If you think you don't know the music of Stephen Marley, you do-you just don't realize it. A member of the celebrated Marley sibling group The Melody Makers since the age of seven, the Grammy winning producer, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist has also been the driving creative force behind the music of his brothers. Stephen's production, performance and writing credits recently earned him two Grammys-giving him a total of five: more than any other Marley family member or reggae artist in history.
Born in 1972, the second son of Bob Marley, Stephen was dancing and singing onstage during his father and The Wailers' live shows (alongside older siblings Ziggy and Cedella) by the time he was old enough to walk. As a young boy, he stayed at home-as Ziggy and Cedella entered school-where he would shadow his father, mimic his speech and quickly fall in love with such future reggae anthems as "Lively Up Yourself." At seven, he began learning guitar on a nylon-stringed acoustic.
In 1979, he made his official debut when he, Ziggy, Cedella and Sharon-collectively known as The Melody Makers-cut their first single, "Children Playing in the Streets," followed in 1985 by their debut LP, Play the Game Right. Over the next decade, the group would follow in their father's footsteps, racking up Grammy awards and bringing conscious songs and one-love rhythms to every corner of the globe.
With his highly anticipated debut album, not only does the sound and soul of Stephen Marley come into vivid focus, but the 34 year-old artist is now inevitably stepping to center stage for the first time in his 27 year career. Appropriately, Mind Control is all Stephen and a cornucopia of the sounds and styles that he loves: a blend of reggae, rock, R&B, nyabinghi rhythms, flamenco and hip-hop. It's an album with the grit and flavor to
rock old-school Kingston sound systems and slippery, waxed Miami Range Rovers alike.
Featuring cameos from roots-rock star Ben Harper, hip-hop hero Mos Def and younger brother Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, it's a collection of songs that range from conscious critiques of society ("Mind Control") and politics ("Chase Dem"), to the sweet and open- hearted ("Hey Baby"), to the simple and fun (the sexy, club-rocking, Latin-tinged grinder "Let Her Dance," which features Maya Azucena & Illestr8).
"My joy and my pain, this is me," Marley says, humbly. "It's a page from my book: Every page tells a story, but at the same time is a continuation of the page before it or the page to come. This is just one page."
The album's breezy, horn-spiced title track casts a light on a modern day form of slavery, its words conscious, its groove monstrous: "That song is about subliminal slavery, hi-tech slavery, subliminal suppression," says Stephen. "It holds you down, it holds a man down from being wholesome." It's a call to arms for us to take back our lives, free our minds,
regain our spiritual souls and think for ourselves: "Don't let them mold your mind/They wanna control mankind/Seems like their only intention is to exploit the Earth."
Tapping into the disillusionment triggered by elected leaders in both the U.S. and Jamaican governments, the vintage, easy-skanking roots reggae of "Chase Dem" rips into the insincere, crooked politicians by shouting "run them away." If the balance of Mind Control sounds wholly created in the 21st Century, "Chase Dem" blasts out of the subwoofers like a long lost jewel from Bob himself. With that song, Stephen says, "It's like me post a bill saying, 'Just say no to politics.'"
The softer and sweeter side of Stephen is also on full display in the album. A smooth, smart slab of hip-hop featuring a dose of Brooklyn flow courtesy of Mos Def on the album's first single, "Hey Baby," is based on a song Stephen would sing to his children to keep them from being sad while he was on tour with The Melody Makers: "Hey baby/ don't you worry/ even though the road is rocky/ I'll be coming home to you again." The hypnotic "Lonely Avenue," is a sweet, harmony vocal- and organ-soaked take on the Ray Charles classic-done Marley style. "I'm a big fan of Ray," says Marley. "I couldn't tell you the first time I heard him, but I could tell ya what I remember is hearing him and feeling him in pain." Blending modern sounds with classic roots vibes, Mind Control finds Stephen carrying the Marley legacy even further into the future with such samples as the smart piece of the Martina Topley Bird song "Sandpaper Kisses" heard throughout
"You're Gonna Leave."
The album includes a trilogy of sorts ("Officer Jimmy Interlude," "The Traffic Jam," featuring Damian, and "Iron Bars," featuring brother Julian Marley, Mr. Cheeks & Spragga Benz) inspired by the few hours that Stephen and Julian spent in a Tallahassee jail in 2002 for marijuana possession: On "Iron Bars"-the song in which he sings "Let me out!/Let me out!/I'm an angry lion!"-Stephen asks himself, "What am I doing here, among the wolves? For some herb? It's like I'm a murderer. Ya know what I mean? Ya make me feel like I'm a murderer, for some herb, where, ya know, it's my culture."
