February 2014 Archives

Hit Parade: Pharrell Williams - "Happy"

Maybe Pharrell Williams should stick to producing...
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The last couple of songs to sit atop the Billboard Hot 100 have not been, admittedly, terribly good. By which I mean they've been bad. They've been irritants to my very soul. I could use something that I can enjoy. A song that can make me, if you will, happy. Well, fittingly, the new top song on the charts is "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. Before listening to this song, I was of two minds on it. On the one hand, Williams' bona fides are legitimate. He was recently the pregame performer at the NBA All-Star Game, and it was a

Magic Sam - Live At The Avant Garde June 22, 1968

An essential addition to the sadly slender recorded legacy of one of the greats
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When he passed away of a heart attack in 1969 at the age of 32, Magic Sam had only released two proper albums, including the profoundly influential West Side Soul.  (His second full-fledged recording, Black Magic, was released mere days before his death).  Since then there have been a handful of posthumous live releases.  Live At The Avant Garde, recorded in June 1968, may be the best yet. Despite his tragically short career, Magic Sam left an enduring legacy.  A pioneer of the 'west side' sound, his stinging, choked leads and soulful vocals helped to usher in a new era;

DeepSoul: The Time - 777-9311

Various differences may have prematurely silenced The Time, but their contributions to 1980s soul should not be underestimated.
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One of the most underrated bands in funk, The Time harkens back to James Brown and Parliament while remaining firmly in the 1980s, thanks to producer/mentor Prince.  Best known for their hit "Jungle Love" from Prince's 1984 classic film Purple Rain, the Time also made their mark as exciting live performers thanks to lead singer Morris Day's antics.  Legend has it that the Minneapolis-based group played little part in their first two albums, with Prince writing and performing on most of the tracks except for Day's vocals and a few keyboard solos.  No matter who played what, the Time truly

Review: Beck - Morning Phase

Beck is in top form on the beautiful 'Morning Phase'
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Let's dispense with the obvious, tedious, and incorrect at the outset: Morning Phase, Beck's first album of recorded music in six years, is not a sequel to his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change. I get it: they're similar in sound, tone, and sonic texture. Call them aural companions if you must but Morning Phase is not a continuation of the Sea Change narrative. The instrumental prelude "Cycle" opens the album and establishes tone and mood for what is to come. It segues into the gorgeous "Morning," which recalls George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" through the sonic palette of his own

30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (Deluxe Edition) is the Pick of the Week

New releases include Dylan tribute concert, Beck's first record in 6 years, Muscle Shoals documentary and soundtrack, and much more!
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This week sees new albums from a lot of artists I've heard of, but not really listened to and a Blu-ray upgrade to an old celebration of one of my very favorites.In October of 1992 a virtual who's who of musicians gathered at Madison Square Garden to pay tribute to Bob Dylan releasing his very first Columbia Records album.  It was a sold-out show and live-cast to millions around the world.  It seems crazy that the event took place more than twenty years ago, making the celebration more of a mid-career retrospective than a real looking-back bash.  Dylan has recorded

Tony Trischka - Great Big World

A fascinating excursion through all that a banjo can be...
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Before the modern Americana movement began to employ it in innovative ways, the banjo was almost exclusively associated with bluegrass music.  And without the ability to bend notes, its expressiveness was largely limited to intricate picking and blazing speed. Tony Trischka is one of a handful of players who've dramatically redefined the banjo's capabilities.  And on the aptly titled Great Big World, he shows just how versatile an instrument it can be - in the right hands. Bluegrass is certainly an integral element in Trischka's music.  But as he himself says of Great Big World, "It's all over the place,

Review: Damon Fowler - Sounds Of Home

Fowler's talent casts a shadow too tall for his latest record...
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Damon Fowler is back with his first album in three years, Sounds Of Home, following up his excellent 2011 effort Devil Got His Way and he shakes things up bringing in blues titan Tab Benoit to produce this latest record, replacing veteran Scott Cable. I'm going to step outside the review at the outset because I'm afraid this will get lost in the discussion we're about to have: I like the record. Damon is a seriously talented dude with excellent touch as a guitarist and a sweet, appealing voice. He and Benoit together resist the trap that kills many a

John & Sylvia Embry - Troubles

A welcome reissue of a rarity with a handful of previously unreleased tracks.
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Delmark Records have always championed the music of the Windy City, seldom recording or releasing much of anything originating outside of Chicago. The result is a virtually all-encompassing catalog of music that has literally spread around the world, yet remains curiously insular, somehow distinctly particular to the city often called 'the home of the blues.' Take John & Sylvia Embry's Troubles, from sessions recorded in 1979 but released here for the first time on CD. Despite notes that take pains to point out that recording was 'old-school,' forgoing modern (in 1979!) studio trickery for an honest audio document of the

Watch Vaudeville Etiquette Perform "Blood & Bones" From Forthcoming Debut

2014 is the year of Vaudeville Etiquette and that is a win for us all!
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Hear me, all ye with ears, and read the words of this latest epistle, all ye with eyes. I once again carry with me a message of musical salvation for you, the antedote to the dreck what would convince you there is no music worth hearing being created in this 21st century. It is my great pleasure to bring before you the mighty Vaudeville Etiquette. Best you go ahead and convert now as this is the first of what I assure you will be many missives proclaiming their glory.  VE is the brainchild of Tayler Lynn and Bradley Laina. Their
Outside of Deadhead circles most people don't know that the earliest versions of the Grateful Dead were actually a bluegrass band.  Jerry Garcia got his start playing old folk tunes and he formed Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions with Pigpen and Bob Weir sometimes before they decided to plug in, get high and create the psychedelic juggernaut the Dead became.  Throughout the rest of his life Garcia remained connected to folk and bluegrass music and in the 1970s he became a part of a supergroup called Old and in the Way.  Other members included David Grisman, Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements

