Friday, June 27, 2008
Listen to CLOWNS by Goldfrapp.
Listen to HILLS OF STONE by Radar Bros.
Jason dropping in.
And its about time! What with Euro 2008, holidays, end-of-season football celebrations....discretionary time has been in short supply. Thanks John for stepping in.
So, there are times when I want to share with this blog the songs that have mattered to me for a long time - and why. Other times, like now, I want to introduce relatively new material simply because its what I'm currently digging on.
Alison Goldfrapp and I have a love/hate relationship. She's one of those artists I admire, listen to, but at the same time find quite a bit....affected... Her 3rd album "Black Cherry" was my entry point in 2003 and it had some great songs (like "Hairy Trees") but her persona was a little too try-hard for my tastes. Now, I don't want to put someone down for a unique style and some theatricality (everyone, I mean EVERYONE, knows who my favourite band is......) but it grated.
So I'm pleased to say that Ms Goldfrapp seems to have given up her quest of being the Bizarro-Kylie/Madonna and put her feet firmly on the ground. And yet, I've chosen "Clowns" because it is so ethereal. It harks back to the "Hairy Trees" style with its Cocteau-Twins-like hushed vocals.
And its this esoteric style that selected the Radar Bros track for me as well. Radar Bros are a slowcore outfit from LA. I thought this was their first album but its actually their 5th. Its been quite a while since a song has gripped me so much. And that is not always such a good sign ("Drops of Jupiter" by Train had the same effect and I ended up hating it.) The melancholy piano chords in this are other-worldy: at first, melancholic but then uplifting for the chorus. Absolutely stunning.
Maybe someone can help me out. Because there's something about the Radar Bros track that is incredibly familiar to me. Maybe it reminds me of a song from my childhood but I can't place it (yes, I know the lead vocal is a bit Kermit-the-Frog-like but that's not it). Like a B-side from some early 80s 7-inch. If you have any ideas, let me know, because I won't rest until I figure it out.
Photo: Freya. Guiting Power. 2008. Taken by Jason Bryant
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Listen to ATOMIC BOMB by William Onyeabor.
Today's final William Onyeabor selection was a big hit in Nigeria in 1978. Atomic Bomb also happens to be my favorite William Onyeabor song, but my copy *sounds* pretty poor. This is a straight up vinyl rip, so all the squeaks and pops are still there. After a few listens you won't notice. (And if any of you good good people out there has a better copy, don't be shy about passing it along!)
If I told you the main line of this song "I'm going to explode like an atomic bomb" you might easily get the wrong impression about the sound of this one. It's...not an especially convincing threat. Still, with the call and response, the sleigh bells, the keys, the ragged rhythm guitar, the psychotic synths, this song is a total masterpiece. Watch out.
If you enjoyed any of these William Onyeabor tracks this week, head over to this excellent blog for a couple more even rarer ones, and congratulate yourself for impeccably eclectic taste.
Photo: Old India snapshots--Jodhpur gate.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Listen to BODY AND SOUL by William Onyeabor.
Body And Soul is taken from another essential compilation, "Booniay!!" Body And Soul has an unbelievably fine groove, and sounds wonderful. Those drums *pop* and those synths swoop and whine with conviction. Play very loud. Listen closely to Mr. Onyeabor chatting below the groove for a few minutes there. Then download it and save it for your next DJ gig, when you need to use up ten minutes (maybe you need a bathroom break, maybe you want to chat up the patrons) with a weird floor filler everyone will be asking you about afterwards.
Photo: Old India snapshots--double exposure.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Listen to SOMETHING YOU WILL NEVER FORGET by William Onyeabor
This is one intense jam.
I can't really confirm this, but I'm pretty sure William Onyeabor was a one man band. That accords with everything I've read, plus the pair of album covers I've seen, he's set up with a big bank of synths and a couple of microphones. So, I think it's all him, except the occasional backing vocalist. Someone described him as the "Nigerian Thomas Dolby" which is a juxtaposition you wouldn't expect but is a good description of Mr. Onyeabor.