The genre-meshing "Fed Up" is a flute-led lament of romantic missteps-"She said, 'How could you treat me this way?'/What we had was more than words could say"-while the album closing "Inna Di Red," featuring Ben Harper, is a thoughtful, shaker-dusted meditation on inner peace.
In addition to recording his debut album, Stephen has been hunkered down in the studio serving as the secret weapon behind both of Damian's past two Grammy winners as well as behind the Ghetto Youths International and Tuff Gong imprints. In addition to executive producing 1999's lauded, star-studded tribute to his father, Chant Down Babylon, his production skills can be heard on albums by Buju Banton, brothers Julian and Ziggy, Spearhead, Eve, Erykah Badu, Capleton and Mr. Cheeks. He's performed as a
vocalist, percussionist or guitarist on albums by all the above, as well as albums by Eric Clapton and others. Marley continues to work on new music for all of his brothers. If they felt it important to carry on their father's legacy, it's not something that Stephen-nor his brothers-think much about anymore. "That work has been done", he says. "We are the
Stephen also embarked on two U.S. concert tours this year, including the acclaimed "Bob Marley Roots, Rock Reggae Festival," where brothers Stephen and Ziggy Marley joined together for the first time ever with reggae pioneer Bunny Wailer.
Stephen has built and laid the foundations for a full-blown Marley family renaissance and with Mind Control, Stephen has achieved that: It's an album full of confidence and diversity in styles and emotion. "I don't want to be just another artist. I want to make a statement, and to continue this legacy, this musical legacy, with my family. Just like my brothers... I aspire to be a reckoning force, when you hear my name, you know quality comes with that: good music, good message, good vibe."
Live On Stage:
Stephen becomes the third Marley to play Bonnaroo, here he is paying tribute to his dad with No Woman, No Cry...
Here's Stephen with his brother Damian with Traffic Jam...
For more on Stephen Marley head on over to his official website.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
13 years into their career, Iceland's Sigur Rós have become one of the world's biggest cult bands. While details of the musicians behind the music remain almost deliberately sketchy, what they have created over the course of four albums has become quietly ubiquitous; defying genres to find fans in almost every musical niche. They remain almost a byword for non-conformity and the artistic rewards to be had from obdurate anti-commercialism...only with great melodies.
The members of Sigur Rós are Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson (vocals, guitar), Georg “Goggi” Hólm (bass), Kjartan “Kjarri” Sveinsson (keyboards/guitar) and Orri Páll Dýrason (drums). They have released four studio albums, including “Von,” “Ágætis Byrjun”, and “Takk…”; their third album, released in 2002, has no title. They released 'Heima", a film of their 2006 Icelandic tour last year, along with a companion compilation 'Hvarf/Heim'.
Live On Stage:
If you dig Radiohead and weird atmospheric rock then go check out Sigur Ros - their music just sort of makes sense for the late night slot they'll be playing. Here they are doing Hoppipolla on Later with Jules Holland...
Here's the Icelanders with Glosoli...
Few more to check out...
Untitled #1 (Vaka)
Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa
For more on Sigur Ros head on over to their official website.
"Transatlanticism" is a made-up word. At least, Death Cab for Cutie singer-guitarist Ben Gibbard thought so when he penned the song of the same name. He's since stumbled across evidence indicating otherwise. Whether this particular conglomeration of vowels and consonants merits inclusion in the dictionary is an argument better left to etymologists than musicians. Suffice to say, when Ben coined it, "Transatlanticism" was meant to relate to distances so vast and daunting – "such as a body of water creates between people" – that they seem impossible to breach.
Negotiating spaces and distances – be they emotional, geographic, or chronologic – is a recurring theme throughout Transatlanticism, the fourth full-length (excluding 2002’s reissue/archival release You Can Play These Songs With Chords +10) from the celebrated Seattle rock quartet. And this theme is not just a lyrical conceit, but also characterizes the band’s entire creative process. Carefully mapping out, from a new perspective, what elements did – or did not – belong in each of the eleven tracks. Allowing more time to pass between studio sessions. And introducing a new player into the intra-band dynamic.
The first thing one notices about Transatlanticism is the distinctive character of each of its eleven songs, from the glacial guitars of the sweeping opener "The New Year" to the poppy bah-bah-bahs of "The Sound of Settling." Piano forms the basis of more than one moment during the melancholy midsection of the disc. Bizarre sound effects flutter down like the first snowfall behind the folky, fleetingly dissonant closer, "A Lack of Color." No two songs are alike ("there's nothing more boring than a record with twelve of the same song," opines Ben), some are dense and others spacious. Yet taken as a whole, they constitute DCfC's most thought-out album yet, as Ben's songwriting and guitarist/ keyboard player Chris Walla's nuanced production complement each other better than ever.
