year with “A New England.”

Cassandra Wilson at the State Theatre
As a performer, she and her amazing band didn’t disappoint. They were a tight, serious, and playful band adding guitar, piano, bass, drums, and percussion to her vocals. What this means is all of these elements, built on Ms. Wilson’s incredible voice, created an evening of transformative music. When I closed my eyes and listened it was as though I was floating. I’m not sure how else to describe it. This was one of those concerts I’ll never forget by an artist that I’ve wanted to see live for over a decade.

Emily Arin at the Montour Falls Harvest Festival
It was with great pleasure that I first heard recent transplant Emily Arin playing a lovely set at the Montour Falls Harvest Festival of all places. I was sitting on hay bails with my wife kids listening —pretty blown away. Her performance is definitely a nice highlight from 2008. She’s a great talent to be watched. And I hereby start the campaign to get her booked at the 2009 Grassroots Festival.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Once and Future Small Kings

Ithaca has no shortage of bands to go out and see live and support. But there’s certainly room for another, especially one as great as The Small Kings. This past October, the band released their debut album, “Eating Oranges After Dark.” Since then, the band has been playing live all over town. They held their CD release party at Maxies Supper Club and have also played at the ABC Café and Felicia’s Atomic Lounge, among others. In the near future, December 10 will provide the next opportunity to catch the band live as they play the Pourhouse in Trumansburg. They’ll likely be booking additional gigs, so go to www.thesmallkings.com, to check on their upcoming shows. I recently got the chance to ask Bass and Ukulele player Mike Levy some questions about The Small Kings.


Dynamic Meter: What is your history with the Ithaca music scene?
Mike Levy: I've been on the fringe of the scene in several different capacities. I used to maintain an internet radio station (Radio Free Ithaca) that streamed music from Ithaca almost exclusively. So I spent two years immersed in the Ithaca scene. I didn't listen to much else during that time. I got the feel for what made this town's music unique. Even though I was spinning a wide variety of styles, it all fit together because of a common energy and a common devotion to keeping it real, for lack of a better term. Then I reconnected with the scene as a freelance journalist, writing a bit about bands at the same time I was writing about local food, politics and more. But all along I was performing under the radar with The Marty Withers Band, which later became the Small Kings.

DM: How did the band come together?
ML: I met Frank Raponi when I was a substitute teacher in Dryden around 1999. We connected immediately and began playing together here and there. Then Frank met Jeff McCaffrey, and the three of us began playing shows at the Moosewood when they first expanded and opened their cafe. At this point we were called the Marty Withers Band (it's a long, long story). Joel Blizzard came by around that time. This was before he'd taken up drums and long before Thousands of One was a glimmer in his eye. He brought his bongo to a show and tapped along a bit, and we put it out there that whenever he felt up to it, he was welcome to be a part of the band. Even then, our prime directive was that friendship and fun were the priority. Joel fit the bill, and so we always tried to leave room for him to be a part of it. But he was reluctant back then. I can still see him crouched out of site while he lightly plugged away at his drum.

We would mostly play covers in the Marty days, but then we started adding original songs that Jeff had in his pocket. Jeff kept writing, and we collaborated on a few here and there, and before we knew it, we were an original act with a tight, original sound. By this time, Joel had developed into quite the drummer, and we changed the band name to The Small Kings when he hopped on board. We were ready for a serious name. Or, perhaps the serious name was ready for us. Several different folks came in and out of the fold over the years—Chris DeCicco on percussion, Jenna Goodman on fiddle and Benjamin Costello, who played keys and sang on most of the CD. But the core has always been Jeff, Frank, and myself, and later Joel. We've been playing a lot of acoustic trio gigs. Joel's been pretty busy with Thousands of One, and we want to make it as easy on him as possible. So, I play my upright bass when he can't make it, and we all plug in when he's with us. Being able to do both has really expanded our musicianship, I think, and added to our flexibility on stage.

DM: You describe yourselves as playing melodic rock/pop fantasy music. Can you elaborate on this?
ML: We all come from such different places, musically speaking, and our style has taken on just as many flavors. Joel's got the hip-hop and reggae background. Jeff knows every glam rock song worth knowing and also is immersed in power pop and singer-songwriter stuff. Frank has every Dead, Neil Young and Dylan song swimming in his head. And I've got funk talking to me, and I'm a lifelong devotee of the Beatles. So the music we play tends to have all of that—Jeff writes very elaborate pop songs, but we still groove on them and expand on them live and we add harmonies wherever possible. We are also notorious for changing songs on the spot, whether it's tempo or rhythm. As a result, we've gotten very, very good at listening to each other. I like to say that we're like an excellent basketball team—we don't have to look to know where to pass the ball. We've got each others' backs all the time, devoted to pushing the boundaries of our songs and having the most ferociously fun time while we're at it.

DM: What are your influences?
ML: Individually, our influences are pretty varied. But as a unit, we tend to lead toward alt.country bands like Wilco and the Jayhawks. They speak to our collective vibe.

DM: I love the cover art (pictured) for the album. Can you tell me about it?
ML: The drawings came from my friend Dave Palmer, an IC graduate who went on to create the "Blue" character from Blue's Clues. He's now an animation director for another huge hit, The Backyardagins. All the parents out there know what I'm talking about. I sent Dave the rough mix of the recordings, and he sent us about a dozen sketches based on what he heard. We didn't give him any direction whatsoever, knowing that the music would carry him in the right direction. We liked a bunch of them, so we decided to go with the "Let it Be" look. I get to see Dave mostly on New Year's Eve, when we have a traditional 2 am poker game. Dave didn't ask for any compensation for the work he did, but I'd like to think he was paid handsomely over the years, one chip at a time.

