Trying To Get To You

Monday, December 25, 2006

More On The Godfather

Here's a great article on James by Jonathan Lethem that ran in Rolling Stone last year.

Here's James's obituary in the New York Times, written by the great Jon Pareles.

I'll be interested to see how the mainstream media treats his passing; to say that he was "influential" would be an incredible understatement. Modern music as we know it doesn't exist without him.

James Brown: 1933-2006

Farewell to the Godfather of Soul. This clip is from the T.A.M.I. show filmed in 1964. It's a long clip, "Prisoner of Love" into "Please Please Please," and it's stunning. James said later that he never danced faster then he did during "Please Please Please." Elvis used to run the film of it in Graceland, watching it over and over again.

One of a handful of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Rest in peace, Mr. Dynamite.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Everybody's Doing It: My Top Ten Of 2006

As the sun sets on 2006, I'm thinking that this might be my last post of the year. I'm going to Florida (Boca, to be exact) for a few days for some much needed sun, red meat and scotch.

It was a good, fascinating and uncertain year (I'm talking about myself, not music in general, although those adjectives might work as well). Leaving Island has been great - making my next move happen has been a challenge, and being able to listen to whole albums again without asking, "Can this work for Island Def Jam" has been incredibly liberating for me as a listener.

My top 10 is in no particular order. I can't say that any of these records occured for me as an out and out classic, but who knows how they will continue to reveal themselves over time. (And how I was able to listen to anything all the way through with my itchy iPod trigger finger is both a miracle and a mystery.) Here we go:

Bruce Springsteen: We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions – I heard about the project and felt dread; then I heard “O Mary Don’t You Weep” and my face hurt from smiling. I hope Bruce can once again have fun with his own material like he had fun with this. (“O Mary Don’t You Weep,” “Eyes On The Prize”)

Bob Dylan: Modern Times – The first time I ever saw Dylan, I thought he looked like an Old Testament prophet. Now I think he sounds like one, albeit one that has incredible taste in 40’s and 50’s music, and I fully expect to hear him whenever Judgement Day comes. (“When The Deal Goes Down”)

Madeleine Peyroux: Half The Perfect World – Is it an insult in this day an age to say that an album just sounds great and leave it at that? (“River”)

Mastodon: Blood Mountain – Will I ever listen to this again? Doubtful, but it’s a real work of quality and it’ll get me to the next NYC show.

Beck: The Information – Sure, I dis him, and then he comes out with a record I actually like. Bastard. The sucker swings – and it doesn’t even feel that self-conscious. (“Think I’m In Love”)

Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll – If I have to live in a world of post-modern irony, this is the way I like it, served up with a great sense of humor while still managing to convey the joy of rock n’ roll.

The Pipettes: We Are The Pipettes – Makes “novelty record” sound like a true compliment. (“Dirty Mind”)

Mute Math: Mute Math – Radiohead done well and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Everyone is talking Cold War Kids, but these guys might really be the ones to watch. (“Typical”)

Christina Aguilera: Back To Basics - Very inconsistent, but the high points were VERY high. (“Ain’t No Other Man,” “Slow Down Baby”)

Candi Staton: – His Hands - I could listen to hear her sing the phone book. (“His Hands”)

Hard Fi: Stars Of CCTV – It felt lightweight on first listen, and it still kind of feels lightweight, but that doesn't negate it's considerable pleasures. With “Living For The Weekend,” they surprised me. (“Living For The Weekend”)

Albums That I Came To Like:

The Arctic Monkeys
Cat Power (I love her voice; if she can ever get the tunes, valhalla awaits)

Albums I Didn't Love, But I Really Tried Hard:

The Hold Steady
Ray LaMontagne
My Morning Jacket (Is it just me, or do they need to step it up in the songwriting department?)
Neko Case (I kept starting it over and over again, and then found my attention anywhere other than the music.)
Regina Spektor

Albums That I Still Need To Check Out:

Yeah Yeah Yeah's


Neil Young (Ever since he came back to Reprise in the late 80's, he's been given a free pass by a lot of people that should know better; this was a straight up dud, and it shouldn't have been.)
The Flaming Lips
The Raconteurs (I wasn't expecting much, as I think Jack White is pretty overrated, but this record was a snooze. If this is the best that retro power pop can come up with, then stick a fork in the damn thing and call it a day.)