Unlike the selections preserved on their previous albums, DCfC has deliberately kept these new songs out of their concert repertoire until now. "Almost everything we've done in the past has been based on touring the material before we recorded it, so by the time it gets to the studio, how it's supposed to sound is cemented in our heads," says Ben. This time, there was no set template to follow, which opened things up considerably.
As in the past, Ben submitted stacks of demos – most composed during a period of exile in San Francisco last year – to his band mates for consideration. Only this time, the other members found themselves less smitten with the initial arrangements. Ultimately, that turned out to be very beneficial. "We ended up doing a lot more surgery," explains Chris. "Stripping songs all the way down to the melody and the lyric – knowing that those were totally right on – and then building up around that. For me, from a producer's perspective, that was great. And it was really good for Ben, too, to trust us to really tear it all apart and put it back together."
Oh it was, was it? Yes, insists Ben. "I loved it! As we've continued to grow as a band, we've been able to focus on our strong points more, and trust each other. On almost every song on this record, I was much more excited about hearing what Chris, Nick, and Jason, had in mind for the arrangements and production, mostly because I had been sitting on so many of the songs for so long."
"The greatest danger for any singer/songwriter is closing the circle in on themselves, to the point where they are rewriting their own songs," adds bassist Nick Harmer. "Which is not to say that Ben had hit some sort of creative dead end, but that by asking for, and allowing more input from all of us, we could all help each other to explore new territory and take a few more risks."
"All of us," in this case not only refers to Chris and Nick, but also new drummer Jason McGerr (who the guys knew from their school days in Bellingham, WA, where Nick and Jason were the rhythm section of Eureka Farm). "We've known him for so long, and had such respect for him before we started playing together, that it makes for a much more communicative environment," says Ben. "Not only amongst all four of us, but between Nick, Chris, and me as well."
In Chris' opinion, Jason – who "turned so many of these songs upside-down, in the best possible way" – has restored a sense of balance to the line-up that has been absent the last few years. "I feel like we're back to a place where we haven't been since [the second album] We Have The Facts, where we're four people, in a really insular little unit." (Indeed, the only guests on this album are Sean Nelson and John Roderick of The Long Winters, and Phil Wandscher of Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, all of whom contributed vocals to the choir in the epic title track.)
The end result? "This record was about evolution," concludes Nick. He's right. It is also very different from its predecessor, which is fine. "The Photo Album is more to the point, both in the songs and the production," adds Ben. "While I am very proud of that record, I see it now as more of a transitional album. We needed to make it to realize the direction we're now heading in, which is sonically more experimental." With Transatlanticism, Death Cab for Cutie has made a great leap, and crossed over to the next phase of its musical career.
Live On Stage:
Here's Death Cab from the short lived John McEnore show with Title Registration...
Here's DC4C with Soul Meets Body...
Few more to check out...
I Will Possess Your Heart
I Will Follow You Into The Dark
A Movie Script Ending
For more on Death Cab For Cutie head on over to their official website.
Throughout the 1990's as well as the 1980's, 1970's, 1960's and 1950's, there has been only one King of the Blues - Riley B. King, affectionately known as B.B. King. Since B.B. started recording in the late 1940's, he has released over 50 albums many of them considered blues classics, like 1965's definitive live blues album "Live At The Regal", and 1976's collaboration with Bobby "Blue" Bland, "Together For The First Time".
Over the years, B.B. has had two number one R & B hits, 1951's "Three O'Clock Blues", and 1952's "You Don't Know Me", and four number two R & B hits, 1953's "Please Love Me", and 1954's "You Upset Me Baby", 1960's "Sweet Sixteen, Part I", and 1966's "Don't Answer The Door, Part I". B.B.'s most popular crossover hit, 1970's "The Thrill Is Gone" went to #15 pop.
But B.B. King, as well as the entire blues genre, is not radio oriented. His classic songs such as "Payin' The Cost To Be The Boss", "Caldonia", " How Blue Can You Get", "Everyday I Have The Blues", and "Why I Sing The Blues", are concert (and fan) staples.
