Newton Faulkner believes in accidents. A bona fide pop star at home in his native U.K.—where radio presence, great press and a thrilling live show drove Hand Built By Robots to the top spot on the album-sales chart upon its release there last summer—this 23-year-old singer-songwriter makes music full of serendipity and happenstance, coincidence and luck. As its title suggests, Hand Built By Robots contains acoustic music for the digital age: Faulkner croons in a voice shaped by years spent listening to Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Tom Waits and plays guitar with a distinctive tap-pick-and-strum technique that allows him to use the instrument as guitar, bass and drums all at once. Call it folk-pop for the future, and get ready to hear quite a lot of it as Faulkner goes about spreading his success to these shores.
Newton first picked up a guitar at age 13; within three years he was honing his skills at
Guildford’s prestigious Academy of Contemporary Music. Studying theory and technique, though, led young Newton to a discovery: “If you’re trying to get noticed playing normal guitar, you have to be phenomenal,” Faulkner says with a self-deprecating laugh, “because that’s what everybody else is doing. To be the most amazing soloist in the world you’d have to spend four years in a cave doing nothing else.”
Generally disinclined to cave life, Faulkner hit upon a different idea. “I was just sitting around playing guitar with a friend and I did something weird, this sort of quick slap-tap-bass thing. I wouldn’t say it was good or technically impressive, but my friend said, ‘Wow, that was cool.’ I was like, ‘What? That wasn’t cool—it was just a bit weird.’ But he made me do it again, and then I was like, ‘Wow, that is cool!’” Thus was Faulkner’s inadvertent virtuosity born.
The singer voices a similarly casual attitude toward songwriting. “To be perfectly honest, when I’m writing I try to think as little as possible,” he admits. For Faulkner, the goal with any tune is to approach an uncommon subject from an uncommon angle, a trick he picked up from some of his teenage favorites, including Radiohead, Green Day and the Presidents of the United States of America. “I like something that carries a message and isn’t just talking about how hot a girl is or how depressed you are.” To that end, Hand Built contains a song about the perils of growing old with superpowers (“Ageing Superhero”) and one about the value of certain facial expressions (“People Should Smile More”).
Faulkner penned a handful of the album’s tracks with his brother Toby. “You can spot that stuff because it’s usually slightly stupid,” he says. “‘UFO,’ ‘Gone in the Morning,’ ‘She’s Got the Time’—the most ridiculous ones he had some involvement in.” (Faulkner also co-wrote for the album “with slightly more serious people,” including Crispin Hunt of the Longpigs, with whom he crafted “Dream Catch Me,” the album’s lead single and a huge hit on England’s Radio One.
In addition, there’s a heart-stopping cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” that may cause you to change the way you think about that song.) For all of Hand Built’s hand-built craftiness, Faulkner says that where he feels most comfortable is onstage before an audience, playing songs, telling stories and cracking jokes. (It doesn’t take long before you realize that Faulkner particularly likes cracking jokes.) A Bobby McFerrin gig at London’s Royal Festival Hall made a huge impact. “He was basically just strolling around making noises and chatting to people,” Faulkner marvels, “and everyone sat back and sort of said, ‘This is really nice.’”
Newton spent last year building an intensely devoted fanbase in Europe, headlining his own shows as well as opening concerts by John Mayer, Paolo Nutini and the John Butler Trio. This year he’s looking forward to following the same path in the United States. “I like to have a kind of conversation with the entire crowd,” he says. Prepare to start talking back.
Live On Stage:
From all that I've been reading (specifically for this post) Newton Faulkner seems like the U.K. version of a John Butler type performer - though with a heavy pop edge. Here's his take on Massive Attacks "Teardrop"....
Get acquainted with some Newton...
Newton's got a handful of videos, since I'm just as to new him as probably everyone else reading this post I'm just going to pick one at random. Here's "All I Got"...
Some more you might want to check out...
I Need Something
Dream Catch Me
For more on Newton Faulkner hit up his official website.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Few bands are as outspoken and thought-provoking as State Radio, the musically inventive, socially and politically charged trio fronted by Chad Stokes. With its sophomore album, Year Of The Crow, the group–rounded out by bassist Chuck Fay and drummer Mad Dog–matches its conscience-raising messages with an inspiring amalgam of rock, punk and reggae that is as distinctive as it is sublime.
For U.S. concert-goers, Stokes was first known as the voice behind agit-prop outfit Dispatch, a band that sold a whopping 600,000 albums by word of mouth. Although the outfit’s six-year tenure ended in 2002, its members have reunited for noble causes, including 2007’s epic three-night sold-out stand at Madison Square Garden to benefit the plight in Zimbabwe. In lieu of college, Stokes lived in Zimbabwe during his eighteenth year, and the experience not only galvanized his songs, but it also shaped his life with a commitment that is as strong as ever.
Simply stated, it is impossible not to be moved by the sounds emanating from State Radio, whether it’s the genocide in Darfur, which is told through the eyes of a young boy on the alluring, rhythmic “Sudan,” the explosive, edgy, reggae-laden “C.I.A.” or the steamrolling rallying cry for justice known as “Unfortunates.”
“The ultimate goal of State Radio is to have people consider what I’m saying as they enjoy the music we create,” Stokes says of the trio’s objective on Year Of The Crow. “I’m not looking to alienate anyone, but I hope I can enlighten some people.”
The frenetic, piercing, punkish, proclamation “Guantanamo” does just that, as Stokes seethes, taking aim at the current administration while looking back on the Bush clan’s sordid history.
“Reading about it over the years, my frustration just built up,” Chad says. I think that’s what I do with a lot of my songs. The subjects just build up in me for a while and then they need to find a way out. And it’s really just a method of keeping me sane. It’s basically about the tragedy that the Bush family has inflicted upon us over the years. That song is also loosely tied into Indian rights and how [President Bush’s grandfather] Prescott Bush dug up Geronimo’s skull in 1918 so that his secret society at Yale could rub it as part of their initiation.”