Pretty amazing, and helps explain the weird spaced out feel of these songs. There's space because he only has four limbs with which to fill it!
(Today's selection is of slightly dodgy sound quality, though we've borrowed it from an excellent DJ mix. It's fine once it gets going.)
Photo: Old India snapshots--Delhi driver.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Listen to BETTER CHANGE YOUR MIND by William Onyeabor.
Before we start again this week, can I just pass along our thanks to all of you loyal readers out there? Thanks. I'm looking back over the last few weeks of posts and noticing the music is just all over the map. (It must be the brilliant prose that keeps you all coming back....)
Anyway, in an effort to drive the rest of you away, this week I'm going in the weeds for an artist 99% of you have never heard of, with songs that are 7, 8, 10 minutes long, and of varying sound quality. Yes, readers, that's the thanks you get! But before you click away, have a peek at this capsule biography of William Onyeabor, and ask yourself if it's not one of the most intriguing artist bios you've ever read:
William Onyeabor studied cinematography in Russia for many years, returning to Nigeria in the mid-70s to start his own Wilfilms music label and to set up a music and film production studio. He recorded a number of hit songs in Nigeria during the 70s, the biggest of which was "Atomic Bomb" in 1978. "Better Change Your Mind" is taken from the same album, and, as well as slating the power-crazed nations of the world, the second half settles into a unique slice of stripped down spacey, lo-fi funk which is unlike any other Nigerian music being made at the time. William has now been crowned a High Chief in Enugu, where he lives today as a successful businessman working on government contracts and running his own flour mill.
Doesn't that make you want to hear more??? Today's track (and the above biography) is featured on the awesome, now-out-of-print "Nigeria 70" compilation, and if you've ever heard one William Onyeabor track, it's probably this one. It's equal parts Cold War paranoia and stoned space jam, and it's a jewel.
Photo: Old India snapshots--We are the relics of your culture.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Listen to COWBOYS AND INDIANS by The Smoke.
John again. One of the neat things about living in NYC even 5 years or so ago was the ability to find whatever, whenever, for whyever. A Long Tail-ers paradise. Sure, you can still do that now, but since then the internet has not only flattened that curve, but inverted it. Witness the search in these pages for Ray Price, which was found not in a dusty crate off 4th Avenue, but on eBay. Or take the case of Midnight Records, which used to be on 23rd St., but has since shut its doors to become a mail-order only shop. Now, I can't be sure if the internet shoo-ed it away from Manhattan, after all it was a weird place to begin with (open only a few days of the week on odd hours), and I only made it there a handful of times myself, but I can be sure that it was fun to visit the shop and walk out with a stack of dubious quality discs.
One such disc was simply titled The Smoke. Billed as a lost-psych one-off classic by Michael Lloyd who, at age 18, had already co-founded, recorded with, and left the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, I was sold - who wouldn't be? Plus it was dedicated to Stuart Sutcliffe, so that had to mean good things, right? But my skepticism returned when I opened the case at home to find a cd-r with a cheap stick-on label which wouldn't play in my cd player. Eventually, I figured out a way to play it, and even though the songs seemed to be mislabeled and a couple jammed together, they were all spot on 1968 Northern California: trippy sounds, a dash of self-indulgence, and lovely harmonies.
Today's track, "Cowboys and Indians", leads off the album and hints at the Destruction Of The West theme the Beach Boys would soon take up in earnest. Enjoy!
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Listen to NO NOS PARARAN (AIN'T NO STOPPING US NOW) by Charanga 76.
Ain't no stopping this tune. NO STOPPING IT. Easily the longest track we've ever posted on the blog, it still competes on a thrill-a-minute basis. I've been playing it in New York, in California, in Oklahoma, in Mustique...and that's just this year. If I had had my way, it would've been played at my wedding. Play it every day. For those of you that get bored before its nine and a half minutes are up, you FAIL.
I believe we'll have John back guesting tomorrow (Jason is attending an awards ceremony in his honor (update: it even made the Daily Mirror!) and will be in no condition to blog), so we'll see you next week!