Riley B. King was born on September 16, 1925, on a cotton plantation in Itta Bene, Mississippi, just outside the Mississippi delta town of Indianola. He used to play on the corner of Church and Second Street for dimes and would sometimes play in as many as four towns on a Saturday night. With his guitar and $2.50, he hitchhiked north to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1947 to pursue his musical career. Memphis was the city where every important musician of the South gravitated and which supported a large, competitive musical community where virtually every black musical style was heard. B.B. stayed with his cousin Bukka White, one of the most renowned rural blues performers of his time, who schooled B.B. further in the art of the blues.
B.B.'s first big break came in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio program on KWEM out of West Memphis. This led to steady performance engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten minute spot on black staffed and managed radio station WDIA. "King's Spot", sponsored by Pepticon, a health tonic, became so popular that it was increased in length and became the "Sepia Swing Club". Soon, B.B. needed a catchy radio name. What started out as Beale Street Blues Boy was shortened to Blues Boy King, and eventually B.B. King. Incidentally, King's middle initial "B" is just that, it is not an abbreviation.
In the mid-1950's while B.B. was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, a few fans became unruly. Two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove, setting fire to the hall. B.B. raced outdoors to safety with everyone else, but then realized that he left his $30 guitar inside, so he rushed back inside to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. When he later found out that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to give the name to his guitar. Each one of B.B.'s guitars since that time have been called Lucille.
Soon after his number one hit, "Three O'Clock Blues", B.B. began touring nationally, and he has never stopped, performing an average of 275 concerts a year. in 1956 B.B. and his band played an astonishing 342 one night stands. From the chitlin circuit with its small town cafes, ghetto theaters, country dance halls, and roadside joints to jazz clubs, rock palaces, symphony concert halls, college concerts, resort hotels and prestigious concert halls nationally and internationally, B.B. has become the most renowned blues musician of the past 40 years.
B.B.'s technique is nonetheless complex, featuring delicate filigrees of single string runs punctuated by loud chords, subtle vibratos, and "bent" notes. The technique of rock guitar playing is to a large degree derived from B.B.'s playing.
In the army, B.B. was introduced to the music of such guitarists as Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker. "I heard an electric guitar that wasn't playing spiritual", recalls B.B. "It was T-Bone Walker doing "Stormy Monday", and that was the prettiest sound I think I ever heard in my life. That's what really started me to play the blues".
Over the years, B.B. has developed one of the world's most readily identified guitar styles. He borrowed from Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and others, integrating his precise vocal like string bends and his left hand vibrato, both of which have become indispensable components of rock guitarist's vocabulary. His economy, his every note counts phrasing, has been a model for thousands of players including Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Jeff Beck.
B.B. has mixed traditional blues, jazz, swing, mainstream pop and jump into a unique sound. His singing is richly melodic, both vocally and in the "singing" that comes from his guitar. In B.B's words, "When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille".
"I'm trying to get people to see that we are our brother's keeper, I still work on it. Red, white, black, brown, yellow, rich, poor, we all have the blues".
"From my own experience, I would say to all people but maybe to young people especially black, white or whatever color, follow your own feelings and trust them; find out what you want to do and do it and then practice it every day of your life and keep becoming what you are despite any hardships and obstacles you meet".
"I'm me," B.B. told Time Magazine in 1969, "blues is what I do best. If Frank Sinatra can be the best in his field, Nat King Cole in his, Bach and Beethoven in theirs, why can't I be great, and known for it, in blues?"
Sidney A. Seidenberg, B.B.'s former manager, likens B.B. to Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. "B.B.'s goals have always been to be like an American Ambassador of blues music to the world, like Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra are to the jazz world. B.B. is still the King of the Blues".
In 1967, B.B. performed at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, a portion of which was later aired over PBS TV. in 1968, B.B. played at the Newport Folk Festival and at Bill Graham's Fillmore West on bills with the hottest contemporary rock artists of the day who idolized King and helped cross him over to a young white audience.
B.B. has influenced Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush, Johnny Winter, Albert King and many others while being influenced by Charles Brown, Lowell Fulsom, Elmore James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jimmy Rushing, T-Bone Walker, Bukka White and others.
In 1969, B.B. was chosen by the Rolling Stones to open 18 American concerts for them; Ike and Tina Turner also played on 18 shows. B.B. also made the first of his numerous appearances on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show". In 1970, B.B. premiered in Las Vegas at Caesar's Palace and at the Royal Box in the American Hotel in New York City as well as on the "Ed Sullivan Show".
In the early 1970's, B.B. toured Ghana, Lagos, Chad and Liberia under the auspices of the United States State Department. Besides playing the major jazz festivals around the world.