The next step in the Bob Dylan-Bob Marley-Clash-Rage Against the Machine lineage, State Radio is an unusual but effective conduit to information. Its inspired, aggressive and progressive musical brew is most often accompanied by lyrics that prompt listeners to dig deeper. And fans have indeed combed Wikipedia about song topics (“The Story of Benjamin Darling Part I”) and educate themselves about cases like the West Memphis Three (“Unfortunates”) where justice has clearly faltered.
Unconcerned with major label deals and radio exposure, State Radio thrives by living and giving as charitable men who play outstanding live shows. Developing a following from the ground up, Stokes is a unique fixture who defies music industry traditions. He’s also proof through his efforts with Dispatch, his forthcoming TV series “How’s Your News?” and State Radio, that a loyal and engaged cult following is arguably the best of all business models.
Year Of The Crowwas recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Wiltshire, England and was overseen by acclaimed producer Tchad Blake (Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Soul Coughing, the Bad Plus). “Tchad was integral in making a record that was more indicative of our live show,” Stokes says. “I don’t know too many producers by name but he’s one of them.”
“We didn’t want to be too picky about things,” Chad continues. “We just focused on energy. We only had a couple of weeks to do it, and we were sandwiched in between two tours, so it was just a true recording representation of who are.”
Gabriel’s studio is, as Chad explains, “An unbelievable facility. It’s this old mill with water running right through it on either side of the control room. The live room is this tall stone-type place and the control room looks directly out onto the mill. Plus, its run by this tall Rastaman named Solomon, who makes sure that everyone’s needs are taken care of.”
That atmosphere allowed for tracks like the furious blues-thumping anti-Halliburton missive “Gang of Thieves” and the uplifting, trombone-bolstered ska-touched “Barnstorming” to take shape. Of the latter, Stokes--whose first instrument was the aforementioned horn–says laughing, “Tchad was cool, because I’m not that good at the trombone. And he loved the idea that if I played the part twice and we tracked it, I sounded like a junior high marching band trombone section practicing.”
With the infectious, cerebral “Fight No More” and the desperation-injected “Rash of Robberies,” the band’s musical depth and commitment to lyrical salvos are flawlessly fused. The intensity of “Rash” results in an unusual approach, as the band thrashes along, until it seemingly runs out of gas; then it takes a deep breath and starts up again.
“I played the song and as it developed, I realized I needed a bit of oxygen, a gasp of breath,” Chad chuckles. “It just pauses for a second and jumps back into it. It became an animal of its own and sometimes you just play along with the song and see where it takes you.”
“And the one cool thing about this album is that the quiet parts are quieter than they’ve ever been, but the loud parts are louder than they’ve ever been,” the State Radio brainchild marvels. “And when we play live, there are some really intimate moments where it’s barely guitar and it’s just Chuck and I singing and the crowd is with us.”
With the previously mentioned “How’s Your News?” as proof, legions of fans have also joined Stokes and the show’s co-creator Arthur Bradford to make it a success. Working together at a Martha’s Vineyard camp for the handicapped nearly a decade ago, Chad says, “We started making short videos with the campers-little vignettes and man-on-street reporting. And the tapes started circulating and it ended up in the hands of Matt Stone and Trey Parker of “South Park” fame.
“They just thought it was so great,” Chad continues, of his additional medium to invite social change. “So they contacted us and gave us some money to continue with it. And then, when it was finished the first “How’s Your News?” feature film--which was about 30 minutes long--was picked up by a bunch of the major film festivals. Ultimately it ran on HBO and Cinemax, which we couldn’t believe. Then we shot the pilot and now it’s going to be an actual series for TV.”
Stokes’ uncompromising creative and artistic spirit developed as he grew up connected to the earth as part of a free-thinking hockey family on a small Massachusetts farm. Chad’s sense of adventure began at an early age as he would explore the town’s underground aqueducts and find himself drawn to its legendary Peace Abbey as he perfected the trombone and guitar.Along the way, he participated in a caisson “Stone Walk,” pulling a huge gravestone that represented numerous unknown civilians killed at war. Alongside 15 peers in peace, the 28-day adventure along back roads to Washington D.C. only heightened his outlook, with such experiences adding to the social and political perspectives that inform the music made leading up to Year Of The Crow.
With the willingness to give back and raise issues, it’s little wonder that State Radio’s following--which gravitated to its first album Us Against The Crown(2006) and a series of well-received EPs--continues to expand. Positive karma seems to surround everything that Stokes does, of which he says,“I’m thankful that we’ve been able to grow as a band. And being in Dispatch enabled me to fund our growth without being fucked by some major label. We feel very lucky that we don’t need to necessarily sign any of our rights away.”
“As long as people keep believing in us,” State Radio’s leader says, “and we feel like we’re making a worthy contribution to the movement, we’ll keep playing.”
Live On Stage:
State Radio is the politically charged off-shoot of former Dispath member Chad Urmston - you can sort of think of them as less angry, more melodic version of Rage Against The Machine. State Radio retains a lot of the same roots, rock, reggae formula that made his former band so popular among the college crowd in the late 90s/early aughts. Here they are with "The Diner Song"...
Finally another band who has some shows up for download...
State Radio - 2007-12-07 - Alden Hall, WPI
State Radio - 2007-11-17 - The Station - Portland, ME
Here's a fully loaded playlist for your listening pleasure...
This video pretty much sums up the State Radio experience, here's "Camilo"...
One more for you...
For more on the band check out their official website.
The Lee Boys are one of Florida’s finest African-American Sacred Steel Artists. The Hottest movement on the music scene these days in the “Sacred Steel” sound that developed its roots in the House of God church. This church serves as the foundation from which these seasoned musicians developed and perfected their style, talents, and skills. There are six members who are brothers and nephews. Each member began making music in the church when they were 7 and 8 years old, and they have not stopped playing since.