DM: You guys have been playing around a lot. How’s that going?
ML: We're having tons of fun, and that's the primary goal. After a bit of a quiet period, we're right back where we left off. The CD release show went off without a hitch, which was amazing since we hadn't played an electric show in over a year. Now we're furiously adding songs to our repertoire. With lots of shows lined up, we're looking forward to varying the set lists and surprising ourselves, and others, when we go out there. We've scheduled a bunch of out of town shows this winter, which is unusual for us. Since the CD is out, we thought we'd test the waters and see what sort of reaction we might get.

DM: Who are you listening to that might be kind of under the radar?
ML: I've been way into the Felice Brothers lately. They've taken over where Dylan and the Band left off. Dr. Dog is another band that's keeps coming back on my stereo. The best way I can describe them is Paul McCartney tunes recorded by an awesome garage band: they have amazing harmonies, playful, fun lyrics, and their songs flow just perfectly. My kids and I have been listening to a lot of the Wiyos, which is sort of a vaudeville, Americana type act. The play songs that Leon Redbone might choose, but as a full band. I first saw their bass player, Joe Bass (aka Joe DeJarnette) at the Clifftop fiddle convention in 2007. He's just a madman on the upright bass, and he can play night and day. Over the course of five days in one campground in West Virginia, I probably saw him play with 30 different people at one time or another. He's the one old-time bass player who plugs stops and starts into his rhythm, and he somehow gets away with it. Plus, he's got an unfathomable slapping technique, so whenever I wasn't playing myself, I was nosing around to see if I could spy him at yet another camp. I haven't been very good at keeping up with the music scene outside of Ithaca. Other than the above bands, I've mostly I've been listening to a lot of old-time music: the Chicken Chokers, Highwoods Stringband, Leake County Revelers, and the Freighthoppers.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Wow! So busy

Wow! I've been super busy with family and the day job. So, fine readers, I haven't forgotten about you. Stay tuned for my year end wrap up and my one year anniversary coming soon and some other big announcements!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane Carnegie Hall 1957

In February 2005, Larry Appelbaum, the recording lab supervisor at the Library of Congress, was looking through a box of Voice of America acetate tapes waiting to be digitized and added to the collection. During this process he found some tape boxes labeled “Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957” and a hand written note that said T. Monk. Amazingly these tapes contained the lost and never released recordings of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane’s legendary concert at Carnegie Hall from 1957. The anniversary of the concert is November 29. This was a huge discovery. Not just for jazz, but for American music as a whole.


Listening to this concert a little over half a century later, the music is still tremendous. For Thelonious Monk, this represents one of the high points of his creativity. For John Coltrane, who was mentored by Mr. Monk, this recording comes just weeks before he rejoined Miles Davis. A partnership that led to the recording of the famed “Kind of Blue.” Coltrane then went on to make his masterpiece “A Love Supreme.”

This is really a must have record in any collection, not just those who are regular listeners to jazz. The coming together of these huge figures in American music was nothing short of astonishing. Finding this recording hidden away for all those years in a box was remarkable. Fortunately for us, we are the beneficiaries of the concert and the discovery.

Here are some of the tracks from the concert.
Monk and Coltrane

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cassandra Wilson Live at The State Theatre in Ithaca, NY

As much as I like rock and roll music (a lot!), many of my most memorable concerts have been either classical or jazz performances. There was seeing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Boston Symphony Hall or Henryk Górecki’s Symphony Number 3 in Portland, Oregon. On the jazz front, I once saw Charlie Parker protégé Phil Woods play at the now defunct Zootz, a tiny club in Portland, Maine. It was an acoustic show and I was sitting five feet from the band. Sunday night at the State Theatre provided me with another concert for my list. Cassandra Wilson played to a much too small crowd of about 400.

Cassandra Wilson is to my mind the preeminent jazz singer performing today. As my wife describes it, she has a way of finding the song within the song. So when she performed Glen Campbell’s song “Wichita Lineman” at her show, the tune was totally morphed. For Wilson, it is as though the song is a sheet of paper to be folded like origami. The paper is still there, but is has turned into something greater, and certainly more beautiful.

As a performer, she and her amazing band didn’t disappoint. They were a tight, serious, and playful band adding guitar, piano, bass, drums, and percussion to her vocals. This was aided by the excellent sound provided by Calf Audio. The secret to a show like this is that it shouldn’t sound amplified at all. And it didn’t. You could hear all of the instruments in the mix perfectly. If you wanted to listen specifically to the bass, for example, you could. And it sounded acoustic.

What this means is all of these elements, built on Ms. Wilson’s incredible voice, created an evening of transformative music. When I closed my eyes and listened it was as though I was floating. I’m not sure how else to describe it. This was one of those concerts I’ll never forget by an artist that I’ve wanted to see live for over a decade.

Set List:

Caravan
A Sleeping Bee
Black Orpheus
St James Infirmary
Sweet Lorraine
Them There Eyes
Wichita Lineman
Dust My Broom
Till There Was You

Encore: Death Letter/Arere

Here's a live performance of Cassandra Wilson and her band playing "Death Letter."

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cassandra Wilson Live

Oh, Man. I am just back from seeing Cassandra Wilson play at the State Theatre in Ithaca, NY. It was totally amazing and mind blowing. A more complete and set list will be coming soon.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hope and Change

Wow. Tuesday. Barack Obama elected. It's all so amazing. I actually met Obama in 1996 while living in Chicago (SOUTHSIDE!). I was working with inner city youth and he was just getting his start in politics. What impressed my most was that he really listened to what we had to say.

For the last 8 years, I have felt out of step with America. As a Christian, I have seen my faith twisted by Bush and his other right wing cronies, turning a message of love into a massage of fear. As a progressive, I simply wondered if there was any possibility of a return to a politics and a nation that had an actual concern for its citizens and people around the world, especially the most vulnerable.