In 1989, King toured Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, West Germany, Holland and Ireland for three months as a special guest of U2. King is featured in "When Love Comes To Town" on U2's album "Rattle and Hum". Starting in 1992, King has headlined the Blues Music Festival of American amphitheaters with three support acts.
On February 23, 1990 PBS started televising "All Day & All Night: Memories From Beale Street Musicians", which featured B.B. King and captured the lifestyles of musicians who performed on Beale Street (Memphis, TN) from the 1920's to the 1950's when being on Beale Street was like "living in paradise". King recalled on the half-hour special that Beale Street was "a place to learn, to make friends. It was a little world all of your own. There were always musicians who were willing to help you if you wanted to learn". And King and Rufus Thomas recalled Amateur Night at the Palace Theatre where "anyone who could carry a tune got a dollar for going on stage".
In 1990, King and Ray Charles co-headlined the Philip Morris Superband five continent world tour. The final concert was recorded and "Live At The Apollo" became King's first big band album. In 1991, King headlined the Philip Morris Superband International Tour again with Diane Reeves featured. And in 1991 King participated in the all-star Guitar Legends concert in Seville, Spain, where practically every guitar hero performed.
In 1990 King Received the Songwriter's Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1991 the Orville H. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from Gibson Guitar Company. In 1989, King's imprint was added to the Amsterdam, Holland Walk of Fame and in 1991 to the Hollywood Walk of Fame (between Milton Berle and Vivian Leigh). In 1973, King received the B'nai Brith Humanitarian Award from the Music and Performance Lodge of New York.
In 1990, King received the prestigious Presidential Medal of the Arts in Washington, D.C. with President Bush presiding. In 1991, King received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. In 1995, King received the Kennedy Center Honors.
Over the years, B.B. has been bestowed eight Grammy Awards by his peers: Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance, Male in 1970 for "The Thrill Is Gone", Best Ethnic or Traditional recording in 1981 for "There Must Be A Better World Somewhere", and Best Traditional Blues Recording in 1983 for "Blues 'N Jazz" and in 1985 for "My Guitar Sings The Blues" from "Six Silver Strings". In 1970, King's "Indianola Mississippi Seeds" won for Best Album Cover, an art director's award. In 1989 King received two more nominations: Best Contemporary Blues Recording "King Of The Blues 1989", and Best Rock Performance by a duo or group with vocal for "When Love Comes To Town" with U2 from U2's "Rattle And Hum". In 1990 King received another Grammy for the album "Live At San Quentin" as Best Traditional Blues Recording. In 1991, King was bestowed Best Traditional Blues Recording for "Live At The Apollo" and in 1993 the same award for "Blues Summit". And in 1996, along with Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughn, Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Dr. John and Art Neville, King received the Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "SRV Shuffle" from A Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
B.B. King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, where Sting of the Police made the induction speech. B.B. was the recipient of the 1986 National Association For Campus Activities Hall of Fame Award. B.B. was Blues Act of the Year in 1985, 1987, and 1988 Performance Award Polls. He is a founding member of the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center. B.B. King received the Grammy "Lifetime Achievement Award" in December of 1987 at the first televised awards in May 1990. He won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Blues Foundation in 1997. B.B. Has received four honorary doctorates: Tougaloo (Mississippi) College (L.H.D.) in 1973; Yale University (D. Music) in 1977; Berklee College of Music (D. Music) in 1982; and Rhodes College of Memphis (D. Fine Arts) in 1990. In 1992 he received the National Award of Distinction from the University of Mississippi.
On May 3, 1991, "B.B. King's Blues Club" opened in Memphis, and also at the Universal City Walk in Los Angeles in 1994, and although King resides in Las Vegas, he plans to play at his clubs at least four times a year. A B.B. King Blues Club will open in New York's Times Square's E-Walk in early 2000.
In 1996, the CD ROM "On The Road With B.B. King: An Interactive Autobiography" was released to rave reviews including an "A-" in Entertainment Weekly. Also in 1996, B.B. King's autobiography "Blues All Around Me" (written with David Ritz) (Avon) was published and won second prize in the prestigious Eighth Annual Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards. The biography "The Arrival of B.B. King" by Charles Sawyer was published in 1980 by Doubleday.
In November 1997, MCA released B.B. King's album Deuces Wild with B.B. in tandem with 13 legendary artists. The lineup included Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Tracy Chapman, Mick Hucknall (Simply Red), Dr. John, Marty Stewart, D'Angelo, David Gilmore & Paul Carrick and Heavy D. Deuces Wild became B.B. King's second gold album.