In the late 1930’s two brothers brought a new musical instrument into the worship experience of the House of God church in Jacksonville, FL. The Pentecostal congregation embraced the soulful sound of the electric lap steel guitar, as played by a novice named Wille Eason and his brother Troman. Over time this unique sound became the hallmark of the church. The pedal steel guitar was later added into the mix in the 1970’s The Lee Boys are part of the fourth generation of this in the faith.
Born and raised in Miami, FL the Lee Boys grew up attending the House of God church in Perrine where their father and grandfather to some of them, was the pastor and a steel player himself.
Exhilarating, Energetic, Exciting, Freeing Fun, Inspiring, Spirited, Soulful, Thrilling, These are only some of the words fans have used in trying to describe how The Lee Boys make them feel. You can hear it all in their music as they come alive on the stage when they perform. It is the music of praised, faith and hope but with a whole lot more funk and enjoyment than has ever echoed through any church. The Lee Boys sacred steel style is rooted in gospel, but is infused with rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, country and world music genres in a powerful jamming mix. When the Lee Boys bring their joyous spiritual sound to the stage, audiences instantly recognize that this is not “sitting and listening” music: dancing, shouting out, and having fun are considered essential parts of their tradition. Their style of music is unique and different from any other music that’s ever been heard before. It features the pedal steel guitar as the central instrument. It is music with the exciting sacred steel dimension that uplifts you and makes you feel good like nothing else can!!! Guaranteed.
Founder and bandleader Alvin Lee lays down infectious rhythms on the lead guitar. He says “The inspiration and feeling that comes along with our music is the reason that people feel good. It is like the new music on the block and its just getting ready to explode!” His brothers sing straight from the heart and soul. Keith Lee belts out some of the most dynamic and energetic vocals to be heard anywhere; while smooth and mellow singing Derrick Lee, the youngest brother further extends the group range of expression.
Roosevelt Collier was taught how to play from his 12-string pedal steel guitar by his late uncle Glenn Lee, who also help establish the band’s sound. ‘Velt’ learned his lessons well. He carries on with fast picking by delivering passionate, rapid-fire licks, and captivating instrumental solos that imitate the African-American singing voice.
Two more nephews power the rhythm section engine. Drummer Earl Walker beats out grooves that will have you up and dancing in nothing flat while “Little Alvin” Cordy provides funky fingering on his seven-string bass guitar.
These engaging artists work well in a variety of venues ranging from intimate club settings to large festival stages. Most recently they blew the roof off the House of Blues at Downtown Disney in Orlando and they just finished their summer tour 2004 which included performances throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Fans of all different genres of music will definitely not want to miss out on this amazing group. The Lee Boys deliver powerful music with an exciting new sacred steel twist that never fails to thrill an audience. These guys will funkify your soul and help you see the musical light.
Live On Stage:
I've only heard great things about The Lee Boys. If you dig the pedal-steel stylings of Robert Randolph then you're going to dig these guys. They do have a heavy dose of gospel in their music, but they sure can play....
There isn't a lot floating The Lee Boys floating, so let's just go with one more live clip and call it a post...
For more on the The Lee Boys make your way over their official website.
The more distant you get in our solar system, the more the planets tend to be covered with ice; from the lunar South Pole to the rings of Saturn, the substance seems to coat the outer reaches of our universe like a snowy blanket. Alternately, for the past six years, Seattle’s Minus the Bear have orbited the music world like a distant meteor, fine-tuning their unique brand of indie rock and discovering how technology can help enhance the band’s unique pop vision—all of which is about to culminate with their latest full-length Planet of Ice, an album showing the band not so much transforming their sound as transcending it.
Formed in Seattle, Washington in 2001, Minus the Bear was initially formed by guitarist David Knudson, bassist Cory Murchy, and drummer Erin Tate who eventually recruited keyboardist/sequencer, Matt Bayles and vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider. Once in the same room they realized they were on to something special—and the band quickly earned a rabid and rapidly growing fan base ranging from teenagers to middle-aged parents. “I know every band says they can’t explain their music, but I really can’t say that we sound like one specific thing,” Murchy explains. “We don’t follow a particular scene or genre and hopefully that shows.”
Although the band has released a handful of EPs and two full-lengths in their prolific career (most recently 2005’s Menos El Oso and the sister remix CD Interpretaciones Del Oso), with Planet of Ice the band—which now features new keyboardist Alex Rose—have taken their brand of idiosyncratic indie rock to new heights. “I feel like this is the most cohesive record we’ve done,” Murchy says. “I hate the term ‘organic,’ but that’s kind of the one term I can think of when comparing this to our other records because there’s a lot of weird electronic stuff going on there, but there’s some really raw riffage as well.”
Recorded at Robert Lang Studios and Red Room with former keyboardist Matt Bayles—who has also produced albums by Mastodon and The Blood Brothers—and Chris Common (These Arms Are Snakes, Mouth Of The Architect), Planet of Ice shows the band allowing negative space and an airy openness to permeate their music; from the distinctively danceable opener “Burying Luck” to the syncopated sample-driven “Knights” to the album’s epic 9-minute closer “Lotus,” which evokes acts like Yes and Pink Floyd, minus the self-indulgent tendencies. Although all the musicians in Minus the Bear are technically talented—as anyone who’s seen Knudson’s unique approach to the guitar which features two-handed tapping and live looping already knows—Planet of Ice shows the band focusing on songwriting instead of showiness.
“This was really the first album where we were all writing together as a team and Alex was definitely instrumental in that,” Murchy explains. “Alex is an amazing keyboard player and it was great to have another musical force in the band.” With former keyboardist Bayles behind the boards, the entire extended Minus the Bear family was present in the creation of the record—and all these distinctive musical personalities make for an album that could never be fully realized by one or two songwriters.