Photo: Subway station.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Listen to STONED OUT OF MY MIND by The Chi-Lites.
I think I saw somewhere that this track had caught on a soundtrack recently released, or maybe a car commercial or something, which is too bad, because I've been sitting on this one for years, waiting for the right moment to unleash it on the rest of you.
With such a provocative song title, you'd expect this tune to be full of little winks and double entendres. But it's not--it's just a brilliant, shiny, sweet, Chicago soul groover. In and out in three minutes.
This song is really the last gasp of the original Chi-Lites line-up, released in 1973, and what a way to go out.
Photo: Windward wading pool.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Listen to TOUCH ME TAKE ME by Rita Wright.
Someone made a comment on this song on imeem the other day and I thought to myself, "why haven't I ever posted this totally killer song on the blog?" The answer is, I'm a bad person.
But getting better, because here is one of the better unknown floor fillers you'll ever hear. You're welcome (for making your day much better than it was). See you Wednesday.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Listen to PLAY WITH FIRE by Barbara & Ernie.
That low rumbling is the sound of me pulling out the big guns today. Play With Fire is the most well known cut from an album reissued last year for the first time since it was released (and mostly ignored).
Barbara (Cat Stevens) & Ernie (Harry Belafonte) were both session musicians who for reasons obscured by time and space, recorded this one album together. It's soul, jazz, folk all rolled into one.
For those of you that have never had Play With Fire appear on one of your compilations or otherwise, you're in for such a treat. It's a great song, and the performance and recording is brilliant. On the performance, my single favorite thing is how the drummer plays these over-simple turnarounds leading into the choruses. He leaves so much space so that the snares and toms come down like hammers.
...You'll note that the banner this week is a little funkier this week too. That's what a digital camera does when it no longer works right! We got a good run out of that little guy, but it's time to go camera shopping.
Photo: Prop plane.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Listen to TIME TO PRETEND by MGMT.
Hey there! John again. I'm standing in for Jason this Friday.
I've always had a warm fuzzy feeling about Fridays. End of the school/work week, start of the weekend - endless potential. As a kid, I'd always have my coolest clothes and my best tunes all picked out and ready for Friday. As an adult, I do the same, although I'm usually asleep on the couch by 10pm. Nonetheless, the spirit, energy, and feeling of a Friday are still there, and I'd like to pass on a tune that reminds me (at least) of the fun.
By way of introduction, I first heard this track on Ben and Stu's radio program back in mid-February and have been listening to it since. It's pop music that would've warped me had I heard it, say 10 years ago...because they're right! MGMT (which I think is a great name), also has a video (and one in 3d too!) to go along with the track, which seems to depict some kind of post-internet pagan apocalypse ritual, but not the bad kind. Anyway, I haven't yet heard the full album, but the rest of the ep is pretty good too. Have a listen and have a fun Friday!
Photo: midway cadillac mountain.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Listen to LA VALLA by Bronx River Parkway (feat. Jose Parla).
Thanks to the good people at Truth & Soul Records, who shared with us this killer track from its highly recommended "Fallin Off The Reel Vol. 2" singles compilation.
La Valla is a track I first heard on Ben & Stu's radio show a few months ago (not that it hasn't been around for awhile, as per usual), and then it dropped off my radar a bit. But now it's back, and I'm enjoying sitting here trying to describe it. It's not like it's too complicated. It's like Night Rider played by locos. I love talking instrumentals--is that a genre? Rambunctious, infectious, it's screaming summer! to me. Stu should break it out this weekend and leave it on repeat for ten minutes.
Photo: Alterations, drapes, leathers.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Listen to MY FOUR LEAF CLOVER by Nicole Willis.
Here's a happy humpday song for you, one that somehow hasn't made its way onto the internet much, even though it's been out a few years. (Example: soul-sides was complaining that it had slept on this album for too long, and that was way back in 2006.) But that's alright, we aren't trying to be cutting edge here, since good music is timeless, that's what they always say...