(Indie) Nails On A Chalkboard:

Joanna Newsom
Scott Walker

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Late Favorite With Legs

I'm a sucker for the early 60's girl group sound; the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, the Crystals, etc. Great songs, great productions (especially when done by Phil Spector) sung by very sexy women.

So discovering the Pipettes has been a joy. They're a UK band whole debut CD We Are Pipettes came out this July and had a single "Pull Shapes" chart in the UK top 30. It's obvious that they started out as concept; the polka dot dresses and retro production are a dead giveaway. But the joy and spirit with which these ladies sing has quickly made this one of my favorite albums of the year. 33 minutes of some really fun and sexy pop.

They've got nice legs too.

Download: "Dirty Mind"
Buy It At Amazon

I'd Love To Reply, But I Don't Have Enough Pens

Of all the traits that are attributed to what was magical about the Beatles, it is their sense of humor that is most often overlooked. They (especially John Lennon) were hilarious.

Here is their 1963 Christmas greeting to their fan club. (They did one every year through 1969.) In their rear view mirror was conquering Britain; ahead of them, about five weeks later, was America. Enjoy it - few things feel more "Christmas spirit" than this.

Download: "The Beatles Christmas Message 1963"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Jesse Malin And A Friend

Here’s a sneak preview from Jesse Malin’s new album, Glitter In The Gutter. It’s a ballad, “Broken Radio,” a duet with Jesse and some guy named Bruce. The album, due to be released in late February is coming out on Adeline Records, which is Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day’s label. It’s a good fit – Malin makes the kind of somewhat retro rock (not a dis) of someone who discovered classic rock after they had gone through punk and hardcore first. One of the highlights of the album is a gorgeous piano cover of the Replacements “Bastards Of Young,” which gets right to the meloncholy of the song while highlighting how melodically beautiful the chorus is. I hadn't thought much of the record he made with Ryan Adams a few years back (The Fine Art Of Self Destruction), but this is a big improvement. It’s a very good record.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Stax Rises Again! (Oh God, Please Let It Be Great)

Today it was announced that Stax Records has been reactivated. From the press release:

"It’s a fitting tribute to Stax that not only will its past glories be suitably honored during 2007, but its future will be assured as well. The first new signings to Stax include soul luminary and Stax patriarch Isaac Hayes and superlative vocalist Angie Stone. Isaac Hayes remains an integral force in Stax and beyond, and Angie Stone is widely regarded as one of her generation’s few heirs to the grand tradition of R&B.

“Stax always has been and always will be Soul Music, I was a part of that,” said Hayes. “I am coming back to Stax because there is still so much to do. It’s like coming home.”

“The thrill of putting out music on the label that brought the world Otis, Booker T, the Staples and so many other artists who made me want to sing in the first place is simply indescribable,” added Stone. “I simply can’t believe that I will be a Stax artist – and I’ll be label mates with Isaac Hayes. The staff at Stax share my belief that soul has to stay in touch with its origins. We’re going to make beautiful music together.”