Lyrically, the album focuses on human interactions, but in a detached way that Snider explains as more like a one-night stand than a long-term relationship. “The songs are different in terms of theme, but the ones that do connect to relationships are of the fleeting kind,” he explains. However, despite the occasional personal references on the album, the central theme of Planet of Ice involves nightmarish, nearly apocalyptic imagery. A perfect example is the aforementioned “Lotus,” a song Snider describes as being “about the influence religion on our secular government and how the combination of God and guns leads to wars of false righteousness.“ While this may sound like pretty heavy content, the lack of preaching or posturing prevents Planet of Ice’s lyrical content from weighing down the group’s music.
Minus the Bear’s globally conscious outlook has in no doubt been influenced by the amount of time the band spend on the road, seamlessly pulling off their song’s sonic intricacies live on festivals like Coachella and Bamboozle, as well as alongside seemingly disparate acts such as Cursive, Criteria, Russian Circles, P.O.S. and The Velvet Teen. “It’s in an interesting contrast,” Snider explains, about the dichotomy between the band’s dark lyricism and upbeat music, which is ever more prevalent on Planet of Ice. “I think that duality often makes for a better song because it gives it so much tension,” he continues. “Subconsciously, that was even more exaggerated on this record due to being on the road so much and seeing the reality of this country firsthand.”
In true Minus the Bear fashion, the band plan to stay on the road for the next year-and-a-half promoting Planet of Ice and continuing to write and push the limits of their sound. “There’s kind of a joke that if there was a part that we would play and it made you laugh, it must be good,” Murchy explains about the band’s well-known sense of humor. “As far as the music goes, we do take it seriously but we also like to have a good time—and hopefully the attention to detail, especially at our live performances, shows through to people,” he adds. “We want it to sound right, but on the same token we do like to have a laugh and fuck around,” he summarizes. “It’s a nice balance.”
Live On Stage:
Minus The Bear is out of Seattle and play electro-infused indie-rock, they another great example of a band who's name I've always seen around, but have never taken the time to check out. Here's a live performance they did for Fuel TV...
Check out this performance, from when they stopped by their hometown radio station...
Minus The Bear - 2006-10-18 - Live @ KEXP
These guys have some pretty cool videos, check out this one for "Knights"...
Couple more to check out...
Absinthe At The Fly Honey Warehouse
The Game Need Me
For more on Minus The Bear check out their official website.
Have a band? Want to play Bonnaroo? Then this contest is for you...
Bonnaroo, in association with OurStage.com - the only 100% democratic music discovery destination, is offering YOU the chance to Battle for the Roo! At least two lucky bands will win the chance to play Bonnaroo 2008. For the 1st time in our history, not only can you enter YOUR band for a chance to perform on stage at Bonnaroo, but you also help decide which bands should win!
Log onto OurStage.com to both submit your band and vote for the next best artists. This is your chance to actively participate in music democracy! Take it!
Pat Green commands a position in the music world uniquely his own. He sells out stadiums like the Houston Astrodome and Dallas’ Smirnoff Center as well as the Nokia Theater in New York City as a headliner, yet he also gets the opportunity to tour with major artists like Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and the Dave Matthews Band.
That dichotomy underscores one point: As hugely popular as Pat Green is, as rabid as his loyal fan base is, there’s still an enormous audience getting their first exposure to his one-of-a-kind music and performances.
With his first album since signing with BNA Records, the three-time Grammy nominee looks to take his music to the masses. Cannonball, his explosive new album, captures Green’s joyous, provocative songwriting style with new sharpness and swagger. Working for the first time with a powerhouse Nashville label, Green and his supporters expect Cannonball to transform him from massive cult star to emerging country superstar.
“I feel like this album is a home run,” Green says with characteristic aw-shucks honesty. “I wanted to take our brand of independent music and give it a fresh shot at making a bigger impact. That’s exactly what I think we’ve accomplished when I hear these songs.”
Indeed, Green has always lived on the border of both worlds. His unique lyrics present a distinct vision of the world that reaches outsiders and fans of off-the-beaten-path music. At the same time, the carefree, slice-of-the-good-life, sing-along-with-me nature of his work has built-in mass appeal.
He’s already proven he can build an enthusiastic, youthful following through the time-tested virtues of hard work, live performance and word-of-mouth buzz. Now it’s time to add fuel to the fire with the kind of exposure radio and a committed, well-oiled record label can provide.
“It’s really the core market of music fans that I still need to tap into,” Green surmises. “I’ve always figured it was just a matter of timing, and now I think our timing is perfect. I think this is the best album I could make, and I think I have the best team behind me.”
Typical of his path, Green has built a career unlike any other in the modern music business. In an era when many artists shoot to stardom and sometimes fall just as quickly, Green has risen through grassroots support, common-man appeal and an engaging live show. “We have definitely gone about things differently from the start,” he explains.
After becoming a Texas hero through self-generated independent albums, Green chose to take his music to a national audience through a side door. “We signed our first major label deal out of New York so we could maintain an independent status,” he says. “We found out that it gave us more artistic leeway, but it also gave us less access to industry insiders.”
By now, his independence is established; no one’s going to try and tell Green to change his distinctive musical vision or songwriting style, not after earning Grammy nominations and earning a Top 3 hit with “Wave on Wave.” “We never fit in with the cookie-cutter stuff, and for a while that was what dominated the airwaves,” he says. “Now it seems that radio is more excited than ever about breaking new acts and bringing new blood into the fold. I think they want material that fits the format but doesn’t sound like everything else. And that’s right where we’re at.”
At the same time, Green’s music will come out through one of Nashville’s most successful and progressive record labels. “Working with BNA and Joe Galante, we’re stepping up to the plate with all the necessary tools to get the job done for the first time,” he says. “I think we’re getting a real chance at having a big impact. I couldn’t feel better about where we’re at right now.”
On welcoming Green to the SONY BMG Nashville family, Chairman Joe Galante comments, “We have all been Pat Green fans since we first heard his music. Pat has put himself in a place that is not only distinctive but has appeal to a youthful audience, many of which are just being introduced to country music. Having the opportunity to work with him is very exciting and taking him to the next level is going to be a blast.”