Anyway, no matter how old it is, you should go out and get the "Keep Reachin Up" LP. I mentioned this the other week, but these Finns are some funky players. Also worth checking out, though I'm not going to blog it, is a remix album of "Keep Reachin Up" that came out on ATC Records just last year. I'm a fan.
That's all the commentary for today. If you want something light and frothy to celebrate the break of this nasty heatwave, press play.
Photo: Labor Ready.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Listen to PROBLEMS by Lee Fields.
Lee Fields has been here before. Back then I was trying desperately to avoid paying $60 for this deleted album of his on the defunct Soul Fire label called "Problems." Alas, my willpower wasn't strong enough. I ordered the d@mn thing. This is good news for you listeners, though, because how else would you be able to hear this excellent specimen of a title track? Our family starves for you.
For all of these soul funk songs, my first inclination in typing up a post is to go into all of the great musicianship happening (the image in your head should be something like a blog skating on thin ice). Still, I can't resist here pointing out what a great, nimble bass line you're listening to right now. There's even a couple Clyde Stubblefield-style breakdowns, in case you weren't sure that rhythm is king today.
Photo: Artificial Limbs.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Listen to HOW DO I LET A GOOD MAN DOWN? by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.
Hello, Monday! Let's go straight back to where we were a couple weeks ago, doing a little series on the new retro nuevo soul neo funk scene. (As we say in my job, 'familiarity with previous opinions is assumed.')
Sharon Jones is possibly/probably the leading light of this scene. Her 2005 album with the Dap-Kings, "Naturally," was a breakthrough. It got great reviews from the indie/online press, and ended up on lots of critics' year-end lists. Note that each of those reviews, just like our little blog, grapples lamely with what to label this music. (Though to our credit, we haven't stooped to using this stuff as a club to beat up on contemporary soul music. Yet.) Jones and co. released their follow-up last year to good reviews but to me it doesn't have the same crackle that "Naturally" does.
For all that, few people have blogged about the opening track of "Naturally," so let's do something about that. How Do I Let A Good Man Down? is a great opener, because it doesn't waste any time getting into its groove. You might even be tempted to say it's a harsh edit to open the song but not if you knew how tight the band is. Highlights include the snakey rhythm guitars, the lacksa-daisical vocals, and the crazy-catchy horns on the chorus.
Photo: Nuway Cleaners.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Listen to DO YOU REALIZE?? by The Flaming Lips.
Jason dropping in.
With Bill's solemn news providing a tributary theme this week, I wanted to select my song carefully.
In the end, I chose the first song that popped into my head when I originally signed-up to contribute to the blog. And I chose it because its the most life-affirming song I know - and the band also share Bill's Oklahoma heritage.
I first saw the Flaming Lips in '95 at the "Alternative Nation" festival in Sydney. It was a festival line-up that still looks good to this day. My memory of the Lips was of waiting for them to play their "Vaseline" song ("She Don't Use Jelly") that was ubiquitous on Australian radio on release a few years before. To me, they then disappeared....I figured they broke up.
So when their "Soft Bulletin" album started appearing in critics lists as one of the best albums of 1999 (NME made it their album of the year), I figured that it was a different band that had the same name. You know, like Nirvana. I bought the album but it never made it out of the plastic.
Then, in 2002, came their Masterpiece - "Yoshimi...". This time I bought (yes Tim, "bought") and listened.
That led to me seeing them another handful of times (Q magazine claimed in 2002 that they were one of the bands to see before you die). The show is a celebratory circus and its all because of their lead singer and talisman Wayne Coyne. If you don't know him, lets just say he's the sort of guy that features on many "if you could have any 5 people, ever, to a dinner party......" list. When this guy opens his arms, people crawl into his palms...
The Lips have more to them than Coyne, of course (check out the brilliant "Fearless Freaks" documentary) but this song is the embodiment of him:
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes - let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun don't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
Stunningly beautiful and always - always - lifts me above the day-to-day; resets my perspective and makes me want to wrap my arms around a loved one - especially those no longer with us.