“These two signings sum up our vision for Stax – they represent the roots and the future of the soul tradition,” noted Concord executive VP of A&R John Burk. “As the co-writer, producer and arranger of Stax hits like ‘Soul Man’ and ‘Hold On, I’m Coming,’ as well as the genius behind ‘Shaft,’ ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ and other hugely influential records, Isaac has established himself as a visionary of modern music. And Angie Stone, with her extraordinary voice, artistic intelligence and soulful sensibilities, is ideally suited to carry on the tradition. We’re thrilled that she’s joined us as we enter a new era in which Stax will once again be the home for the greatest artists in soul and R&B.”
I have no doubt that Stax will be able to capitalize on their name and their catalog - I'm curious to see if they can modernize their sound while remaining true to their aesthetic. Who is the audience for Stax on 2007 and beyond? Older blacks? Hipsters? Soul lovers? Anyone buying the Corinne Bailey Rae record? All of the above? It will be the songs that tell the story of how Stax part 2 does - I know there's a demand out there for this music. Let's hope they get it right.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Guest Post: Berlin Review

Thanks to our friend Steve Gottlieb (no, not the guy that runs TVT) we have a great review of Saturday's Lou Reed show.

OK, back at my computer... Here's my Lou Reed rambling review.

They definitely tried to make it an "art" event (Julian Schnabel produced it and gave a short introduction. Does anybody know why Julian Schnabel is famous? I know he recently made some movies but I don't know shit about him beyond that. I added the Wikipedia link - Ed.) Before the show started there was a huge screen across the front of the stage that showed crashing waves while an audio loop of guitar feedback kept playing. Cool effect.

Curtain parts and they went into Berlin. Sounded great. No bullshit between songs, no introductions, just the album. The arrangements were pretty true to the original album but a bit meatier; more guitar, more bite, more power. It's actually a really good album, I'm surprised it was viewed as such a disaster upon release. Oh well. They had a a horn section, a string section and a children's choir. It was especially fun to watch the kids in the choir bop along to these songs about doing drugs and committing suicide.

The set design was fucking abysmal. There was this Parisian style (?) wallpaper on the back wall on which they showed huge short films that showed the basic bits of the album's relationship. The films were directed by Julian Schnabel's daughter and they were pure arty bullshit. It was cool that the films were so big they projected on the band members as well, so it was kind of a nod to the old Exploding Plastic Inevitable/Warhol Velvet Underground shows.

There was an askew couch that dangled from the ceiling. It had a huge white striped painted on it. For the first few songs I thought it was meant to be a piece of the Berlin wall. It was a couch. Why? Who knows.

And worst of all, Bob Ezrin was on stage for like the entire show, facing and conducting the drummer. He was wearing a long coat that had Berlin written on the back. Neither the drummer nor anybody seemed to need his conduction. In fact, all the important complex changes were done by the keyboard player who would stand and conduct those parts. I assume Ezrin was on-stage as an ego-stroke to him or to provide one more visual element.

The encore was three songs: "Sweet Jane," "Candy Says" (a duet between Antony and Reed) and this more recent song "Rock Minuet". It was during "Sweet Jane" that you realized how great the Berlin performance was. We went from this passionate, cathartic song cycle filled with passionate solos and big smiles on everyone's faces (except Lou, who I think is incapable of moving his face). "Sweet Jane" was almost plodding. Everybody looked fucking bored. Like, "Here we go, playing essentially three chords for the millionth time."

Antony's version of "Candy Says" is fucking incredible. If you don't have Lou's Animal Serenade live album you should get it just for that. He also, coincidentally or not, does three Berlin songs on that album. The versions in Brooklyn were better than what they did on that tour.

"Rock Minuet" was something I never heard, but it fit the vibe. Drugs, sex, violence. Awesome.

So, there ya go. They had film cameras all over the place so I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a concert film with a small art-house theatrical release.

Oh, and we also found this bar that had a great line-up of speciality beers at dirt cheap prices in DUMBO. Good stuff.

And, it's impossible to get a slice of pizza in DUMBO after midnight.