That’s why Cannonball came along at just the right time. As rambunctious and spirited as ever, the album captures Green at his most accessible and engaging. “I think everybody has their own story to tell,” the affable singer-songwriter says. “For me, the only thing that works is trying to make sense out of the world around me and the life I’m living. Honesty is the only way to go for me.”
With his new songs, he worked hard at concision and directness, while maintaining the personality and quirky flavor that gives his music its originality. “I want my music to be reasonably intelligent, but I also want it to be interesting and fun,” he says. “I just want to tell my tale from the tallest mountain and with the loudest megaphone I can find.”
“Feels Like It Should,” the first single from Cannonball, encapsulates the spirit of the new album. “It’s all about knowing you’re on top of the world and soaking up that feeling,” he says. “I wrote that with my drummer Justin Pollard and Brett James, we really wanted to create the perfect summer song.”
AOL Music agreed. “Feel’s Like It Should” got its premiere on the AOL Music First Listen program, which previously has introduced singles by Kenny Chesney, Usher, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child.
Green also cites his enthusiasm for such new songs as “Dixie Lullaby,” “Way Back Texas,” “Love Like That” and the rowdy title cut. “I think is the most thoughtful and consistent record we’ve made,” he says. “I don’t like using words like ‘mature’ or ‘grown-up,’ because I’m still a kid at heart. I don’t want to have to act grown-up all the time. I’m a father, and I have to make the right decisions, so I think the balance of wanting to stay youthful yet live right comes through on these songs.”
As his attitude and words prove, Green has no problem believing that Cannonball is a career album for him. “I have to believe in what I’m doing—that’s what has gotten me over every hill,” he says. “I’ve got a big heart, and I’ve got a strong desire to climb to the top cliff and jump off. If you’re going to do that, you have to think you deserve it. We’ve been doing this a while now, and it just keeps getting better. I’m as ready as I can be for what comes next.”
Live On Stage:
Following the lead of Dierks Bentley, the Superfly folks once again bring some mainstream country into the fold of jam, indie and hip hop. I do dig country, but this modern-country stuff just doesn't do it for me. I do remember walking past the tent that Dierks Bentley was playing last year and it was packed. Here's Pat with "Wave On Wave"...
Let's IMEEM it up, here's a few more tunes to check out...
Here's Pat with "Baby Doll"...
Here's a few more check out...
Feels Just Like It Should
Don't Break My Heart Again
For more on Pat Green, head on over to his official website.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
“Before we started making this record, I was at the worst point in my life," states Steel Train's lead vocalist and songwriter, Jack Antonoff. "I was developing a terrible panic disorder. I felt awful all the time and it got to the point where I didn’t want to do anything. Then I started writing songs again, and instead of falling apart, I tried to find a way to turn it all into something that mattered.” To understand where Antonoff was coming from, it’s important to know what he went through. In a short period of time, his sister died, his cousin was killed in Iraq and he broke up with his girlfriend of many years. The confluence of tragedy left him feeling frustrated and alone.
Through songwriting, he was able to reconnect with one of his greatest passions and lift himself out of his depression. Gradually, his spirits improved and his personal and professional life began to take off, inspiring him to create the life-affirming sounds of Trampoline, the ambitious sophomore effort from New Jersey quintet, Steel Train- a majestic, buoyant album that conjures the sounds and spirit of some of the band’s favorite music styles, including British and American classic rock, folk-rock, psychedelia, pop and alternative.
Filled with huge hooks and quirky instrumentation, Trampoline takes the band to a new level of songwriting and musicianship. But while the songs sound consistently joyous, the lyrics are hyper-realistic addressing the events that can shatter our world and break our hearts as well as focusing on the forces that lift us up and offer a second chance. Throughout the album, urgent guitars, euphoric melody laden keyboards, and yearning vocals cut through on tracks like "Alone on the Sea", "Kill Monsters in the Rain", and "Black Eye". However, the band agrees that the track which embodies the album is “I Feel Weird,” an energized pop number full of piano, and xylophones, in which Antonoff lays his heart in his palm: “When I was 18 everything was alive/ Then the planes hit the towers, then she died, then he died/ A part of me disappeared, six feet in the ground, a million miles in the sky/ a fire burns, a fire burns, a fire burns and it’s mine.”
“The whole song recaps the last five years of my life leading up to right now,” Antonoff explains. “The music is almost like Bruce Springsteen pop. It’s so to the point, but on the other side, the lyrics are really morbid, and sentimental, and uplifting, and the message in the end is that everything will be alright. And that’s really how I feel now.”
Steel TrainThe band which features original members (bassist Evan Winiker and keyboardist Scott Irby) as well as two new arrivals (guitarist Daniel Silbert and drummer Jon Shiffman) had the chance to develop the new material naturally on the road before heading into the studio, giving them the opportunity to see what songs stood up live that a studio may or may not bring to life. As well, Antonoff recorded demo after demo in his New Jersey home to make sure that the new songs were ready for the studio.
In late May of ’07, the group entered the studio in Eagle Rock, California with producer Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World, Rilo Kiley) who helped fine-tune their arrangements, bringing out the band’s strengths and musicianship. Two months after they began, the record was completely tracked.
The end result is a rare, wonderfully layered and versatile album that reveals the uplifting, self-medicating message of an emerging songwriter as well as the solidarity of a focused rock unit – a record that introduces fans to a fuller sound and rich complexity only hinted at in the band's earlier work. Trampoline is a bold departure from the band’s past excursions, and showcases a new Steel Train, musically and philosophically.
Live On Stage:
Steel Train make their return to Manchester, having previously played the fest back in '06. The only thing that I really know about these guys is that their lead singer dated Scarlett Johansson when they were in high school and he penned a song about her called "Better Love". Other that that little US Weekly factoid from what I've read they started out as a emo-pop-rock band, but then discovered jambands - so make what you will of that. Here's their ode to ScarJo...
