Trying To Get To You

Sunday, March 30, 2008

In The Surreal Department

Springsteen and Nelly? I would bet on this NOT happening. I can just imagine the scene at the Springsteen's home:

Bruce: "Hey Ev! (Evan is Springsteen's oldest son) What do you think about me doing something with Nelly?

Evan: "Who? Oh, Nelly. Uh, I don't know Dad...he's kind of over."

Bruce: "Yeah, I've never really considered it seriously. But I couldn't say no outright. I met him at an awards show. He said he wanted to do something and I didn't know what to say. I wouldn't want to lose that nice guy reputation of mine."

Evan: "You're a dork."

Nelly Wants Springsteen Collaboration

By DERRIK J. LANG Associated Press Writer

Mar 29th, 2008 | LOS ANGELES -- Nelly is bummed he wasn't able to collaborate with Bruce Springsteen on his new album.

"I was really trying to get The Boss, but The Boss is all over the world," Nelly told The Associated Press on the orange carpet at Saturday's Kids Choice Awards. "It didn't really work out. I know he's interested in doing it. And I'm interested in doing it."

Nelly was mum on what a duet with Springsteen would've sounded like, but the "Hot In Here" rapper is hopeful he'll be able to work with the "Born to Run" rock and roller later this year.

"We still might get a chance to get it off," Nelly said. "We're saving it. We might repackage it for the holidays."

The 33-year-old rapper from St. Louis last formed an unlikely union in 2004 when he teamed up with country star Tim McGraw for the song "Over and Over" from Nelly's album "Suit."

"Brass Knuckles," Nelly's fifth album set for release in June, won't be lacking in names. Akon, Ashanti, Chuck D, Ciara, LL Cool J, Lil Wayne, Pimp C, Snoop Dogg and T.I. are all set to appear. "Party People," the first single off the album, features Fergie.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and more: "Fine and Mellow"

Billie Holiday. Coleman Hawkins. Lester Young. Ben Webster. Sublime.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

U2: Pretention in 3D

Once upon a time, I loved U2. I discovered them when War was released early in 1983 and I was immediately taken by their passion and intensity. Not being familiar with punk and post-punk at that point in my life, their sound simply sounded more modern than what I accustomed to listening to, but they still obviously had spiritual ties to artists who I loved, like The Who and Springsteen.

Even more importantly to me, U2 felt like they they were mine. I loved the Beatles, the Stones and the Who (I hadn't gotten fully into soul music yet), but they belonged to the 60's and 70's. Springsteen had been around for 10 years by then. U2 were ten years older than me, but they were a band for my generation. And I liked that. As the band grew in skill, size and stature, it felt like a triumph that I had some small part in helping to create.

My love peaked in May of 1987 on the Joshua Tree tour. I stood in the back of the then Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands and was simultaneously overwhelmed and ecstatic. I was so enamored with them that the next day, when I was DJ'ing at my high school's radio station, I played nothing but U2, and got several complaints in the process.

The first chink in the armor for me came with the album and film release of Rattle & Hum in the fall of 1988. I was in my freshman year of college, and I went to a showing one night and thought to myself, "This isn't that great." The movie felt ponderous to me, trying to attach a weightiness that simply wasn't present. As I discovered other artists and genres I found myself rarely listening to them and began to matter less and less to me; I looked upon them as an adolescent infatuation that I still felt good about, but I couldn't fool myself any longer that they were much more than that.

Achtung Baby changed that for me, at least temporarily. Like many who had were worn out with the old U2, I found their post-modern guise to be utterly refreshing and I loved both the album and the arena tour that followed. (The Nassau Coliseum show they did in March of '92 was the best U2 show I've ever seen.) But after that, and with albums like Zooropa, Pop, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, I got off the bus for good. I enjoyed the MSG shows I saw in 2001 and 2005, but while I still had moments of goosebumps, I was now also having many moments of thinking that Bono was a self-important putz.

So tonight a buddy of mine and I went to see U2 3D. And from the opening notes of the overrated "Vertigo," I found Bono's self-seriousness to be almost suffocating. The band's talent is undeniable; Edge's guitar remains one of the most inventive styles of the modern rock era, Larry Mullen is solid as a rock and Adam Clayton's sinewy and stylish bass lines are a crucial, yet unheralded aspect of the band's sound. And Bono, despite my aversion to his manner, has improved as a vocalist over the years; his range has broadened and his vocals can move from powerful to winsome in a moment.