In 1999, B.B. King released Let the Good Times Roll, his tribute to Louis Jordan. "Louis Jordan was a great musician," says King, "and in my opinion, was way ahead of his time. As people get to know him, they will realize what a great contribution he left to the music of today."
Live On Stage:
B.B. is a living legend - nuff said - go see him, who knows if you'll ever get another opportunity then this. Here's B.B. with The Thrill Is Gone...
Here's B.B. and Eric Clapton with Riding With The King...
For more on B.B. King head on over to his official website.
Monday, June 9, 2008
If Yonder Mountain String Band’s fourth studio album and self-titled debut for Vanguard Records sounds a little different, well, it should. It marks the first time the burgeoning progressive string band has worked with a stellar rock producer—Tom Rothrock (Foo Fighters, Elliott Smith, Beck and James Blunt—it’s the first time they’ve added a little drums to their mix of banjo/bass/mandolin/guitar and it’s the first time they’ve written almost an entire album spontaneously. Yonder Mountain String Band catches them transitioning into more folk and rock territories and most certainly and ceremoniously exploring different sounds and ways of songwriting.
Previously, guitarist Adam Aijala, mandolinist Jeff Austin, banjo player Dave Johnston and bassist Ben Kaufmann would each show up to the studio with their own songs, or songs that had already been worked up on the road. But with Rothrock behind the boards, they sat around and came up with songs that stirred the band’s creative juices in a new way. “It definitely was the challenge that was ready to be taken on,” says Austin. “For me, it was a very necessary step that the band had to take, just because we’ve always been about letting ourselves experiment to the full width of the spectrum. It was a part of us that was just dying to come out.”
Under Rothrock’s leadership, Aijala added electric guitar to the album, while Austin, milked an old ‘70s amplifier for feedback with an acoustic mandolin. Ambient noise accompanies the disc-ending “Wind’s On Fire.” The cinematic instrumental “Midwest Gospel Radio” was born out of Rothrock’s request for a spiritual number. Says Aijala, “Tom’s input certainly gave the songs a new and interesting feel.”
On the upbeat, rousing, first single “How ‘Bout You?” and “Classic Situation,” the band also brought into the fold Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, who changed the sensibility of the record, says Ben. “All of a sudden, our perspective got a little broader. His drumming shows up fundamentally and very subtly in places throughout the record. I’ll leave that up to the listener to find these. We ended up with an album that’s got rippin’ bluegrass on it, but approached in a non-traditional way, which really appeals to me because we are not a traditional band. It’s always been forward-thinking and this is the first time we’ve captured that in the studio."
As a result, the always progressive Yonder Mountain continues to close the gap between bluegrass and rock: With its dueling electric guitar/banjo solo section, “How ‘Bout You?” has the goods to turn people on to a new way of thinking about how a banjo can be played. “There are places where the banjo and the mandolin become rock instruments,” says Kaufmann. “Angel,” meanwhile, could be dubbed “hard-folk” “That’s a song where we draw from personal influences that bridge—for us—our love of heavier rock music, with lyrical imagery that’s clearly traditional,” Kaufmann continues. “There’s a fiddle in the solo section, but it’s clearly channeling the spirits of the rock guitar gods.”
Fusing traditional elements and modern techniques, the disc’s leadoff cut, “Sidewalk Stars,” appropriately and perfectly captures the spirit of Yonder Mountain on this album.
A few of the tracks were worked up live, and a few come from outside sources. “I Ain’t Been Myself in Years” was written by band friend Benny Galloway, and “East Nashville Easter” was penned by Austin and lauded singer/songwriter Todd Snider. And it’s in songs like the latter where the band’s experimentations make even more sense.
Twisting and bending their sound with a rock producer was a natural next step for a group of guys who actually grew up on rock music. Comprised of Colorado transplants that grew up in the Midwest or Northeast, none of the band members had backgrounds in bluegrass music, but rather discovered it through old and new records and fellow musicians during college.
But it was indeed their new and growing love for bluegrass that quite unexpectedly brought the four players together during a free-for-all jam session at The Verve, a bar outside of Boulder, in 1998. Once they met, they knew they were onto something. “It was an eye-opening experience because we heard a unique sound,” says Johnston. “Something coalesced that night.”