Here's some more Steel Train for your listening pleasure...
No official music videos, but this is the best I can find...
"Black Eye" (Live)
For more on Steel Train, including a full stream of their latest album, head on over to their official site.
It's not easy being a best kept secret, especially for an artist who is constantly mind traveling and has so much to say. It has to be just as hard when one of hip-hop's greatest and most respected MC's tells one of the most powerful record executives in the world that the talents of the person he's representing are similar to his own five years ago. That's exactly what retired rap legend and current President of Def Jam Records, Jay-Z, told then Arista Records CEO L.A. Reid in a meeting back in 2002 about wunderkind Lupe Fiasco.
The 23 year-old Chicago native, who has been highly regarded and coveted by many top-level executives and industry insiders for the past three years, has remained relatively unknown in the public eye. Until now. With the release of his Atlantic Records debut, FOOD & LIQUOR, Lupe Fiasco is sure to take the entire music industry by storm.
Raised on Chicago's Westside as the youngest boy of nine brothers, Lupe (born Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) is an eclectic soul with varied interests; something that was developed from the upbringing of both of his parents. Lupe's parents made sure he was exposed to anything and everything that was in their environment, which he credits as a major influence as a person and as an artist.
'My father was a real prolific African drummer and can play anything from the Djiembe's to the bagpipes. My mom is a gourmet chef that has traveled the world. We were always around different cultures. It is because of these artistic experiences [that] there are no limitations to what I talk about on my record.'
There are also no limitations to Lupe's skill and ability as an MC. He has the drive to explore artistic region beyond your comfort zone and the desire to break boundaries, all the while having the edge and street credibility to resonate with the purist and the thug, suburbia and the streets, all in one. Rapping since the eighth grade, Lupe began taking the craft seriously when he was 17 years old, inspired by other MC's and groups such as Twista, Nas, Crucial Conflict, Spice 1, Eightball and Psycho Drama. Lupe followed this love, and at the age of 19, his group Da Pak landed their first major record deal under Epic Records. The set-up of the four-man group was 'similar to Boyz N Hood,' according to Lupe. Unfortunately, the group disbanded soon after releasing their first single.
Unfazed and determined, Lupe and his manager/business partner Chill moved ahead. At one point, the rapper planned to sign with Roc-a-Fella Records. 'That's when I first met Jay,' recalls Lupe. 'The situation fell through, but we always stayed in contact because he respected my partner and me as a fellow rapper. He did [a lot] to help me boost my career.' Lupe then signed with Arista Records, but once again his career was halted, this time because Arista head L.A. Reid was relieved from his post. After being thrown around labels, luck finally struck when a former Arista A&R rep and manager of the Notorious B.I.G., Mark Pitts, brought Lupe to the attention of Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman. Atlantic proved to be a perfect fit.
'The title reflects on me being Muslim and being from the streets,' says Lupe about FOOD & LIQUOR. 'In Chicago, instead having bodegas like in New York, the majority of the corner stores are called ‘Food and Liquors.' The store is where everything is at, whether it be the wine-o hanging by the store, or us as kids going back and forth to the store to buy something. The ‘Food' is the good part and the ‘Liquors' is the bad part. I try to balance out both parts of me.'
Laced with 14-tracks of complex, thought-provoking and playful lyricism coupled with sure-fire beats, FOOD & LIQUOR will be distributed by Atlantic through Lupe's company, 1st & 15th Productions, and will feature production by the likes of Nottz, Needles, the Buchanans, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, not to mention 1st & 15th producers Soundtrakk and Pro. The song that is sure to help thrust Lupe from underground phenom to mainstream success is the album's lead single that is dedicated to the art of skateboarding, 'Kick, Push,' produced by Soundtrakk. 'It's a skateboarding song. I used to skateboard when I was younger. I was really into it. I never really knew that skateboarding was so deep as a culture. It's just as deep as hip-hop. I'm not the greatest skateboarder, but I'm a damn good rapper, so I made a damn good skateboarding song.'
Many artists have albums that aim to reach a diverse audience, but Lupe is a living embodiment of the word. Lupe is a devout Muslim and a deep thinker who listens to jazz. But he's also a young man who loves the ladies and likes to chill with his crew. The continued success of hip-hop depends on individuals who combine the streets with intelligence with strong radio airplay. And with Lupe Fiasco, rap has found another favorite son. '[When I retire], I want to step away on positive note.' says Lupe. 'What you put out into the world comes back to you. You actually change the world with what you do. I want to put some good in the world.'
Live On Stage:
Lupe falls somewhere between intelligent backpacker hip-hop and mainstream rap - meaning smart lyrics, but slick radio-friendly singles. His Grammy nominated debut album Food & Liquor featured production from the likes of Jay-Z, Kayne West and The Neptunes. Here's Lupe with "Superstar" from last year's Lollapalooza...
I love IMEEM just for the fact that you can find something like this, here's Lupe's latest album The Coolest for your listening pleasure...
Let's go with "Dumb It Dumb" since it kind of sums up Lupe...
A few more to check out...
For more on Lupe head on over to his official site.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Mason Jennings was born on the island of Oahu the year Physical Graffiti was released. The Vietnam war was just ending. His mom was a lingerie buyer and his Dad was 6'3.
After the war the family moved to Pennsylvania and Mason grew up where Deerhunter was filmed. He met Mean Joe Green and dropped out of High School to travel the world.
The first time Mason rolled through Minneapolis he felt at home. He stayed, was put in jail when police thought he was a male prostitute, got a band and began playing shows anywhere there was a microphone. Before long they painted a star on the side of First Avenue with his name on it (right above an air duct where you can barely see it.)
He began to tour the country with his band playing shows and selling his homemade CD's out of the back of his van. After a while the CDs began reaching the ears and hearts of other musicians and Mason began opening shows for more established artists like Modest Mouse and Jack Johnson. Before long he had sold over 100,000 copies of his records and was selling out headlining shows of his own all over the country.