Friday, December 15, 2006

A Life Worthy Of Celebration

"Ahmet would come in to a session and ask you if you wanted a pastrami sandwich. He’d order it from the Jewish deli, then start yakking in French on another phone. A pleasant Jewish man name of Wexler is cussing out a late drummer with some mighty greasy Lenox Avenue jive. Me, the black preacher, the apprentice mortician from Philadelphia, standing at the mike. Signing country and western. Now what would I call those years at Atlantic? Broadway fricassee."
-Solomon Burke
The news of Ahmet Ertegun’s death yesterday at the age of 83 is indeed sad news, and it is one of the few times when the phrase “the end of an era” rings true as opposed to feeling like hyperbole. But as I write this, listening to the Atlantic R&B 1947-1974 box set, I’m smiling. The man had an incredible life, a life worth celebrating. As much as any non-performer, he (along with his partner Jerry Wexler and their engineer non-pareil, Tom Dowd) was responsible for what r&b, soul (and as a result, rock) music became. As a record company head, producer and writer, Ertegun and Atlantic’s contribution to American music and culture was immense beyond measure. The artists speak for themselves: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Donnie Hathaway, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Ben E. King, the Stax-Volt roster (including Otis Redding), Roberta Flack, the Spinners, Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge and more. In rock, there was Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones (from 1971-1984), Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, the Bee Gees, Yes and others. In Jazz (helmed by his brother Nesuhi) there was John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Milt Jackson, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Herbie Mann and Les McCann. Never before (or since) has a label had such a wide ranging, tasteful, financially successful and culturally significant roster.

Much of that success was due to Ertegun, because of who he was. The son of a diplomat and someone whose infatuation of music was begun by seeing Duke Ellington at the age of nine, he was equally at home at the swankiest society party and at the most low down juke joint in the south – and it was that combination of high and low, urbane and profane, uptown and downtown that when it was at it’s peak, was Atlantic’s hallmark. Atlantic also showed that great taste and shrewd business were not mutually exclusive propositions.

It was Ertegun who began using the term “soul” itself, to classify the music being made; being a jazz hound, he found the term adopted by black jazz musicians in New York, as a backlash against some of the snobbery of musicianship that in their mind, made jazz somehow less black. Atlantic lead the pack in the categorization of the music, with Ray Charles titles like, “A Bit Of Soul” (1955) and “Hornful of Soul” (1956). As Ertegun recounted to Gerri Hershey in her great early 80's book about soul, Nowhere To Run about the genesis of the title of the Milt Jackson/Ray Charles collaboration Soul Brothers (1957),

“We called it Soul Brothers but I wasn’t thinking so much of the notion it conjures today. ‘Soul Brother’ wasn’t part of the language then. But in Turkey (Ertegun’s native country) we have this concept. People who become very good friends declare one another brothers or sisters in the hereafter. They call themselves soul brothers or soul sisters. It’s a Turkish Muslim phrase. And I thought that it would be a groovy thing, since they dug one another so much, to call the album Soul Brothers. But it’s accidental.”
A Turkish phrase to classify the most American of music - that typified Atlantic in it’s heyday; a melding together of people of various backgrounds - Turks, blacks, jews and southern whites, that created something so powerful and so resonant that it has become an essential part world's cultural fabric. A life that will be remembered and celebrated as long as Atlantic's best music is played. And as a music lover, listener, participant and executive who life has been enriched and given direction to by the music that he was involved in creating and then inspiring, all I can say is; Ahmet, thank you.

Download: Aretha Franklin: "Drown In My Own Tears"

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Saving The Album With Some Dorky Fun has a great website up called Save The Album. It's a page of videos of indie-rockers talking about their favorite records. I'm not a huge fan of any of the acts on the page, but I'm an endless sucker for pretty much anyone talking about their favorite records. The dude from Les Savy Fav's video is pretty good; he makes a very interesting point that since albums are no longer technologically necessary, it opens up completely new possibilities for the album form itself.