But sitting in the dark of the theater with my 3D glasses on (the 3D element was cool, but didn't add that much), it felt like someone was trying to press my "emotion button" over and over again. There was no relief, no humor, no counterweight to balance the portentousness of the music and the message. Yes Bono, war is bad. And it would be great if all of the children of Abraham could "coexist," as you put it. But the admirable sentiment has curdled into self-righteousness, a creeping smugness that has almost suffocated the band's considerable attributes. And worse, the new songs aren't that great.

I shouldn't say I didn't laugh at all during the film, I did. It was when Bono put on his "Coexist" bandana over his eyes and sang. He looked ridiculous. In that moment, I remembered that Beavis & Butthead used to call Bono, "Boner." And I cracked up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Please Stop Releasing Music

Dear Musicians,

I am a big fan of music, as you know. However, I am currently backlogged with albums and songs to listen to. I have about 35 albums currently that not only do I want to hear, but I really want to delve into and listen to more than once. However, I don't have time to do that. So, could you all please refrain from releasing any more music until about mid-June? I should be caught up by then. Thanks in advance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How Did I Miss Joy Denalane?

I’m officially embarrassed. I’m someone who prides himself on being in the know about soul – so how did I miss Joy Denalane? The German soul singer, the product of a black South African father and a German mother released a great album in 2006, Born & Raised and I just discovered it this weekend from eMusic. Her voice, while powerful, has a wonderfully refreshing degree of subtlety, a trait that has been lost on most soul singers in the post-Mariah and Whitney era. While vaguely reminiscent of Mary J. Blige (who she tributes in “7 Year Itch”), her tone is all her own; earthy, sultry, sexy and wise. In short, she sings like a Goddess.

Born & Raised is Denalane’s first album recorded in English (her other work has been in German) and to get the soul vibe, she and her producer Max Herre went to Philadelphia to record, with mainstays like Larry Gold contributing as well as some cameos by Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco. Her remake of Raekwon’s “Heaven or Hell” is flat out fantastic, and the album, on the whole, is a joy to listen to. Thankfully, it’s not neo-soul; it’s not nearly as self-conscious. Instead, it’s a great piece of modern soul that has its feet firmly planted in the present, even though its obviously inspired by the great soul (and hip hop) music from the past. Go get it now!

Download: “Heaven or Hell” (featuring Raekwon)
Buy Joy Denalane at eMusic

Thursday, March 20, 2008

One More SXSW Contributor

Greg in San Francisco writes in...

So when Ben mentioned off handedly to me that Darondo was playing on Friday afternoon at 4:15, I freaked out. The first person I called was Tim Broun, who took the amazing photo to the left. Tim and I had recently been talking about Darondo, as Darondo had played a show around last Christmas in San Francisco and it had totally flown under my radar. Darondo doesn't play much. He never did back in the day nor does he now. He lives out in the East Bay in a suburb and is retired and a bit amused, from what I've read, about the his recent resurgence. Anyway, I arrived at 4:12PM and his band was talking to the crowd getting us warmed up in the hot afternoon sun. I spotted Tim and walked over. Darondo came onstage and the band kicked into a song that I think was "How I Got Over" (though if someone does know, please correct me). Darondo proceeded to shimmy, shake, roll across the stage and generally act like he was about 20 years old. A friend of mine leaned towards me and said "he should be fronting the Rolling Stones" and I had to agree. After the song ended he spoke a bit about his own "legend" as it were. How he was just too fast for people in his own time because he was riding around in a Rolls Royce and had women all over him. Then he broke into "Legs." Again, he wasn't singing the high notes, but he sang with (and I hate to use this word) authenticity. I say that not because he was old, not because he was African American, but because he was truly authentic. It's a bit like the Supreme Court ruling on pornography, I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. And Darondo is it, no question. His band was good too, though not quite as dirty as his original recordings. On some of those songs I often wondered if they were 1st or 2nd takes that the producer just said "that's good enough". Not to say they're bad, but they're a bit loose & gritty sometimes, which I think lends to Darondo's vocals. But after "Legs" he sadly left the stage. The band announced a Saturday night gig, but I was leaving well beforehand so I missed it, though I did get a report that he played 5 songs Saturday night. This two song set was by far the best show I've seen at SxSW in years. I saw a few really good ones this year, but this stood head and shoulders above the rest. Do yourself a favor, if you ever get the chance to see Darondo, drop whatever you're doing and go. They don't make them like him anymore.