He signed with Brushfire Records in Early 2008 and is excited to be working with friends that share his vision of love, peace and hope.
His new album, which has yet to be titled, will be released this May.
Live On Stage:
Mason Jennings seems to be your typical guy with a guitar singer-songwriter - the kind that has been all the rage over the last few years. He's been kicking around for some time now, and recently signed to Jack Johnson's Brushfire label who will put his new album In Ether this May. Not a heck of a lot of great live footage out there, but here he is with "Jackson Square"...
Finally an artist with some live shows to download, grab a couple...
2007-02-27 - Phoenix Concert Theatre - Toronto, ON
2005-02-15 - The Parish - Austin, TX
I'll be honest this song kind of sounds like something you'd hear on an episode of Grey's Anatomy- it's just got that soundtrackiness to it. Here's "Be Here Now"...
See what I mean. If Mason's name is ringing a bell for you it may be because he also a contributor to last year's stellar I'm Not There soundtrack where he tackled The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll and The Times They Are A Changin'.
For more on Mason head mosey on over to his official website.
THE ORCHESTRA BAOBAB STORY
Orchestra Baobab are one of Africa’s great iconic bands, creators of one of the world’s most sublime and truly distinctive pop sounds. Founded in 1970, Orchestra Baobab fused Afro-Cuban rhythm and Portuguese Creole melody with Congolese rumba, high life and a whole gamut of local styles – kickstarting a musical renaissance in their native Senegal, which turned the capital Dakar into one of the world’s most vibrant musical cities. They produced more hits in less than a decade than other bands in a lifetime. While Baobab found themselves sidelined by the revolution they helped create and disbanded in 1985, a huge groundswell of international interest led to their triumphant reformation in 2001. Orchestra Baobab are still very much in business today.
'When I arrived in Senegal in 1968, there was only Cuban music,' says Orchestra Baobab’s Togolese guitarist Barthélemy Attisso. 'Back home, we were listening to Nigerian high life and Congolese guitar music, but if you walked past a club in Dakar, you would swear there were Cubans playing inside. Yet they were all Senegalese!'
If you want to get to grips with the Orchestra Baobab story, you have to get under the skin of their home town Dakar. Westernmost city on the African continent, former capital of France’s vast West African empire, Dakar has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most dynamic musical capitals, home to superstars like Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal and Cheikh Lô who have given Senegal perhaps the highest musical profile of any country in Africa. Yet in 1970, when Orchestra Baobab were formed, Dakar was still, in many ways like a French city, a tropical Marseille of art deco apartment blocks, showpiece modernist architecture and pavement cafes. And musically, the city was a backwater.
Neighbouring Mali and Guinea had taken a socialist path, developing new pop identities, based on the rediscovery of traditional sounds, from the 1950s onwards. But Senegal had maintained strong links with France, and its nightclubs were still dominated by the afro-cuban sounds that had been a massive influence in Africa since the 1940s.
But just a short distance from the Plateau, the airy European district, lay the Medina, Dakar’s original native quarter – home to Senegal’s leading ensemble, the mighty Star Band. And beyond it stretched an ever-expanding sprawl of poverty-stricken, shanty-town suburbs known as the ‘quartiers populaires’.
Now 65, percussionist and singer Balla Sidibe is a dignified, avuncular figure with a rich, deep voice. While he wasn’t the original leader of Orchestra Baobab (there wasn’t one), he was there from the beginning – present through every twist and turn of the band’s chequered career – and he was the one who did most to keep the spirit of Orchestra Baobab alive during its darkest hours.
When our story starts, Sidibe was just one of a pool of semi-professional musicians who served Dakar’s nightclubs, moving from band to band in search of better pay and conditions, but rarely achieving more than a local profile. A former gendarme and sometime paratrooper, Sidibe had played in bands in his home town in the Casamance, Senegal’s southern region. Having come to Dakar with the intention of joining the elite presidential guard, he soon found himself embroiled in the music scene, alongside another young singer from the Casamance, a language student named Rudy Gomis.
‘We were young, and looking for excitement,’ says Sidibe. ‘We played in the Café Palladium every Monday once the resident orchestra stopped playing. But we weren’t aware that we were preparing our musical careers. We just played to have a few francs in our pockets. We weren’t married. We had no responsibilities. Life was beautiful.’
By 1970, Sidibe and Gomis had graduated through the Standard Orchestra to the country’s leading ensemble – the Star Band of the Miami Nightclub. Founded by the club’s owner, Ibra ‘Le Grand’ Kasse, to celebrate Senegalese independence in 1960, the Star Band had become a school through which every musician of any worth passed, and the crucibile for the gradual Africanisation of Senegalese music. Kasse encouraged the musicians to sing in their own languages, to play traditional songs and indigenous instruments such as the tama (or talking drum).
Sidibe transposed Cuban standards into the rolling cadences of his native Mandinka; Gomis specialised in lilting, melancholy ballads in Portuguese Creole. While Gomis soon tired of Kasse’s dictatorial ways and left, Sidibe stayed on.
‘Ibra Kasse was a perfectionist. We would arrive at 9pm, and he would give us the music we were to play at midnight. There was no discussion. If you sang out of tune he would simply cut you off. It sometimes made us very angry, but it allowed us to master certain things. Without him we could never have come so far.’
Situated in the proletarian Medina, the Miami was a typical African nightclub, lively, populist and slightly seedy. But up the road in the heart of the European quarter, a new club was opening with a very different feel, which was to have huge impact on Senegalese popular culture.
Created in 1970 by a group of young businessmen and politicians as an exclusive meeting place near the country’s National Assembly, the Baobab Club quickly established itself as Dakar’s chicest nightspot. Decorated by Senegal’s top artists, it had a bar in the form of the trunk of a baobab – the majestic tree of the savannah.