Tuesday night listening to Barack Obama with tears running down my face, I had my faith restored. I felt perhaps now is our chance to really make things better. Certainly there is much work to be done. But now it seems possible. Now there is hope. And when I kiss my kids goodnight, hope and love is what I want for them. And for the world.

Here is a little playlist for Hope and Change.

Hope and Change

Plus a great election night video from R.E.M. "I Believe"


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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Album Review: The Confiscation from Samantha Crain

Due to being in Detroit, being struck down by the flu, and the election, my focus on music has been somewhat diminished—and this is certainly uncommon for me. However, during my illness, I received Samantha Crain’s amazing EP, The Confiscation. This singer and guitarist is just 21 years old, but writes like a much more seasoned songwriter. Her music is, broadly speaking, in the singer songwriter genre. However, one of the things that really makes Samantha Crain’s music so luminous is the combination of her influences. She is as versed in Bob Dylan and folk music as she is in Radiohead and, for lack of a better word, alternative music. This EP really sticks with you. After a few listens, I was walking around and singing the songs, and listening to the disc on repeat. And for me, repeat is one of the highest forms of flattery.

Check out a live performance of "Traipsing Through the Ailses" below.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Album Review: Live At Shea Stadium from The Clash

I was a mere lad when The Clash played their epic gig at Shea Stadium, opening for The Who on October 12, 1982. Technically speaking, I was just shy of my 12th birthday. I wasn’t yet loyal to any one band and was just starting to figure out the music scene and my place in it. That all changed for me when I heard Give ’Em Enough Rope a few years later. While this is perhaps not The Clash’s finest album, it was my gateway.

So now I’m not a mere lad. I, in fact, have a lad and lass of my own now. But the release of The Clash’s set from Shea Stadium proves, once again, what a great band they were. The set is thrilling to listen to. It’s the band at the top of their game, although teetering on the brink. They had recently fired drummer, Topper Headon, due to his drug use. Tensions were high. (The 11/08 issue of Relix has a great story about the gig.)

It is great to hear some of their older songs played with The Clash’s later influences, such as early hip hop, mixed in. This is chill inspiring stuff, and that’s what matters most about this recording. It’s a testament to the fact that music can save your life. For me, The Clash was one of the first bands that proved this to me. However, Live At Shea Stadium shouldn’t be viewed as an epilogue to The Clash’s greatness. It should be viewed as a further proof of their continued power and influence.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Album Review: The Rhumb Line From Ra Ra Riot

If you’re not from Upstate, NY (And by this I don’t mean Westchester County!) you probably have no idea that Syracuse has a pretty active music scene. If you’re from Upstate, you likely think that its emphasis is on the blues. And while the blues certainly has a strong base in Syracuse—punk and indie music also hold great sway. Take for example Ra Ra Riot, who have recently released The Rhumb Line, their full-length debut, on Barsuk Records. This fierce band uses both a cello and a violin as centerpieces of their sound. But they’re no chamber-pop outfit. They rock. The use of the strings works great with their sound. Often when these instruments are utilized in rock music they’re either used to play the role of a lead soloist or to create saccharin string lines. Ra Ra Riot integrates the cello and violin into the overall fabric and texture of their music.

The band has received comparisons to Arcade Fire. While this is fair, what is great about Ra Ra Riot is that they’ve really developed their own sound and style in a very short period of time. They only came together in 2006. And during this time, one of the founding members passed away.

Lyrically the band writes some wonderful stuff. Take the chorus of the opening track, “Ghost Under Rocks.” “Here you are breathing life into / Ghosts under rocks like notes found / In pocket coats of your fathers / lost and forgotten.” Beautiful. Poetic. And together the lyrics and the music produce what I keep describing to myself as joyous melancholy. Yeah, I don’t totally know what joyous melancholy means. All I know is this is how I can describe the way the music makes me feel—and I like it. Or perhaps this sound and the feeling it creates is connected to the rhumb line—a path of constant bearing.

Check them out playing "Ghosts Under Rocks" on Conan O'Brien


Or stream more songs here.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Billy Bragg Keeps the Faith (and rocks) at The State Theatre

Man, I am still buzzing from the killer Billy Bragg (See my interview here) show at the State Theatre in Ithaca, NY this past Saturday. It was without a doubt one of my top shows. It was Billy playing his guitar—mostly electric, but some acoustic as well—on a simple black stage. And I want to say that his influence as a songwriter in general is never questioned, but his amazing guitar playing is not often singled out. He really has his own sound on the instrument and I can totally say that he didn’t need a backup band to rock the theater.

His set list was a mix of old, new, and a few covers (Woody Guthrie, The Clash, and Laura Nyro). Attending this show pre-election was really inspirational. Billy Bragg told great stories and really pushed the audience to realize that Election Day is not the end. It is the only the beginning and that we’re voting for the entire world that needs the change that an Obama Presidency has the hope of bringing. And to never loose hope and keep the faith.

One of the many powerful moments was his playing of “Levi Stubbs Tears.” Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of the Four Tops, had died the day before and you could tell that Billy was really affected by this.

He’s also very gracious. Billy came out and signed after the show, so I was able to thank him for the interview and get a CD signed for The Young Man and Miss T. He had picked up the Tompkins Weekly, which had my interview with him in it. There were quite a few people waiting to meet him and to get things signed and he said that he would stay as long as people wanted him to.

The Watson Twins opened the show with a lovely set. They also came out and met people and signed. They were super friendly and gracious as well.

Check out their hand written set lists and Billy Bragg singing Woody Guthrie's "Ain't Got No Home" below.



















Billy Bragg Set List on the top left. Watson Twins on the bottom right.


