Sunday, March 30, 2008

World Beat Comes Alive At State Theatre

This post originally appeared in the March 31 issue of the Tompkins Weekly.

World Beat is going to come alive at the State Theatre on April 3, when Angelique Kidjo and Samite hit the stage. This promises to be an incredible night of music from two of the preeminent figures in world music—and may well be one of the most compelling shows in the State Theatre’s already great season.

Angelique Kidjo will headline the evening. Born in the West African nation of Benin in 1960, she was performing with her mother’s theater troupe by the age of six. At age 22, due to political conflicts in her homeland, she relocated to Paris and later to New York City. She still resides in New York today. While broadly speaking she is considered an African singer, her influences and music encompass a much broader palette.

Citing influences as wide ranging as Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, George Gershwin, Aretha Franklin, jazz, Caribbean, Latin, and Afropop, Kidjo brings it all together into her own unique musical style. It is at once homage to her influences, at the same time it carries them forward in a new direction. In Addition to her wide range of influences, Angelique Kidjo has performed with the likes of Branford Marsalis, Carlos Santana, Joss Stone, Vernon Reid, Buddy Guy, and Peter Gabriel—to name a few.

She has won a Grammy Award, NAACP Image award, and the Antonio Carlos Jobim Award for an “artist distinguished in the field of world music whose influence on the evolution of jazz and cultural crossover is widely recognized.” If you aren’t familiar with her work, a quick trip to or YouTube will provide you with songs and videos to check out.

Beyond her music she has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2002 and founded the Batonga Foundation which works to give African girls the opportunity to attend secondary school and higher education. In addition, she has been outspoken about the need to respond to the genocide in the Darfur.

Also on the bill is Samite Mulondo. Samite, originally from Uganda, now lives in Ithaca. The fact this amazing musician lives in Ithaca is further evidence of what an incredible music scene we are blessed with. Samite sings in his native language of Luganda. He accompanies himself by playing a variety of instruments including the kalimba (finger-piano), marimba (wooden xylophone), litungu (seven-stringed Kenyan instrument) and various flutes; traditional and western.

Like Ms. Kidjo, Samite is also active in humanitarian work. He is the founder of the not-for-profit Musicians for World Harmony, “whose mission is to enable musicians throughout the world to share their music to promote peace, understanding and harmony among peoples, with a special emphasis on the displaced or the distressed who could benefit most from the healing power of music.” To learn more about Samite please visit or

The concert starts at 8 PM and tickets can be purchased at the State Theatre Box office, online at, or by calling 27-STATE.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Drive By Truckers, Well, Keep On Truckin’

I know that the new Drive By Truckers record came out in January, but hey, it is hard to keep up with all the new music out there. That said, what does a band do when one of its primary songwriters/vocalists/guitarists not only leaves the band but divorces a member as well? Well, they keep on truckin’ and regroup by sharing the songwriting and vocal duties. And for the most part, this has been a successful approach on their new album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Some of the songs on the album are truly great. For example the album’s opener, “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife,” is a very beautiful tune. The only major misstep for me is the song, ”Bob.” It just seems too kitschy and doesn’t fit in with the rest of Brighter Than Creation’s Dark's themes of love, death, and God. So for the most part the new Drive BY Truckers record is a strong new album amid a lot of change. And it certainly makes me look forward to the next one.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Review: Kristeen Young--The Orphans

Kristeen Young is a NYC-based independent musician who has self-released five albums by her piano/keyboard and drum duo, KRISTEENYOUNG. The pair is made up of singer, writer, pianist/keyboardist, Kristeen Young and drummer "Baby" Jeff White.

I just got a hold of their disc, The Orphans. This is one of those albums that grabs you right away. There is a definite unique sonic quality to The Orphans that immediately connected me to the music. You can definitely hear the influence of PJ Harvey. Also, it is certainly hard for anyone playing [insert instrument here] and drum duo music, not to be compared to the White Stripes. However, there isn’t anything derivative sounding about them. Like other great bands, they have taken in their influences and released something that is wholly their own sound.

Others who have dug the band’s sound include David Bowie who sang on their first record, BREASTICLES, and Morrissey and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, who they opened for.