Oh and Ironworks; the pork ribs are fantastic, but my heart's with the brisket.

PS: Ben actually missed this 2 song set or he would be writing the review. None of us knew it would be only 2 songs and he was late getting there.

PPS: I have to agree too on Earl Greyhound. They got the looks, the chops &and the moves, but not the songs....yet. They remind of the Witnesses in that respect. But I do hope they get the songs, because if they did, I think they would kill.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Guest Contributor: John Clairvoyant on Iron Maiden

Editors Note: I debated posting this Iron Maiden piece on this blog. This is, after all, a blog that is ostensibly about all things soulful. But the piece is fun, and Mr. Clairvoyant is as expert in the area of Heavy Metal and hard rock as I am about Aretha circa 1967-1972, and I always have a healthy respect for those that are as geeky as I am in their preferred field of expertise. I think it's official that this is now the only blog that has written in depth about both Bobby Womack and Iron Maiden. I'm proud.

Iron Maiden Concert Review

Izod Arena: March 14, 2008
By: John Clairvoyant
Top 10 Reason Why Maiden Still Rule

10. They over deliver live every time. No “stripped down” production. No “jazz explorations in front of a festival crowd” to waste time. No “auto pilot” sets. Full-on metal attack from “Aces High” through the end of “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”

9. Each and every member still plays like their life depended on it. No one member of the band “carries” the other to cover flubs.

8. When you go to a Maiden show, you have the option to buy merch from PREVIOUS tours and previous albums. Now there’s a concept. Because don’t forget, even though Eddie is a chameleon, he’s a metal constant!

7. Impeccable, crystal clean, separated live sound. And VERY LOUD too. Better arena sound than The Stones, Van Halen or Springsteen. Not even close.

6. You’re guaranteed to see a new robotic Eddie every tour. And yeah, the 6 year old behind me was drooling when Eddie strolled during out “Iron Maiden” (which closed the main set). Awesomely, the Eddie from this tour is the Somewhere In Time Eddie!

5. All killer-no-filler. This tour focuses on every massive Maiden song you’d ever want to hear. From “Aces High” to “Wasted Years” to the ENTIRE “Rime Of the Ancient Mariner” (not played in perhaps 20 some years). 16 songs of pure headbangin’ exctasy. Yeah, the band made their fans suffer through their ENTIRE new album on their last Matter of Life and Death tour. Ballsy move, but one for which I give the band full credit for trying. If Bowie, Costello, or Neil Young did it, critics would call it “ambitious.” But not this time. Too many pissed of mullet heads in the bathroom on that last tour.

4. No drum solo. No guitar solos. No solos PERIOD! Just songs with long solos DURING them, but no needless noodling.

3. Bruce Dickinson is singing better than ever. Not an easy feat with songs like “Fear of the Dark” and “Run To The Hills” which would give any lesser singer a complex just thinking about.

2. There’s no irony in this shit. They mean it man. It’s like Nirvana never happened. And remember that Nirvana liked Slayer, and there’s no irony in that either.


1. REASONABLE ticket prices. The most expensive ticket was 59 bucks with a production BIGGER than Van Halen, Eric Clapton or most notably, The Police.

1. The band comes back on June 15th to play MSG and announce it on-stage so fans can plan ahead. Crowd goes ballistic. Up the Irons!

Monday, March 17, 2008

SXSW: Day Three

We have a special guest writer (who shall remain anonymous) to capture night three far better than I can. By Friday night, my feet were killing me and I was starting to get grouchy. Seeing X made me feel a little better, but the lines to see MGMT had me more than a little annoyed. Our guest's tastes are more indie-centric than my own, but I like different viewpoints. And we agree about Ironworks BBQ - he loved the meat and I loved the pork ribs. God bless.

Friday Night was my big band night...

Began at Stubbs where I caught a bit of The Ting Tings for the third time while in Austin. They embody what SXSW is really all about for me. I had never heard of em before and I left the festival loving em. I thought they really held and then elevated the large crowd at Stubbs. "That's Not My Name" and "Great DJ" both sound like hits to me. Should appeal to those who claim to like M.I.A. (who I do really like) but would prefer something a bit more charming and tuneful.

Santogold was next at Stubbs and was one of those acts I didn't know too much about, but wanted to check out based purely on the buzz. Didn't do much for me. Even the two dancers bored me. Probably works better in headphones or in a club.