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Monday, October 13, 2008

Miss T Reviews Delta Spirit's Ode To Sunshine

I reviewed this back in August. Miss T gives her input this past weekend. Play it louder Daddy!


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Billy Bragg: An Interview With Mr. Love & Justice

Billy Bragg was born in Essex England in 1957, under the name Stephen William Bragg. He released his first album, Life's a Riot with Spy Vs. Spy, in 1983 and has been performing and recording ever since. Due to his 30-year-long, 12-album career, it’s difficult to decide what to highlight. Fortunately, I got a chance to ask Billy Bragg a set of questions, so we can hear from the man himself. I’ll try and fill in some of the blanks.

As a songwriter he deftly balances the political and the personal in a really powerful way. And his politics are of the grassroots/left/labor/anti-fascist variety. Additionally, in 2004 he recorded a song for the album Rock Against Bush. He’s also a strong proponent for the right of artists to receive royalties for the music they place online, especially on sites such as MySpace. When he became a father in the early 1990s, he took time off to be with his son. In 1998, along with Wilco, he recorded the wonderful Mermaid Avenue I and II—writing music for Woody lyrics that had never been recorded. Bragg’s musical influences include punk, blues, soul, and folk.

So there is his long and great career in a very small nutshell. More importantly, Billy Bragg will be playing at the State Theatre on October 18 at 8 PM. And as he’ll be playing solo, you’ll get to see up close and personal what his moniker the “One Man Clash” is all about. The Watson Twins will be opening the show with their amazing vocal harmonies and great tunes.

DM: Early on in your career you were described as “the one man Clash.” How did this sit with you? And, was you music a response to anything?

BB: My music was a response to the New Romantic movement of the early eighties, bands like Spandau Ballet and Visage, who claimed to be radical by putting style over content. I was trying to stay true to my punk rocker ideals by doing the opposite, so “One Man Clash” was a pretty good description.

DM: You have a large catalog of material to choose from. How do you put your set together?

BB: I try to mix new songs with old and throw in a few covers to catch people out. The most important criterion, however, is dynamics. A solo performer needs to have light and dark in their set.

DM: “Waiting For The Great leap Forward” is a tune that keeps evolving with the times. This really keeps the song fresh for the listener—listening for the new lyrics. Does this keep it fresh for you, since this is obviously a song you must play a lot?

BB: My audience loves the song, but the original lyrics reflect a political era that we no longer live in. As the song was a bit tongue in cheek anyway, it seems fitting that I should update the subject matter now and again.

DM: Mr. Love & Justice is your latest album. The title seems to address two of the main elements of your writing—the personal and the political. Do you have a different writing process depending on a tune’s subject?

BB: In my experience, there is no method to writing a song. It’s rather like having a conversation with someone—you don’t enter into it with a plan, you just follow where it takes you. That’s how I write songs. Something inspires me—a phrase, an idea, a situation—and I follow it to its conclusion.

DM: One of the songs I really like off the new album is “Sing Their Souls Back Home.” It’s really soulful. Is soul music one of your influences? What are the others?

BB: Soul music has had a huge influence on my song writing. The first music I owned was a tape of Tamla Motown Chartbusters Volume 3: Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, all that great Sound of Young America stuff. The other formative influence was Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Trouble Water. When I was twelve years old, these two albums ruled my world.

DM: Do you approach songwriting differently now than you did earlier in your career?

BB: I guess I don’t have the same urgency that I did when I first set out. I no longer feel that it might all end tomorrow. The irony is that it is more likely that it will, but now I feel confident enough to be judged by what I have done.

DM: You have a directness in your writing that really creates an emotional intimacy for the listener. “Tank Park Salute” is an excellent example. Is this an aspect of your writing that you really try and develop in your songs?

BB: “Tank Park Salute,” which concerns the death of my father in 1976, is a good example. Of all my songs, it’s probably the one that elicits the strongest response from people. I’ve sung it and watched guys in the front row sobbing their hearts out. It was a hard song for me to write, as, prior to performing it, I had never spoken to anyone outside my family about the death of my father, shying away from the subject if it should come up. The effect it has on people seems to bear out a theory of mine—that in order to write songs that touch people deeply, you must first articulate your own deepest feelings, those that are the most difficult for you to confront.

DM: The Mermaid Avenue material you did with Wilco is so wonderful. Was this a different writing process for you—writing music with partners to Woody Guthrie’s lyrics?

BB: I can remember explaining the project to Natalie Merchant and she was incredulous. ‘You don’t have to write any lyrics! That’s just brilliant’. For some who spend ages creating lyrics, like Natalie, or Jeff Tweedy or myself, Mermaid Avenue was like a holiday. We got to choose these amazing lyrics and then write tunes for them.

DM: Do you get a different reception for your material, especially the political tunes, depending on the country you’re playing in?

BB: Well, the context of a political song can change if you’re in another country. The way to counter that is to pick up on a local issue that is connected with the subject and use that to introduce the song. For instance, I was playing in Köln, Germany last week, where people recently took to the streets to oppose a racist political party. Referencing this in the introduction to my song ‘I Keep Faith’ allowed me to offer then an example of my faith in humanity. I could have spoken about the events in England that inspired the song, but by using the local example, I was better able to relate to them the meaning of the song.

DM: You’re a parent, as am I. Did becoming a dad change you politically and/or musically at all? It certainly changes us all personally.

BB: If it doesn’t change you, you’re not doing it right.

DM: Earlier this year, you wrote an op-ed in the New York Times discussing the need for creating a workable way to compensate artists for their work appearing online. You said this was especially important for up-and-coming artists. You in fact were instrumental in pushing MySpace to honor the rights of the artists posting their material on the site. Where do you things stand now?