Emphasizing song craft and unafraid to push its boundaries, things began snowballing quickly. In 1999, the band debuted with Elevation, produced by Grammy-winning dobro player Sally Van Meter and released (like each of its previous studio discs) on their own Frog Pad Records. Yonder Mountain returned in 2001 with Town by Town, helmed by Grammy Award winning songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Tim O’Brien. Van Meter was back behind the boards for the 2003 set Old Hands, a concept album of sorts that featured the songwriting of Benny “Burle” Galloway. Featured on the evocative tunes about cowboys, miners and all sorts of hard-livin’ Western folk were O’Brien, lauded fiddleman Darol Anger (Bela Fleck, David Grisman Quintet, Vassar Clements) and dobro player Jerry Douglas (Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris).
In between those studio discs, the band released Mountain Tracks Volume 1-IV, issued on Frog Pad Records, and each capturing the energy of its increasingly popular live shows.
With little radio support, Yonder Mountain has become one of the fastest rising touring bands in the country, its fanbase having ballooned over the past five years through steady gigging and high-profile festival sets, all of which are full of improv and none of which feature the same set list. “Now that we’re maturing as performers, our improvisation is more beholden to playing with good tone, good feel, good timing,” says Johnston.
It can’t be understated just what the band has achieved with that untraditional banjo/bass/mandolin/guitar line-up. Using bluegrass as its bedrock, the band has grown like few rock bands even do these days. “It’s funny,” says Austin. “But now we’re playing before 4,000 people in Denver. Last year, we played before 700 people in Atlanta and we recently sold-out a 3,000 seat venue there!” Added Kaufman, “ I think there’s just something about the banjo that makes people feel good.”
“[This album] probably represents us more than any other record we’ve done,” states Aijala, “because it incorporates more of our musical influences than ever before. It’s a really cool thing to be a part of and I’ll never take for granted just how lucky we are to do what we do. It makes me more excited for the future.”
Live On Stage:
Bluegrass has been a staple of Bonnaroo since the fests first year and Yonder Mountain are the best of the new-grass bands out there. We'll go with a double dose, first up is - Angel...
And here they are with Sideshow Blues...
For more on Yonder Mountain head on over to their official website.
The ascension continues for Chicago’s Umphrey’s McGee, not only in terms of their commercial success but in creative accomplishment and instrumental achievement as well. Their performance on Live at the Murat (SCI Fidelity), their first official live release, is as impressive as anything they’ve recorded to date, with the power and finesse, the yin and the yang, that have come to characterize their by-now classic material.
Recorded in Indianapolis in April 2007 and produced by longtime “sound caresser” / honorary seventh member Kevin Browning, the two-disc set features fan favorites like “Push the Pig,” “The Triple Wide,” “In the Kitchen,” and “Nothing Too Fancy” along with rare tunes like the set-ending “Padgett’s Profile” and the brief but torrid “Angular Momentum,” centered on the combo of drummer Kris Myers and guitarist Jake Cinninger. The band also dusts off tunes like “Hajimemashite” from ’98s Songs for Older Women, and the Yes meets Little Feat-influenced “40’s Theme,” a live favorite for the band and its fans.
Throughout the show, UM’s invention brings the progressive instrumental chops of Zappa and the stylistic savvy of Steely Dan. It is innovative without being indulgent, exhilarating without losing control, and there are plenty of improv passages that keep the band and their fans off-balance. As David Fricke notes in his four-star review of Live at the Murat in Rolling Stone, Umphrey’s McGee “always have destination on their minds, even when they fly free.”
Live at the Murat is the latest feather in the cap of the dazzling sextet. The magical odds and sods The Bottom Half, released in the spring of this year, followed their highly touted spring 2006 studio release Safety In Numbers. Contrary to its name, The Bottom Half is a top-rate sequel to Safety In Numbers. The double album is full of spontaneity and intrigue, fresh ideas, and the kind of dazzling musicianship we have come to expect from Umphrey’s. With its outtakes, alternate versions, and other nifty bits, The Bottom Half reached #26 on Billboard’s coveted “Heatseakers” Chart and received high marks from the music press. HARP magazine noted “…[The Bottom Half delivers] creamy studio work infused by diabolical skill.”
UM has — since forming in the late ’90s in the South Bend, Indiana area — cultivated an impressive presence both live and in the studio, quite an accomplishment when considering their humble roots. Cummins, Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik and original drummer Mike Mirro all studied at the University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Indiana, while percussionist Andy Farag at the South Bend branch of Indiana University. Cinninger, from Michigan, had a South Bend-based band called Ali Baba’s Tahini — as well as an open invitation to join Umphrey’s, which he accepted in the Fall of 2000. His addition, along with Kris Myers’ arrival in 2003, proved critical to the band’s success. Together, the gifted collective elevated its game.