Insound is only selling mp3's in album form - no individual tracks. Good on them for putting their money where their mouth is.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

OK, I Guess Berlin IS A Masterpiece

Interesting piece in the NY Times today about Lou Reed doing four performances of his 1973 album Berlin at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn beginning tomorrow night. My favorite quote from the piece is this:

“I admire it. It’s trying to be real, to apply novelists’ ideas and techniques into a rock format.” He mentioned William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., Allen Ginsberg and Raymond Chandler as literary models.

“But it sounds so pretentious saying that.” he added. “It just sounds too B.A. in English. Which I have. So there you go.”

I think I might steal that line in the future when I encounter something incredibly pretentious, "That just sounds too B.A. in English."

isn't my favorite Lou Reed solo record by a long shot; my favorite is New York, which I think is one of Reed's greatest showcases of his gift for detail, as well as his famously acerbic sensibility. (I confess to not being wholly familiar with many of his solo records.) But I do wish I had tix for this show.

Download: "Men Of Good Fortune"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Thoughts About Otis

I think one of the great, unanswerable questions of the rock n’ soul era is, “What would have happened if Otis Redding had lived?”

Three days before he died on December 10, 1967, he recorded what is generally regarded to be his greatest song, “Dock Of The Bay.” In June of that year, performing at the Monterey Pop festival as the only soul artist on a bill with rock and folk rock acts, he was one of the festival’s biggest winners (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and perhaps the Who would have been his only competition), performing in front of a predominately white audience for the first time. He was the soul performer most touched by what was going on in the rock world; looking for new directions in his own music, he wore out copies of “Sgt. Pepper,” and he sat with Bob Dylan, telling him that he would cover “Just Like A Woman.” He was an artist consciously moving beyond the limits he had once had in place, aware that he was risking alienating his core audience. Jim Stewart, the owner of Stax, didn’t even like “Dock Of The Bay,” according to Booker T & the MG’s bassist, Duck Dunn,

“It was just too far over the border for Jim. It had no r&b in it whatsoever, according to what Stax was. And I agreed with Jim at the time. I thought it might even be detrimental."
Just as James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” (released in 1967) signified with it’s skeletal beats the direction where black rhythms would go, “Dock Of The Bay” symbolized another shift – the merging of soul with folk and rock, and it was a shift that with Redding’s death, came to a rapid end. What other incredible songs were ready to flow from Redding’s pen and mouth? We’ll never know - one of the truly tragic "what if's" in rock n' soul history.

Download: "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" (Take One)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Madeline Covers Joni

Madeline Peyroux has lately become one of my favorite interpretive singers - over the course of her past two (excellent) records, she's covered Dylan, Tom Waits, Johnny Mercer and others, in addition to writing some fine songs in collaboration with others.

Here's an absolutely wonderful cover of Joni Mitchell's "River," (one of my favorite Christmas songs from one of my favorite albums, Blue) featuring K.D. Lang. It's a beautiful and sparse arrangement - you can almost feel the winter chill in the air in the space between the stand up bass and the brushes on the snare. But in the stateliness of the arrangement, there's also a real warmth.

Download: "River"
Buy It At Amazon

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Woody And Billy, Part II

I wonder if Woody ever showed up at a Billy Graham revival. That in and of itself would make an unbelievable movie.

Taxi Driver

During the ride back to Brooklyn tonight, I was lost in my thoughts for a few minutes until the some great, unfamiliar soul and blues on the radio took me out of myself. I asked the cabdriver what station we were listening to, and all of a sudden, he came to life. "Oh, this is the Columbia station. Every Tuesday night they play great soul for a few hours," he informed me. He asked me excitedly if I liked soul music - I answered that I did and then he started peppering me with questions about where I grew up, my background, etc. He was a Bronx native, still living there, obviously intelligent and obviously very eccentric. A classic New Yawker. The kind of guy who argues about the Yankees while eating a hot dog with mustard dribbling on his shirt while reading Moby Dick. I asked him if he thought that people would be interested in buying this kind of music in perhaps a slightly more modern context. "Oh yeah," he exclaimed, "There's always people out there who are DYING for this kind of stuff."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The REAL Surreal Life