BB: We are still struggling to establish the right of artists to be paid for the content they provide. Social networking sites like MySpace make hundreds of millions of dollars every year through advertising, yet they pay nothing for the content that attracts users to the site. My preferred solution to this would be the commercial radio model: the artists should be paid a percentage of the advertising revenue, which would leave the audience to continue enjoying their music for free.

DM: You’ve done some performances with Kate Nash? How did these come about?

BB: We were performing on the same stage at a festival in Australia and decided to do a couple of songs together.

DM: Also, the Watson Twins are opening the show. Are you planning on doing any tunes with them?

BB: There is always a possibility.

DM: Who are you digging musically? Anyone kind of off the radar?

BB: Dunno if he’s off the radar but I’ve been listening to Joe Henry’s album Citizen’s a lot lately. Wonderful heartfelt singing, marvelously understated arrangements, best of all, lyrics somewhat damaged but full of hope, just like America these days.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Who You Are: An Interview with Band Leader Trevor MacDonald

For those of you who aren't from the Ithaca, NY area, you may not know that we have a pretty great local music scene here. That said, I have been immersing myself in the eponymous debut album from Ithaca's Who You Are over the past week. And I can tell you that Who You Are is now leading the charge as my favorite local recording of the year. Since I began listening to it, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it. What I came up with is this: Americana Trip Hop. Trevor MacDonald, the band’s leader and songwriter, took some time out of his busy schedule as a musician and a farmer to answer some questions about the band, Ithaca, music, and more.

Dynamic Meter: You’ve been around the Ithaca music scene for a good bit of time. How do you think its change in the last 10 years?

Trevor MacDonald: Many of the old venues are gone. The old Haunt was a small club that used to mix national acts with local music and brought fresh energy to the community. The Rongo is on life support. Now there is the State Theatre, but even they struggle to keep it together. If it weren’t for GrassRoots where would we really be? A decade of change . . . more Big-Box stores, less culture.

DM: Is Ithaca really as supportive as it seems for local musicians?

TM: On one hand, absolutely; on the other . . . I don’t know. Some people still see me as the kid from Sunny Weather . . . what I'm doing now is more honest. The town seems to be increasingly jaded. Especially compared to what we found on our first southern tour. I see a lot of people hanging out in coffee shops pretending this is Brooklyn, but doing nothing. At least there is creativity and a thriving, successful music scene in Brooklyn. I guess the grass is always greener . . .

DM: What is the genesis of Who You Are?

TM: Last weekend we were billed as Who We Are, Who Are You and Who They Are . . . I don't even know WHO I AM
ANYMORE! (The band is actually called Who You Are.)

DM: So other than confusion about the name, was the band your concept and you brought in the other guys?

TM: Yes, after finishing Porch Light I was floating a bit. So I tried to take on what I would call, grown up responsibility. I was renovating a house I bought downtown, I was bartending for this catering company, I was doing music (mostly on the side) and to be honest I was feeling kinda dead. However, like a lot of people I had a mortgage to pay, so what do you with your dreams? On a trip to NYC by chance I met Al Kooper, a musician and a bit of a legend. He played with Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival the first time Dylan went electric and also produced Lynyrd Skynyrd. We sat and talked about life and what, in his opinion, you should do with it. I came home quit my job, and began this journey, which led me to Who You Are. Now I have this band, a record label (yup nope Records) I started with my manager and a better outlook.

DM: Do you approach writing and arranging differently than you did with Sunny Weather or your solo work?

TM: Yes, I am always writing. To me music is like the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has a different shape. I don't get musicians that stick religiously to one formula. So for me the change in the sound is a natural evolution. When you are 15 your brain does not meditate on the same things that it does when your 35 . . . but I'm not 35 yet so I'll let you know.

DM: There seems to be a political vibe to the record, especially with a track like "Your America." Is this an important part of your writing?

TM: What this country represents to me makes me proud. However, there is a dark side to our government that we, as individuals, need to deal with. Sometimes you hear things that don't add up. For instance they tell us that we all have a voice . . . our vote counts . . . but it appears to me that the lobbyists with the most money are the ones they hear the best. I am no expert on politics, but I think that they’re ultimately important . . . in the sense that we, the people, must try to make an impact however we can. So, if you’re paying attention, these realities start to creep into our lives and in turn, into our songs.

DM: In 2007 you were involved with organizing a benefit for the Ithaca Health Alliance/Ithaca Free Clinic. Are you still involved with that work?

TM: Universal health care is something I firmly believe in. The Ithaca Free Clinic is a first step in that direction . . . ironically, that benefit was a rude awakening . . . I was left with a sense of just how far we really have to go. I always like to use my experience as a musician to help my friends and neighbors. I will do it again when the time is right.

DM: You guys have started gigging around a lot. Is it nice to be back playing with a band after working solo?

TM: Definitely, I love the power of a live band. But in actuality it can be a pain. The band dynamic can often be a struggle for me. As a singer/songwriter I have to balance my creative force with the side of me that just wants to be in a band. Sometimes I think we, me included, could use a little Band Boot Camp.

DM: You’re also a farmer. Is there any synchronicity between farming and music?

TM: The hours suck for both jobs. But one actually keeps people from going hungry?! The average person may not realize how much goes into making something out of nothing . . . farming and music share this challenge. That may explain the success of Britney Spears and Burger King.

DM: Who are you digging musically right now? Anybody off the radar?

TM: I find that more and more I listen to talk radio.

TW: Wow, talk radio. Who do you listen to?

TM: As funny as it may seem, and this is not meant as sarcasm, my favorite was Jerry Springer's radio show. I can't find it anymore, but his show was the smartest one out there. Currently, I like to listen to programs as diverse as Democracy Now and Rush Limbaugh . . . because there are two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle is where you get the real scoop. People need to remember that more these days. With the upcoming election we are in one big propaganda spin cycle so you have to do some of the work yourself in order to keep focused and sane. That being said: be alert, listen with care and make only well informed decisions. . . .