Just a few months after their first gig in 1998, the band released their first album, the cleverly titled live document, Greatest Hits Volume III. Songs for Older Women and One Fat Sucka followed — as did their first ever DVD, Live from the Lake Coast. Building a reputation with the critically favored studio recording Local Band Does OK (not to be confused with Local Band Does Oklahoma — a live EP released soon after) and honing their groove as a stellar live act, by the time 2004’s Anchor Drops was released to raves, the buzz on Umphrey’s had grown loud. Rolling Stone tipped them in their Hot Issue and the Washington Post named the band “rock’s undisputed lord of sonic shape-shifting.” And if you need further convincing, one look at their second DVD—2005’s Wrapped Around Chicago: New Year’s at the Riv says it all: Umphrey’s had arrived.
The jam crowd hoisted the band up on their proverbial shoulders as heroes, heirs to the Phish throne. Fans reveled in Umphrey’s flair for inventive improvisation, incredible covers, and unpredictable moments. The band had also developed an uncanny visual language onstage that includes dozens of unspoken cues — a happy face, for example, symbolizes a major key, while a sad face indicates a minor one — that make their signature “jazz odysseys” and “Jimmy Stewarts” legendary on the jam scene. These cues manage to keep things tight and prevent their improv interludes from spiraling into hippie jam orbit. The band retains space, breath, and patience in performances, yet maintain masterly control in the process.
These days, Umphrey’s spends half the year on the road habitually flooring audiences. Their anything-goes musicianship, humor, and good-nature all make remarkable entertainment. The band shuttles between styles with precision, from straight-up pop and rock to jazz, prog-metal, and classical. If you can name it, chances are Umphrey’s can play it.
Live On Stage:
Who said that Bonnaroo doesn't book jambands anymore? These guys have something for everyone - even you metal fans out there. Here they are will Partin' Peeps...
For more on Umphrey's McGee head on over to their official website.
It’s now been more than 10 years since guitarist Jon Gutwillig, bassist Marc Brownstein, keyboardist Aron Magner, and original drummer Sam Altman first formed the Disco Biscuits from within the ivy walls of the University of Pennsylvania. Since then (and with Allen Aucoin now on drums, following his victory at a Bisco firing squad drum-off at Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino in 2005), the band has repeatedly sold out many of the nation’s most prestigious venues and are a proven draw at U.S. festivals, earning key slots at majors such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Along the way, they’ve accumulated cover stories (Relix Magazine), accolades (Jammy Award for “Jam of the Year”), and hit videos (“Caterpillar;” MTV Latin America).
At the end of each summer, the Disco Biscuits host the largest live electronica event of its kind in the country. Called “Camp Bisco,” the festival has featured electro superstars (Amon Tobin, Infected Mushroom), live bands (Umphrey’s McGee, Brazilian Girls), hip-hop acts (The Roots, Slick Rick), and even weekend-long games of “color wars” organized and run by the fans.
Beyond just making music, the band is involved in community & political outreach. Brownstein is a co-founder and co-chair of HeadCount, a non-profit voter registration organization that registered nearly 50,000 new voters at live concerts in 2004 and aims to register 200,000 additional voters for the 2008 election. In addition to the Disco Biscuits, HeadCount has received support and involvement from a number of top-tiered touring acts, including the Dave Matthews Band and Phil Lesh & Friends, while members of the Grateful Dead, moe., and Leftover Salmon sit on its board of directors.
The Disco Biscuits are currently finishing their fifth studio album, this time collaborating with producers and legendary trance DJs Simon Posford & Benji Vaughn of UK’s Twisted Records (Shpongle, Hallucinogen, Younger Brother), as well as Grammy Award-winning Philly-based hip-hop producer Dirty Harry, whose credits include tracks for Ludacris & Beanie Segal. Much of the album has been recorded and mixed at the legendary Phil Nicolo studio in Philadelphia, with Nicolo & engineer Michael Block.
On New Year’s Eve 2007, the Disco Biscuits took over the Tweeter Center in Camden, NJ for the second year in a row, heralding the inaugural Circo Bisco, a circus-themed spectacle featuring support sets from Keller Williams, Antibalas, and Bassnectar and happenings by the performance art-oriented Philadelphia Experiment (PEX). The band also just released Progressions, a 4-hour, 2-disc DVD set documenting last year’s historic tri-city New Year’s run (TLA Video, Nov. 13, 2007).
Live On Stage:
The Biscuits return to Manchester for a late-night slot - which is where they do their best work. Here they are with their patented techno-jam-rock with Crickets...
There is a reason jambands don't make music videos, here's example A...
For more on The Disco Biscuits head on over to their official website.