Wow - I don't even know what to say about this, but it's two American icons, Woody Allen and evangelist Billy Graham chatting on Woody's talk show in the late 1960's. Unbelievable.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Sincerity Of Damien Rice

In early 2003, Damien Rice’s O (which came out in 2002 in the U.K.) started making the rounds of the major labels. I was working at Island Records at the time, and I recall the collection of “ooohs” and “aaahs” the album left in it’s initial wake. The album didn’t do a whole lot for me. I found it pleasant to listen to; it sounded good sonically, and it was obvious that the guy was intense, man, but I didn’t get the sense of any real soul underneath – it was all earnest and self-conscious “passion.” If there was an emo division for European singer-songwriters, this record would clearly have been at the top of the heap. (And it hit the top: O won the Shortlist Prize for 2003 and went gold in the U.S., and triple platinum in the U.K.)

Soon after, Rice had a showcase at Joe’s Pub, which was attended by a ton of labels. I was there with the Island crew, and a couple of songs into his set my laissez-faire attitude about Mr. Rice was quickly replaced by one of irritation. Preciousness seeped out of every note he played and sang; a vibe of “I’m an artiste” all-pervasive. There wasn’t a moment of humor or lightness – it was a fetishization of depression; the kind of romanticized downer that most of the world is smart enough to give up by the time they’re old enough to know better. Not so the crowd at Joe’s Pub on that winter night. Most of the audience had a rapturous look on their face as they watched the show; I quickly knew that I was waaaaaay in the minority in my opinion about Mr. Rice…and I also knew that this was the kind of stuff that a lot of people eat up.

Fast forward almost four years later, I’m listening to Damien’s new album, 9, and the word that comes to mind over and over again is sincerity. Often, people give sincerity a free pass because they confuse being sincere with being authentic. Sincerity is the pretense of authenticity. It’s the overwhelming sincerity of Damien Rice’s music that gives me the icky feeling that I have, a feeling that I’m listening to shtick as opposed to something real, especially when I hear lines like “I love your depression and I love your double chin/I love most everything you bring to this offering” (“The Animals Were Gone"). The tortured soul routine in Rice’s hands comes off as self-flagellation, a device in which the artist tells how awful he is, which is then supposed to elevate him in our eyes, newly absolved from sin because he has confessed it to us. I’m sure this works for many; for me, it occurs as fraudulent - an artist deceiving himself first, and then deceiving his audience.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Best Soul You've Never Heard: Volume 1

One of the many wonderful things about being a soul music aficionado is that there’s an endless amount of incredible music to discover. I was in I was in Amoeba Records in L.A. this past March, and found a compilation called The Sound Of Philadelphia: Philadelphia Roots, Volume 2: 1965-1973. I’m a big Philly soul fan, but like millions of others, my knowledge of the genre basically started and ended with Philadelphia International records and Gamble and Huff, and artists like the O’Jays, the Three Degrees and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

The compilation didn’t kill me overall, but I found one absolute gem on it. “Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)” by Frankie Beverly and the Butlers is one of those great R&B songs that should have been a hit but never was. (It was released on Sassy Records, a regional independent way too undercapitalized to do the amount of promotion needed to turn the song into a national hit.) The opening rumble of the bass leads into a killer kick drum pattern – and then the strings come in. Philadelphia soul records were known for the lushness of their strings, but often, that lushness would come at the expense of the funkiness of the track. Not so on this one – the pocket that the drummer finds is so delicious that even if the track was an instrumental, it’d still be a lost classic. And if Frankie Beverly’s vocals are quite the most distinctive you’ve ever heard, on this track he had his moment of being up there with the greats.

I don't know if anyone has sampled this track, but if it hasn't been, it should. It would make the foundation for a KILLER track.

Download: "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)"