Photo: Musée d'Orsay, Paris. 2004. Taken by Jason Bryant.
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Ray Price.
This is the payoff post that nearly didn't happen (in fact, as I begin typing, it's not confirmed there is a payoff, yet). Recall that my grandfather left instructions for his funeral, which sadly took place last week. Included in those instructions was a specific request that Just A Closer Walk With Thee by Ray Price be played. I failed to find this version in time, which has had me in a funk.
But, how could I find this song on short notice? Price's rendition was included on an album called "How Great Thou Art," released by Word Records thirty years ago. Now, everybody knows Word Records. Since being founded by Jarrell McCracken in Waco, Texas back in 1951, it's become one of the premier Gospel labels in the country (thanks, Wikipedia!). Despite all that, Word never saw fit to keep "How Great Thou Art" in print, never released it on CD. Maybe it's on 8 track or cassette somewhere, but it definitely ain't on anywhere on the internet, much less on iTunes.
Still, once we got back from the funeral, we went crate-digging. We looked for it in New York, we looked for it in Los Angeles. I looked for it on eBay, and that's where I finally found it. It arrived in the mail the other day, and with an assist from a good friend, we got it transferred to
I'm not going to review the song today. I haven't heard it yet, as I finish typing, which makes it hard, but also because that's not really the point. I'm just going to put it on and think nice thoughts about my grandparents.
See you next week.
Photo: Most Holy Redeemer Church (4).
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Johnny Paycheck.
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Dave Van Ronk.
Here a few songs that I had high hopes for, but that don't quite work. First is the third--Dave Van Ronk. Last year I read Van Ronk's book, The Mayor Of MacDougal Street, and loved it. Loved it--it's a great read, especially if you have any interest at all in the history of the Village, the folk movement of the 50s and 60s, Dylan, and all that. Even if you don't, it's very agreeably written. Van Ronk comes off as an incredibly appealing, engaging character, who was involved in every little thing that happened in the New York folk scene. The problem was I had never heard his music, and was pretty disappointed when I went and tracked it down. Closer Walk is as good an example as any. It was recorded around the time Little Richard recorded his version, and it's in the same uptempo style, but its light years away in interest. He just doesn't really have the chops or the charisma. Which is no sin, but read the book, skip the tunes.
When I saw Johnny Paycheck had a version of Closer Walk, I jumped to download it. Paycheck was unfairly pigeonholed as a one hit wonder, when he had a great run of songs on the Little Darlin' label in the 60s. (I'm sure Corbett will get around to doing a retrospective on him someday.) But leaving that aside, this is a deeply boring performance.
Finally, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, performed by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, part of the legendary lost "Nashville Skyline" sessions. Incredible! Not incredible! In fact, these sessions are mostly disappointing (notwithstanding some cool moments). These two don't actually have that much chemistry on record to my ears, and what's more, Bob doesn't even know the words to the song! (Listen to the very beginning. Bob suggests, hopefully, they try Closer Walk With Thee. Then listen to the very end. "What's one you know, Bob?" This makes me smile.)
Photo: Most Holy Redeemer Church (3).
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Little Richard.
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by James Rivers.
Closer Walk has been recorded so many times, it's no surprise that it's an important song. But what I didn't know is that it is so important to so many different American traditions. Ray Price is a country singer, obviously, and along with Patsy Cline's version and Loretta Lynn's version from yesterday, there have been hundreds of recordings by country musicians over the years. In fact, from what I can tell, pretty much every country musician of any longevity from about 1950 on has a version of the song on wax somewhere. No one is sure where the song came from, but there's no doubt most of its success in American charts have come from country musicians.