Inertia is a powerful force, so I stayed at Stubbs for MGMT. That album hadn't blown me away in my one listen, though I think "Time To Pretend" is the best single of the year. They really delivered live and I've since gone back to the CD with fresh ears. Struck me as a mix of Flaming Lips and Built To Spill, riding a wave of trippy guitar. Band looked and sounded big. "Time To Pretend" was strangely treated as a throwaway cut, as if they've already tired of the tune. Probably a good sign...

Next stop was supposed to be Nicole Atkins. I really like everything I've heard by her and my friend is the guitarist. They play all the time in NYC, yet I've never seem em live. That remains the case.

In one of those SXSW great drunken redirections, I was convinced to get see Vampire Weekend at Antones. My protestations that we'd never get in seemed to be confirmed by the huge line wrapped around the block. We were saved, however, by my friend who convinced the doorman that he worked for XL, even though the business card he flashed was for a totally different company. We were quickly ushered in and made our way to the side of the stage. As for the band? They were great. Way above most other bands I saw at SXSW. Great energy on-stage. Super tight. Crowd was into it and singing along. Actual hooks and memorably quirky rhythms. Is it Beatlemania? Not quite, but there's something to this band. Check em out.

We were already past Congress so we moved a few blocks further away from the 6th st/Red River center of the Festival to see The Knux. I work with the band, so I won't comment too much, other than to say that these guys have the personality, charisma and talent to win over hip-hop purists and the indie rock set.

Next we headed all the way back to Stubbs to see N.E.R.D. I was outvoted. That said, Pharrell can work a crowd. Most of the new stuff sounded like Gnarls Barkley and served as filler between the knucklehead "jump around" anthems that made em famous.

Other bands I saw:

Jay Reatard - Mostly because Tom Scharpling plays em all the time on his (mostly) call-in WFMU show. Unfortunately, I've never heard the tunes because I listen to the podcast and WFMU strips out the songs. Not at all what i expected, but fun. Reminded me of Nuclear Assault. That's a good thing.

Earl Greyhound - Zeppelinesque rock. Dug it. Don't remember a single song, so Ben may be correct.

No Age - Tripped out and atmospheric indie punk rock. Great show, even if the playing was pretty damn sloppy. I'll give em a pass tho, since it was 1pm and they looked like they've never seen the sun before. And, I think sloppiness is part of the charm.

Clipse - Solid. I think it's funny that these guys and Ghostface Killah are worshiped by indie kids who probably don't listen to any other hip-hop.

Darker My Love - Another group I work with, so I'll keep it brief. The Verve meets Surrealistic Pillow meets Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Kind of...

Yo La Tengo - A mellow, mainly acoustic show in the day outside a museum. Great. Easy to forget how good they are.

And most importantly: Ironworks BBQ. Get the combo plate. Thank me later. Also, the chopped beef sandwich they Stubbs sells at the venue is probably the best food to be found at any rock club or arena. Wash it down with a Shiner Bock or two.

Friday, March 14, 2008

SXSW: Day Two

I didn't see as many artists last night as I would have liked to. There were ridiculously long lines as several of the venues I wanted to get into. So it was a good night to have a some drinks with friends, walk down 6th street and take in the sights and sounds.

I did get to see Eli Reed & the True Loves, who played a fine set. The band has gotten better since I last saw them; tighter, more confident and increasingly self-assured. Eli has developed as a singer and the crowd at Club DeVille was genuinely into the show. But there's something missing - sex. A great (male) soul singer, black or white, has more than a bit of the seducer in them, and right now, Eli is way too nice. "Nice" and "soul" do not mix. A bit of the nasty would do this band good, and I'm willing to bet they've got it in them.

I've been anxious to see Alice Russell since last spring when I first heard her. So I when she began her set at the Elephant last night, I was excited. The show started slowly and I was beginning to have a feeling of buyer's remorse. But she gathered strength as the set went on and there were moments (albeit fewer than I was hoping for) when I was thinking, "She's got it." My biggest criticism of Alice would be that her songs, for the most part, are not a strong enough match for her very wonderful voice. They fall into what I call the "Giant Step trap"; vibey and cool but nothing to hang your hat on.

The relative lack of strength of Alice's songs became apparent when toward the end of the set she did her best song, "Hurry On Now," and the energy of the room immediately shifted. People started getting out of their seats to dance and it was just joyful in the club. She followed with a cover of a White Stripes song (I'm forgetting which one) and the joint erupted. When the band finished, the audience demanded an encore - and they got one.

One of the best things I saw all night was a band playing on the street. I didn't get their name, but they were doing absolutely nailing some folk and gospel songs.