CD Review: Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made Special Edition

Prog rock veterans' 17th album now available as a 2-CD Special Edition
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Throughout their three-decade career, Marillion has carved out a place as one of the major players in progressive rock. Like their prog-rock brethren Genesis, the band survived a lead singer change and has forged on, creating critically acclaimed music. Their 17th album, Sounds That Can't Be Made, was originally released in 2012, reaching the top 40 in the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Norway and France. Now it is being rereleased in North America with a bonus disc of radio sessions and demos. The band wastes no time going for it musically on the opening track, "Gaza." A moody intro of keyboards

DeepSoul: Jean Carn - "Don't Let It Go to Your Head"

The 1978 track charted modestly, but its impact lingers in acid jazz and contemporary R&B.
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Any regular reader of this column knows my particular affinity for Philadelphia soul, with its lush orchestration, smooth singers, and smart songwriting.  Jean Carn's 1978 hit "Don't Let It Go to Your Head" embodies these characteristics, and Carn's jazz background adds a touch of sophistication to an already stellar Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff production. Born in Columbus, Georgia but primarily raised in Atlanta, Carn (also spelled "Carne" on some releases) sang in the church choir at four years old.  With her parents' encouragement, she soon learned piano, bassoon, and clarinet.  Carn officially began her singing career with a bang:
The Ryman auditorium was built in 1892 as a tabernacle for evangelist Samuel Porter Jones.  It remained a church until 1943 when the Grand Ole Opry took it over making it into a world famous venue for country music.  When the Opry built a new venue in 1974 the Ryman fell into disrepair until 1992 when Emmylou Harris performed a series of concerts there renewing interest in the building as a venue.  It has since been repaired and remains one of the premier concert houses in the world.While the Opry was primarily an old country and bluegrass venue, it now

Steve Dawson - Rattlesnake Cage

A stunning collection of acoustic masterpieces
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Not sure quite where to file Steve Dawson's Rattlesnake Cage?  Try 'B' for Brilliant. Or Beguiling. Or perhaps 'F' for Fascinating, or 'E' for Endlessly Engaging? The point is, the music on Rattlesnake Cage literally defies categorization.  A solo excursion by Dawson, captured spontaneously and presented without overdubs or effects, it's an absolutely dazzling collection of acoustic explorations. Dawson, the man behind the Vancouver-based Black Hen label, is an absolute string wizard.  As a producer, he generally graces recordings with subtly tasteful and always evocative contributions on an impressive array of arcane stringed instruments - in addition to all manner

Hit Parade: Katy Perry featuring Juicy J - "Dark Horse"

Not one of Katy Perry's better efforts, chart success notwithstanding...
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I must purge "Timber" by Pitbull and Ke$ha out of my brain. This house must be clean. Also, I'm still behind on number one songs. I never did get to Eminem, but I was a teenager in suburban Detroit during his heyday. I've had plenty of Eminem in my life. So, today, I shall turn to the song currently topping the charts: "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry, featuring Juicy J. I've heard Ms. Perry before, having listened to "Roar" for this project. I remember it as being fairly banal, by the books grrrl power stuff. Will "Dark Horse" be different?

Vintage Trouble Premieres "Strike Your Light" From Forthcoming 2nd Album On 'The Tonight Show' (Video)

Vintage Trouble brings the party to 'The Tonight Show' one last time before Leno leaves...
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Vintage Trouble has nearly become the Official House Band of Jay Leno's The Tonight Show this past year, having made four appearances and there's a good reason for it: these guys know how to blow it up on stag. The heat and the sweat lose none of their potency even when being transmitted via satellite into living rooms many thousands of miles away. The band have recorded most, if not all, the material for their follow-up to their incredible debut The Bomb Shelter Sessions and the first single "Strike Your Light" is available digitally. The track doesn't deviate from the incendiary formula
Here's the thing about time; it is not infinite. As such, sometimes things fall to the wayside. Like keeping up with the luminaries of modern popular music. When staying on top of the hits is not your top, or even a top 10, priority, you can find yourself left behind. This is to say that it has been a little while since I've written a Hit Parade, or listened to a Billboard Hot 100 number one song. I've missed "The Monster" by Eminem featuring Rihanna, "Timber" by Pitbull featuring Ke$ha, and "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry featuring Juicy J. Man,
I've talked on numerous pages on this website about how I adore live music, and that I collect recordings of concerts to a ridiculous degree.  It borders on insanity actually.  I have thousands of hours of recordings from bands as diverse as the Grateful Dead to Miles Davis and Bob Dylan to Bill Monroe.  If I sat down right now and started listening to them and didn't stop until they were done I wouldn't be able to stand for months on end.  Yet I am always on the look out for more.  My desire is insatiable.The thing that I love

Daddy Long Legs - The Devil's In The Details

Daddy Long Legs rock the blues up right!
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Southwest Ontario-based Daddy Long Legs are unmistakably a blues band.  But theirs aren't the blues of yesteryear, time-worn and done to death. They bring a ferocious, punk-inspired energy and rockabilly-rebel spirit to The Devil's In The Details, their fifth recording to date. They call it garage blues, an apt description indeed. It's a raw and raucous sound, with lots of distortion and dirt. "A modern take on retro-vintage," says guitarist and vocalist Mike Elliot, who leads the foursome - Chris 'Junior' Mallick on harmonica, with drummer Jeff Wagner and bassist Steve Toms - through eleven hard-rocking tunes credited collectively to