You can stream the album below.
Who You Are

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Album Review: Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson's Rattlin' Bones

I’ve been a big Kasey Chambers fan since her debut, The Captain, in 1999. I was, however, unfamiliar with Shane Nicholson, her husband and co-writer and performer on Rattlin’ Bones. Man, I really dig this record. On her four previous albums Kasey Chambers had definitely inhabited the more rock and roll side of her alt-country world. With the new album, she and Shane have drawn on the more country and bluegrass side, that’s always been present, but not at the forefront of the sound. The emphasis on acoustic instruments such as the fiddle, dobro, upright bass, and the banjo reflects this change in sonic approach—as does the almost-universal lack of drums. The instrumentation also perfectly matches with the songs on the album. All this comes together with their voices, which work really, really well together. It’s not just the harmonies, but also the sonic quality meshes in a really natural and compelling way.

And the songs? What a great collection of tunes. They wrote most of them together, including my favorite—the love song “Wildflower.” And I tell you what: the first time I listened to this song, I had tears running down my face. It’s a straight up beautiful tune. What a great reminder of why I love music—to be moved. Other standout tracks include: “Sweetest Waste of Time,” “Once In A While,” and “One More Year.”

Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson have just completed a very short US tour and have returned home to Australia. And hopefully they’re working on more great songs.

Here are a few tracks from the album.

Wildflower - Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

Once In A While - Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

Rattlin Bones - Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Miss T Dances to Frightened Rabbit

Here's a little fun for today. It's my 16 month old daughter, Miss T, dancing to Frightened Rabbit. Pardon the laundry and plywood floors. Hey, we're slowly remodeling. By the way Frightened Rabbit's Midnight Organ Fight is one of my favorite records of 2008. Check out my review here.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Time Warp Wednesday: The Captain from Kasey Chambers

The Captain is Australian alt-country singer Kasey Chambers first solo album, released in 1999. She spent her earlier career playing with the Dead Ringer Band, made up of her family. While she's still not very well known in the US, it is an understatement to say she is popular in Australia. She’s huge there. She has won multiple Aria Awards for her work. The Arias are like the Australian version of the Grammy Awards, but with better taste.

In addition to this being such a great record, I feel connected to it because I listened to The Captain a great deal when my wife an I were struggling to have our first child. (I talked more about that here.) So when she sings, "And even my weakness says we're gonna be just fine," in "Mr. Baylis," I knew just what she meant.

You can listen to six tracks from the record below.

The Captain

And a recent re-working of the title track with her husband, Shane Nicholson.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Its My Tenth Anniversary

So, today is my tenth anniversary. Our wedding song was Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. And, indeed, “I’m still in love with you.”

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cover Songs

So I’m a total sucker for cover songs. I dig, dig, dig them. I think they way a cover song is approached says a great deal about an artist or band. Covers can be pretty straight ahead or genre busting such as the Be Good Tanyas cover of Princes “When the Doves Cry.” Here's some coves that I really like. What do ya’ll think? What are some of your favorite cover songs?

Reel Big Fish Take On Me (Ah Ha)
Take On Me - Reel Big Fish

Be Good Tanyas When The Doves Cry (Prince)
When Doves Cry - The Be Good Tanyas

Watson Twins Just Like Heaven (The Cure)
Just Like Heaven - The Watson Twins

Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Redemption Song - Joe Strummer/Johnny Cash

Ryan Adams Wonderwall (Oasis)
Wonderwall - Ryan Adams

Brandi Carlile Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)


Mike Doughty The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)


Derek Webb and Sandra If Not For You (Bob Dylan)

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Album Review: A. A. Bondy's American Hearts

Just when I think there couldn’t possibly be another album to add to my mental list of the best records of 2008, along comes one more. Such was the case when I checked out A. A. Bondy after finding out he was opening for the Felice Brothers during the band’s recent Ithaca show.

A. A. is a populist singer-songwriter in the Steve Earle vein. High praise? Certainly. But also deserved. Take a listen to his solo debut, American Hearts, and you’ll see what I mean. This is a completely different sound for Bondy, who prior to going solo was the front man for the punkish Verbena. Not too many folks heard his old band, but I sure hope people tune into American Hearts.

Recorded in a barn studio in the Catskills with the Felice Brothers as the backing band, the album has the feeling of good friends making great music together. The arrangements are open and work perfectly with the lyrics and the feel of the songs.

Lyrically A. A. Bondy takes on the big themes of love, death, war, and religion. And the images he uses are wonderful. “There was a man with cinders for eyes / There was a girl with a dress made of flies,” he sings on the track, “There’s A Reason,” a very, very pretty yearning love song. Along with faith and the other subjects, politics is another topic featured prominently on the record. “Witness Blues,” takes on the topic of the war and military service. The title track is my new theme song for the election, containing all of my hopes for change and thoughts about what it means to be an American. And I’m right there with him when he sings, “And don't tread on me / For I am your brother / I was born with an American heart / And don't tread on her / For she is your sister / She was born with an American heart.”

Check out a live concert from SXSW that NPR recorded for All Songs Considered.

Or

American Hearts


There's A Reason

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Time Warp Wednesday: Sea Change from Beck

Sea Change is Beck’s breakup record. By saying this, I certainly do not intend criticism. This is a great record. Released in September 2002, this album was inspired by the split with his long-time girlfriend. The album’s title reflects Beck’s life, but also the music itself. It is really free of the sampling and quirky lyrics that made him famous. Instead we have here a beautiful, melancholy album filled with strings and more of an emphasis on acoustic instruments. In addition, the lyrics are really wonderful. Take “Lost Cause” for instance. “Your sorry eyes cut through the bone / They make it hard to leave you alone.” OR, “I Guess I’m Doing Fine.” “There’s a bluebird at the window / I can’t hear the song he sings / All the jewels in Heaven / Don’t look the same to me.” This powerful, personal writing really makes this one of Beck’s great records.