Here's the scene on 6th Street:

More action to come.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

SXSW 2008: Night One

It's a lot of fun to be be attending SXSW in a non-major label A&R capacity. It used to be that I'd have to attend some sort of "buzz show," which would usually consist of some pretty awful band. I don't have to do that anymore.

The unquestionable highlight for me last night was Salt & Samovar's set at Buffalo Billiards as part of the KCRW showcase. Passionate, intelligent and occasionally explosive rock that felt like an unholy mix of 60's garage punk as played by a group that wrote their dissertations on Tolstoy while listening to Music From Big Pink, band was undeniably great. David Moltz's lead guitar was very impressive; both jagged and highly melodic and the bands vocals and harmonies were stellar. The Brooklyn based band is definitely a one to watch and is deserving of the considerable amount of attention they're garnering.

Other bands:

The Ting Ting's: An enjoyable set by a two piece from Manchester. The kids in Williamsburg will eat them up.

Earl Greyhound: A band I like in concept far more than in execution. They sound great; great drummer, good guitarist and a fine lead vocalist. But there are no songs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SXSW: They're Coming

Volunteers preparing registration goodie bags for incoming registrants for SXSW. The music portion of the conference begins today.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Nassau Coliseum: 3/10/08

All I can say about last night's Springsteen show is that he continually amazes me. At 58 years old, he remains as committed to the idea of being in concert with his audience; that his performance is a two way communication between artist and audience. The sheer joy on the faces of the 15,000 people in attendance reminds me like nothing else that music, at its best, is a transformative experience that gets people in touch with the best parts of themselves.

I got to watch the show with my brother (who took me to my first Bruce show when I was a teenager), some of my closest friends and I even ran into some friends from elementary school. Much of the history of my life was there, all within a ten foot radius of each other. And then there was Bruce, the man who has been my major source of inspiration for the past twenty five years. With him, I picked a good hero.

(The following photos were taken by me last night. You'll get the idea of what kind of show it was.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

If You're A Blogger...

...and you're going to SXSW, let me know. No, I'm not going to interactive, but I'll be there from Tuesday on. I'd love to meet some of you.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Unwanted Soul

See the look on that guy's face? Well, I'm better looking, but I had a similar look of discomfort on my face a few minutes ago...

I'm on the subway and it's crowded. It's hot as hell on the train; the heat on the train is on, even though it's 55 degrees and humid outside. Everyone looks miserable. I've left my iPod headphones at home, so there's no respite from the general unpleasantness.

And then...

The train doors open and in walks a woman, obviously homeless. I'm expecting her to begin to ask for money, but instead, she begins to sing Diana Ross's "Theme From Mahogany," right next to my ear. Real loud. And while some homeless subway singers are occasionally great, this woman is not. Now usually, the subway singer starts at one end of the train and makes her way down. But for whatever reason, she stays right next to me, belting it out. Passengers are looking at one another; some angrily, some with a bemused "what are you gonna do" expression on their faces. I start thinking of the movie Mahogany. I barely remember it. Billy Dee Williams was in it. I start having weird thoughts: "What's Billy Dee Williams doing these days? Was Billy Dee Williams the Denzel Washington of his time? I wonder if Billy Dee and Diana did it?" Stuff like that. After three and a half excruciating minutes, we begin to pull into the station. She asks for money. None is forthcoming. The train doors open. She leaves. Relief at last.

As my body begins to relax in walks another man, a rasta. He's holding a paper bag filled with coins. You know how sometimes you just know everything that's going to happen about two seconds before it actually goes down? Well, I know what's going to happen.

He begins to sing, "A Change Is Gonna Come." He's better than the Diana Ross tribute woman, but he's not great. I have a charge of anger pulse through me, and then, I can't help it, I start to smile broadly, stifling the laughter that comes when you're feeling that life is but a joke. Rastaman sees me smile and takes it as a sign to sing to me. I get the second verse about a foot away from my face. Somewhere, someone is having a laugh at my expense. I can take it.

Finally, he finishes, looks at me, and as the train is about to make the next stop, exclaims, "That was Sam Cooke everyone, and no one sings Sam better than me, except for Sam! I am the son of Sam!" And he looks at me. The encyclopedia in my brain begins to give me the artists who've all done Sam Cooke better. I almost consider blurting a couple of them out. But I smile and nod instead. Smart move.

I'm double checking on the iPod headphones tomorrow morning.