Most people agree, however, that the song was born, or at least entered its modern incarnation, with the birth of gospel music in the thirties. One of the things I love about the history of gospel music is how radical it was. One thinks of "gospel" as ultra-traditional, ultra-conservative, when in fact Georgia Tom was kind of a scandalous figure, bringing the sounds of the fields and the saloons into the churchhouse. Just A Closer Walk With Thee was either written or adapted around the same time Dorsey was doing his thing, so I like to think there's something just a little bit loose about the song you might miss if you didn't know the story. Mahalia Jackson is the quintessential gospel performer (as well as a child of New Orleans, see below), so have a listen to her track yesterday to get a basic sense of the style. But by all means have a listen to Little Richard's version posted today. This is by far my favorite performance of the song. It is thrilling! It's from 1959, hard on his run of rock & roll classics, before all of a sudden he quit the biz and enrolled in bible school. In my opinion, this cut has all (well, how about nearly all) of the energy, verve, and charisma of Long Tall Sally, Tutti Frutti, etc. It's pretty wild.
Moving on. Leaving aside the country & gospel traditions, Just A Closer Walk With Thee is just about THE essential song for a New Orleans-style "jazz funeral." (Scare quotes because folks who live in New Orleans don't like to refer to their funerals that way.)
The way it works is the musicians follow the body from the church to the grave site, playing traditional music relatively straight. Sometimes the only song played will be Closer Walk. Then, once the body is interred, the second line begins, with the twirling parasols and all of the trappings associated with jazz funerals. Today's second selection from James Rivers is a New Orleans-style rendition of Closer Walk. I know next to nothing about Rivers--everything I know I learned from one of my favorites, "Home Of The Groove," where they know everything about New Orleans music, and even he doesn't know much about Rivers. It's a nice swinging instrumental.
Photo: Most Holy Redeemer Church (2).
Monday, June 2, 2008
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Patsy Cline.
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Loretta Lynn.
Listen to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE by Mahalia Jackson.
With apologies to you readers, and to the "soul-funk funk-soul" series (which will return someday), and with thanks to John and Jason for covering, I'm back with a detour from the regularly scheduled programming.
One reason we were away was to attend my grandfather's funeral back home. Those of you who have met him will know what a loss that is. But I'm not soliciting tributes (in the comments section at least), and this week isn't totally related to him, but it is somewhat. This post will be especially, to set up the back story.
We had to plan for the funeral, of course. I got put in charge of the music, which suited me fine. Fortunately, Grandpa left some guidance. About 15-20 years ago, Grandpa had a cancer scare. At the time he wrote himself out a program for his funeral service on a sheet of paper, and had held onto it until the end. I was now given this piece of paper.
The directions were characteristically plain-spoken and a little wry ("solo singer, preferably male"; "prayers okay, no sermon"). The blue ink had seeped into the paper.
One of the things he had done was make a list of songs he wanted included. I was a little disappointed, in spite of myself. The Old Rugged Cross; What a Friend We Have in Jesus; Memories; My Buddy; Always; Peace In The Valley; My Way. It's not that I had objections to Grandpa's taste (endearingly conventional), really, just that I didn't have any great versions of these in the vaults (that I thought I could use anyway, i.e., not the Gipsy Kings' version of My Way!). Plus, despite not having anything great, serviceable versions were so easy to find. i was basically done in ten minutes.
One song stood out though. Grandpa had written: "Just A Closer Walk With Thee by Ray Price." Hmmm... Don't have that one.
Why had Grandpa picked this specific version? I was quickly wishing that he hadn't. I know Ray Price (Night Life being one of my favorite country tunes), I even knew he was still out recording. But I didn't know this one, and I couldn't find it anywhere (turns out there's a good reason for that, which I'll explain later). I spent a couple of hours on the internet before the funeral, but it was in vain. If Grandpa didn't have a copy (he didn't), there was nothing I could do.
I picked what I thought was an appropriate substitute, and the funeral service went along fine. But I felt a little disappointed in myself, like I let my grandfather down. Whether it's that, or just natural curiosity, I've spent the intervening days piling up as many different versions of Just A Walk With Thee as I can. (And there are more than you can imagine!)
So that's why we only have one song this week. These three are three of the "substitutes" I considered for the funeral. Come back tomorrow sometime and I'll share some more versions!
Photo: Most Holy Redeemer Church (1).