Check out this recent version of "Lost Cause."

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins is without a doubt one of my two favorite saxophone players. John Coltrane is the other. But since today is Sonny’s 78rth birthday, that’s who I’m talking about. He has released so many incredible albums—Saxophone Colossus, Tenor Madness, The Bridge, and the recent Without A Song*/ And at 78 he is one of the few jazz giants still alive and playing. If you’re not familiar with his work, any of the aforementioned albums are a great place to start.

*This live album was recorded a few days after 9/11. Sonny Rollins was in his Manhattan apartment near the World Trade Center during the attacks. He talks about that experience during this interview on Fresh Air.


Here’s a sampling of his work.

St Thomas, Live 1959


Four, Live 1968


Global Warming, Live 1998

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Time Warp Wednesday: Lenny Kravitz's Let Love Rule

I was a senior in high school when Lenny Kravitz released Let Love Rule. Given a lot of what MTV was playing at the time, this record didn’t sound like other music at the time and Lenny Kravitz sure didn’t look like anyone at the time. Both of these are good things. So when the video for “Let Love Rule” started getting some rotation, I paid attention and bought the album.

One of the elements that made this record so impressive was that Lenny Kravitz, with a few exceptions, played all of the instruments. All of the songs on the album are really strong, but Rosemary has to be my favorite song. And political tracks such as “Mr. Cab Driver” were a welcome addition to the airways in 1989.

What’s strange is that as much as I really dug Let Love Rule, I never really followed his career after this. Sure, I heard the singles, but I was never really motivated to buy another record. Have any of you had any bands that you have done this with?

Let Love Rule


Mr. Cab Driver

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Walls

Wow! Take Beck and mix in Danger Mouse and Cat Power and you get “Walls” off Modern Guilt. While I’m loving the whole record, “Walls” has become my latest musical obsession. Thankfully, repeat and headphones exists. The beats, melody, and lyrics work so well together. This song is dark and speaks to the lassitude that so many of us in our country feel now. “Some days we get a thrill in our brains / Some days it turns into malaise / You see your face in the veneer / Reflected on the surface of fear,” the songs open.

Thinking about this song after listening to Barack Obama’s amazing speech last night, I can’t help but to feel how this song, and really the whole album, is a reflection of our lives after 8 years of W—and damage that has been done to us and the rest of the world, not just physically or financially, but more important spiritually.

Here’s a live version of the tune from the Outside Lands Festival.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Album Reveiw: Delta Spirit's Ode To Sunshine

Delta Spirit fit into that amorphous rock, folk, Americana milieu. That isn’t to say they’re derivative, because they aren’t. From the first notes of Ode To Sunshine, the band’s debut on Rounder Records, they show us its—well—spirit of music.

Recorded live in a cabin in the desert near Julian, California, the San Diego-based band has produced one of the most immediate and best sounding albums of the year. No studio trickery, just great musicians playing excellent songs.

While “House Built for Two” is a painfully beautiful break up song, the record is not just a collection of love songs. Ode To Sunshine also takes on the political and spiritual. On tracks such as “People C’mon,” “Streetwalker,” and “People Turn Around,” the personal is most definitely political.

The band is now heavily touring to support their major label debut. But I certainly hope this doesn’t mean that they’ll be too busy to write new songs because I am already looking forward to another record as great as this one.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The World As It Should Be

I thought Michelle Obama’s speech was excellent. I truly believe that we must, as she said, work for the “world as it should be.” This is also my responsibility as a person of faith. I lived on the South Side of Chicago for three years at 61st and Woodlawn (South Side!) working with inner city kids. In fact, I even got to meet Barack Obama very early in his political career. And he was, in fact, very impressive—perhaps, mostly because he sat at a table and listened to what we had to say. Now there’s a concept for a politicians. And I truly want to believe that Obama's down for change. Biden gives me doubts, but I’ll still vote for Barack Obama with enthusiasm, but mostly with hope.

So here’s Love and Hope by Ozomatli.

Love And Hope - Ozomatli

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rest In Peace

I was going to write my traditional Time Warp Wednesday today, but I was really struck by the deaths some amazing musicians in the last week. Last week Isaac Hayes passed away and today we heard about Johnny Moore who played trumpet and was one of the founders of The Skatalites and LeRoi Moore (There is no relation between the Moores) who played saxophone and, along with Dave Matthews and Carter Beauford, formed the Dave Matthews Band in the early 1990s. Each in their own way, these three cats were all pretty influential musicians. And to their families and fans, they will be greatly missed. Rest In Peace.

Here’s “Swing Easy” from The Skatalites.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Redneck Ingenuity

Man, oh, man did I wish I had my camera on the way home from work yesterday because I saw one of the greatest examples of redneck ingenuity that I’ve ever seen. The truth is, though, I probably never would have been able to get a good picture from the bus I was riding on. So I will attempt to recreate the visual image for you.

I was casually looking out my window and listening to my
iPod when what did I see pulling out of the junk shop parking lot? It was a 1980s vintage Toyota Tercel (see picture) with a red riding lawnmower strapped onto both the trunk and the roof. Now close your eyes and try and picture what I have described. Ok, you can stop laughing now.
















I can usually find a song to connect with anything, but this one might have me stumped. Does anyone have any song ideas for mowers on top of cars? What about redneck ingenuity?