Friday, March 21, 2008

It's nothing as it seems . . . the little that you see . . . it's home . . .

I have written about musical touch points before and today on my bus ride to work I was reminded of another. “Nothing As It Seems,” from Pearl Jam’s album Binaural, came onto my iPod. This, more than so many of my other musical touch points, is truly deeply personal. This is the song I listened to almost daily during the 5 years my wife and I struggled to have our first child. The lyrics are so powerful. And at the time that I was listening to “Nothing As It Seems” regularly, the song helped me bridge the gap between our struggle to have a child and the deep love and connectivity I have always had with my wife. To me, she is the “home” in the song.

And today, we have two amazing, rockin’ kids—a four and a half year old boy and a nine and a half month old girl. This truly is home.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

No More War

It has been five years of total disaster. No More War. Here’s the new video for Eddie Vedder’s song, “No More” from the film Body of War.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Because I'm still in love with you / On this harvest moon

My wife and I like different music. While I love, for instance, The National, she can’t stand them. Sometimes this can be a bit of a drag—such as when you really want to share your enthusiasm for a band or album that is really meaningful to you at a particular time.

We certainly have our musical touch points. The Sundays’ record Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic was one of the first. We both owned it on cassette when we met. And their subsequent album, Blind, with its stunningly beautiful cover of “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones was another.

There are others also. We both love “Redemption Song;” Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was our wedding song. She really likes London Calling, which is great as I am a huge Clash fan.

A great thing about having differing tastes in music is that she has hipped me to bands and sounds that I would not have naturally checked out on my own. And she has great taste in music. Much of the excellent world music, Soul, R&B, and rap in our collection is due to her influence. For instance, I likely would not have purchased MIA. But she did, and I am a better music fan for it. I mean, how can you not deeply love a woman that brings Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Stevie Wonder’s Songs In the Key of Life into the relationship. Thanks for the great sounds, Love.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Opportunity Cost Comparisons Rock

I have put together a little bit of economics for today’s post. It’s based on the fact that you have to make difficult economic decisions in life. Sometimes you have to choose to spend you money one thing rather than another. Economists call this an opportunity cost comparison. I based mine on buying wine versus buying CDs. You could change either factor to suite your needs. Under no circumstance can you replace paying your mortgage as one of the factors.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rock On

So I just finished Rock On by Dan Kennedy and boy did I laugh a lot. I was reading the book once while holding my napping 9-month old daughter and laughed so hard I almost woke her up. Oops. But in all seriousness, Rock On is funny. And I mean laugh out loud while your reading it on the bus and the other riders stare at you—funny.

Amidst all of the laughing, however, the book points out some of the problems that major record labels are having now and, thus not doing well (not selling records). One of these is record companies are so totally focused on creating rock stars, that they loose sight of the music. I, for one, don’t feel the need to listen to music by rock stars; I want to listen to music by musicians trying to create art.

So read it and enjoy it. And here is a little video of Dan Kennedy for your enjoyment.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

But when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Ephesians 5:13

For me music has an undeniable spiritual component—sometimes it’s explicit, sometimes more subtle. And as Easter approaches I have been thinking about this connection. With this in mind, I have pulled together a list of songs for Easter. These, by design, are by secular artists. I am definitely not a conservative/evangelical Christian. But a Christian I am. To me the whole focus on personal salvation really misses the main point of Jesus’ message. As Obery Hendricks states in his excellent book, The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted, Jesus’ teachings are those that will “transform our society—and the world—into a kingdom of justice in which all of God’s children, regardless of color, creed, or national origin can have life, and that in abundance, in every sphere of living.”

Or as Jeff Tweedy writes in Jesus, Etc., “Everyone is a burning sun.”

Easter Songs

His Truth is Marching On by Mike Doughty Listen Here

Jesus Is On The Main Line by Mavis Staples Listen Here

Jesus, Etc. by Wilco

Revival by Soul Savers

40 by U2

Lord, Help The Poor and Needy by Cat Power (Traditional)

Redemption Song by Bob Marley


Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Week of Illing

Holy cow! What a week last week was. Sick wife, kids with colds, and our daycare provider’s entire family was sick and that closed her daycare for the week. I think, and hope, we are back in action, except the baby who is way stuffy nosed. Fortunately, we did not have to call the doctor. But weeks like this make we want to listen to some blistering music. So in honor of last week being the “Week of Illing,” here is Sleater-Kinney’s “Call The Doctor.”