Here is one possibility in the category: Kid Rock’s "American Bad Boys." Wow, this is not only really bad; it’s really scary. I hope I can fall asleep tonight.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hummingbird

Wow. Here's a band I'm sure you haven't heard yet. They're called Hummingbird and they were just formed by my 5-year-old son and my 15-month-old daughter. My son came up with the name. He was very clear that the name of the band is Hummingbird and not The Hummingbirds. I'm not sure when they will release their first album. But I can tell you this: Unlike the White Stripes, they're really siblings. I have also posted their album cover.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Time Warp Wednesday: Sleater-Kinney

For this week’s Time Warp Wednesday, I wanted to feature Sleater-Kinney. They were such a totally amazing band and I still listen to their music regularly. I have provided below some great live clips. If that’s not enough you can jump on over to NPR and download the band’s August 3, 2006 show at Washington, DC’s 9:30 Club. Enjoy!

Modern Girl


Entertain


Dig Me Out


Rockin’ In The Free World (With Pearl Jam)


Sympathy


I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Talkin' to the Zipcode Man: The Mike Doughty Interview

Anyone listening to “Alternative” music in the mid to late 1990s, heard Soul Coughing and the unique lyrics of its leader/singer/guitarist, M. Doughy. Well, as most of you know, the “M” stands for Mike who left Soul Coughing in 2000 amid difficult personal and band circumstances. Getting clean and renting a car and logging 9000 miles on the road, he played solo shows building a base of both former Soul Coughing and new fans. This base allowed him to sell 20,000 copies of his first solo album, Skittish. In 2003, Doughty released another album independently, the EP Rockity Roll. In 2004 he signed with Dave Matthews' ATO label for the release of Haughty Melodic and Golden Delicious (My review is here.) in 2008. Dynamic Meter got the opportunity to email Mike Doughty some questions about the new album and more.

Dynamic Meter: "Fort Hood's" words and music have an opposite feel, serious words melded with dancey music. In this song, about soldiers going to Iraq and coming home again, the way the music and the words work together seems to reflect the way our country is existing during this war. We're at war, but we all go about our jaunty existences without much thought about the price of the conflict. Did you intentionally try to contrast the feel of the music with the meaning of the words?

Mike Doughty: That's interesting, I've never thought about it. "Let the Sunshine In" is by nature a pretty uplifting chorus—but at the same time there's so much tragedy in the song. It seems like a poetic combination to me.

DM: Talk about using the "Let the sun shine in" sample from the musical Hair?

MD: I found a recording online of the Japanese cast from Hair. I thought it would be really funny, and it was—but when it got to the chorus they switched to English, and I found it incredibly moving and pertinent. I grew up on sample-based hiphop and house music, so it didn't seem outlandish to just gank the chorus and weld it to my own, new song.

DM: A lot of people have such a fondness for Soul Coughing. However, you left the band under difficult personal circumstances. Do you approach the way you make music differently now?

MD: Unfortunately, Soul Coughing was a pretty oppressive environment, and as time went by, it became very difficult to bring my songs in and get my bandmates to play them the way I needed them to. So I definitely feel freer to pursue my impulses. That's a big difference. In terms of who I am just as a creative individual, I'm more or less the same guy.

DM: What did you grow up listening to? There's always a funkiness to your music.

MD: Led Zeppelin was the first band I really loved, and then the Replacements, and then the Rolling Stones, and then A Tribe Called Quest—that's kind of my litany of favorite bands in order of appearance. It was in the early 90s when awesome hiphop was everywhere in New York that I started thinking about marrying the beat to a song-y-er type of thing.

DM: I really dig the sound of the new record. It has a real live-cut feel. Why did you choose to record Golden Delicious this way?

MD: I just had a band that I loved, and I wanted to play to their strengths, and make some space for their musical personalities. Interestingly, a lot of the reaction to Golden Delicious (and a lot of negative reaction) is that it's pretty slick and poppy. Which blows my mind, as I thought I was making this very rough, spontaneous-feeling record. So, thank you : )

DM: Compared to Soul Coughing, your solo work seems more lyrically direct. What do you think?

MD: Yeah, in the past eight years or so, my stuff has been more narrative, more about stories. I don't really know what that's about. My lyric writing process is essentially the same as it's always been.

DM: Tell me about our relationship with the poet, Sekou Sundiata and his influence on your writing.

MD: Sekou was my teacher, and he really galvanized me—made me take the music of language seriously, sort of showed me the sacredness of working with words. Also, Ani DiFranco was my classmate, and she was SO much better than I was—I really felt competitive, and learned a lot just trying to cop her tricks!

DM: How does your DJing as Mikey Dough influenced your Mike Doughty tunes and shows and vice versa?

MD: I've really gotten into making beats. I'm not sure exactly how that's going to affect my next record, but I'm very obsessive about it. At the moment it's separate from writing songs, which I still do on an acoustic guitar in the kitchen. But that might change.

DM: Are you a zipcode man, a homebody?

MD: Yeah, I kind of am. I live pretty far out there in Brooklyn, where there isn't a lot going on. I stay home and write and work on music. Out here you can get a pretty gigantic space, so not being cooped up in a Manhattan shoebox makes staying home and working much more fun.

DM: I like the downloader amnesty you have on your website, where you are absolved of your illegal downloading sins by making a donation to Doctors Without Borders. Do you do many benefits?

MD: I do some benefits once in a while. But I feel conflicted being very public about charity—I prefer to make donations privately, without being ostentatious about it.

DM: What are you listening to and digging that might not be on most people's radar screens?

MD: Well, lately, Celia Cruz, this Japanese band called Uhnellys, and some of John Cage's "prepared piano" music. But that might be a little too far off anybody's radar screen. I don't know, I oscillate between some pretty out stuff, and very poppy kind of hit-single things—DMB and Kelly Clarkson and the like. I'm kind of woefully ignorant of the current state of indie rock.

Below, please enjoy some great sounds from Mike Doughty.

The Gambler Cover


Fort Hood

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