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mike Doughty’s Golden Delicious Sounds

There are some bands you remember exactly where you were the first time you heard them. For me Soul Coughing is one of those bands. I was living in Chicago and a friend of mine hipped me to them. The first song I heard was, “Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago.” I was hooked and I have been listening to Mike Doughty’s work ever since.

That said, it was with great anticipation that I opened Doughty’s latest solo CD, Golden Delicious, (released February 19 of ATO Records) and popped into the CD player. I was brought back to the hooks and turns of phrase that initially grabbed me back in, gulp, 1995.

The album leads off with the sublime anti-war track, “Fort Hood,” a song about soldiers going to Iraq and returning home. The power of this song is increased by the melding of serious lyrics with very danceable music and contains a “sample” of “The Flesh Failures (Let the Sun Shine In),” from Hair. “Fort Hood is the Texas Army base that has lost the most troops in the Iraq War,” Doughty says. “I visited some of the wounded troops at Walter Reed Hospital in D.C. and wondered what was going through their minds. When I first thought about using ‘Let the sunshine in…’ as the chorus, I thought it would be funny, but when I sang it, I felt myself tearing up. [‘Let the Sunshine In’] draws an obvious parallel to past quagmires, and all the vets who are suffering from PTSD. Once again the damage being done will not only be in lives lost, but in how those losses affect family, friends and society as a whole. The bridge laments the fact that instead of going to the prom, they’ve been given a burden they’re going to have to live with forever.”

While some Soul Coughing fans have criticized the direction of his solo work, it is hard to deny that “Fort Hood” is possibly the most moving song Mike Doughty has recorded. It also proves, as George Clinton has often demonstrated, that you can shake your booty at the protest rally. And to bash him for moving forward and trying new sounds and feels to his music is unfair. In addition, it smacks of the unpleasant hipper-than-thou-attitude that some music fans have—if it becomes somewhat popular, it no longer has any artistic merit. And that’s just plain wrong.

The first single off the album is “27 Jennifers.” This playful track is about how at Doughty’s High School all the girls seemed to have the same name. As Mike Doughty and I are the same age, I remember my town’s version of the 27 Jennifers. One of the highlights of this tune is John Kirby’s (From The Black Eyed Peas) keyboard playing. There is also a video of this track available, right here.

While I genuinely dig the whole album, other stand out tracks include, “I Wrote a Song About Your Car,” “I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing,” and “Like a Luminous Girl.” These three songs really highlight Mike Doughty’s ability to craft catchy and meaningful songs. For example, “I Just Want the Girl . . .” is a great song about seeing someone he wants to meet in the audience at one of his shows, and the ultimate futility of that. What really clinches this song, though, is his use of the “brrmbpdpdmdm” drum sound lyrics from the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.”

John Kirby is not the only outstanding player in Mike Doughty’s band. Pete McNeal (From Cake) is on drums and John Munson (From Semisonic) plays bass. Percussionist, Ken Chastain, and singer, Mankwe Ndosi, round out the band. This is a great band, which is demonstrated by the fact Golden Delicious was largely recorded live. The live recording gives immediacy to the songs. This feel is often lost when songs are built in layers in the studio.

One of the major strengths of Mike Doughty is he brings a super eclectic blend of music to the mix. His syncopated guitar style is a result of trying to play the rhythms of Public Enemy on guitar. On the lyrics front, Doughty studied with the poet Sekou Sundiata at the New School in New York. “Sundiata told me to let the poem, or the song, do what it wanted to do,” Doughty explains. “He spoke about how to be musical, how words exist within time and transcend time. I’m rhythmically driven; it’s my blessing and my curse. The rhythms of my guitar, the nature of my voice and the strange cadence of the lyrics aren’t funky enough to be funk, but they’re too funky to be rock.” To my mind, this conflict of the funky is what really makes Mike Doughty worth listening to. You never know where he is going to take you on his journey—but it’s always going to be a good and funky and rockin’ place.