Veteran Star Band saxman Baro Ndiaye was brought in to provide the music, and he quickly poached his former band’s most promising younger members: Sidibe, Gomis, and a young Togolese law student named Barthélemy Attisso, who had taken up music to pay his course fees, but who was emerging as one of the city’s most talented guitarists.
‘The Baobab was beautiful,’ says Sidibe. ‘There was a strict dress code: a suit and tie or full traditional robes. You had to be somebody to even get in there. We musicians realised we had to bring the kind of quality that people expected in a place like that.‘
The fact that none of the three were Dakar insiders was highly significant in the evolution of the Baobab sound. Sidibe and Gomis’s husky voices worked superbly together, their deep-velvet harmonies redolent of the tropical atmosphere of their native Casamance. Attisso, meanwhile, was steeped in Ghanaian high life and Congolese music, and was evolving his own idiosyncratic version of the florid Congolese guitar style of Franco and Dr Nico, filtered through influences as diverse as Wes Montgomery, BB King and Carlos Santana.
In contrast to these warm, rich, lyrical flavours, Laye Mboup, another crucial early member, brought the starker, neo-Islamic sounds of the Dakar region. A griot – traditional praise singer – working with the National Instrumental Ensemble, he sang entirely in Wolof, the lingua franca of Dakar, which was becoming increasingly important as an indicator of national identity. Mboup’s use of the arcane language of the griots, combined with his personal charisma and sex appeal added greatly to Baobab’s cachet – particularly with women. His soaring voice was heard to compelling effect on the smouldering ‘Nijaay’ from their first LP, released on the club’s own label in 1972. He died tragically in a car accident in 1975.
As Dakar’s elite danced till dawn with their soignée girlfriends, packing the club out five nights a week, Orchestra Baobab became established as Senegal’s top group. And as older members Ndiaye and original bass player Sidath Ly left, the group’s classic line-up was gradually established. Rhythm guitarist Latfi Benjeloun was of Moroccan parentage, bassist Charlie Ndiaye was from the Casamance, while drummer and percussionist Mountaga Kouyate hailed from eastern Senegal.
Singer Ndiouga Dieng, in contrast, was very Dakar – another Wolof griot, brought in to replace Laye Mboup during his absences with the National Ensemble. He introduced Thione Seck, a teenager with a wonderfully luminous, yearning voice. Medoune Dialo, another mainstay of this period, had the rich, vibrato-laden tone of a Cuban rumbero, but with an unmistakably nasal Senegalese tinge. Even more crucial to Baobab’s sound and image were the smokily rhapsodic tone and wayward charisma of rangy tenor saxman, Issa Cissoko, whose family originally from Mali.
Yet while each member brought his individual style and charisma, it all blended into one unmistakable sound. Whatever the language or the rhythm, the most compelling feature of any Baobab song was the warm, lilting and fabulously melodic Baobab sound.
Baobab’s heyday at their eponymous home club lasted seven glorious years, during which they also toured in Cameroon, Tunisia and Guinea. The poor sales of a series of five LPs recorded in one marathon session & pressed by the club’s owners in America, led to bad feeling between band and employers. In 1977, Orchestra Baobab accepted an offer to move to the Jandeer nightclub at a vastly increased salary. But things didn’t work out as they’d hoped, and they moved to the Balafon – run by a Madame Michel – before decamping to Paris in 1978. Their six month stay produced two highly rated albums, recorded with up and coming producer Ibrahima Sylla, ‘Baobab à Paris, Vols 1 & 2’, which included the perennial favourite ‘On Verra Ca’. Yet it proved an unsatisfactory experience and they returned to Senegal out of pocket and without a club residency.
Baobab were soon ensconced at the Ngalam, and proved so successful that the club had to be rebuilt to accommodate the crowds they attracted. Much of the band’s best material dates from this period. Their 1981 album ‘Mohammadou Bamba’ features stunning vocal performances from Thione Seck on the title track and Ndiouga Dieng on ‘Bulmamin’. Yet all was not well with Orchestra Baobab. They couldn’t shake off the old nightclub ethos where musicians came and went as the mood took them, and the personnel was never entirely stable.
Baobab’s 1982 album ‘Ken Dou Werente’ included many of their most famous songs, ‘Coumba’, ‘Ledi Njemme Mbodj’ and ‘Utru Horas’ – Rudy Gomis’s magnificent, slowburning lament which predicted the civil war in his native Casamance. Yet while the album should have been their defining masterpiece, it went largely ignored.
Orchestra Baobab had barely noticed it, but the balance of Senegalese society was changing. Out in the quartiers populaires, the sprawling, impoverished suburbs, which had grown vastly in size over the decade of Baobab’s supremacy, a pop revolution was underway. And the focus for these new developments was the band’s old alma mater, the Star Band. While their old ensemble had been temporarily put out of business by the rise of Orchestra Baobab, it had revived with an influx of new talent, including an extraordinary young singer named Youssou N’Dour. In 1979 these young turks left to form Etoile de Dakar, a band whose arrival had on impact equivalent to that of punk in the West.
While the new generation drew on Baobab’s freewheeling, pan-African approach, they pushed one element right to the fore of their sound – the Wolof rhythms of Dakar. The hard-cracking sabar drums and the tama talking drum became the signature sounds of a new genre – mbalax. While mbalax rhythms had been present in Baobab’s music – mbalax was in fact what Laye Mboup had been doing with them ten years before – they had been subsumed into the gracious flow of the Baobab sound, played not on sabar drums, but on afro-cuban congas.
Charlie Ndiaye sums up the times: Sometimes I think the success of mbalax was perhaps linked to the phenomen of urbanisation. People left the villages and came to the capital and those people didn’t know how to dance salsa properly. Not even R&B. But the sabar was easy to dance for them. And it was a women’s thing. They loved it and with that, things were decided. Where women go, men will go too, especially in matters of dancing. Women went to dance the sabar at Youssou’s club and the men followed them.
Faced with dwindling audiences, Baobab had to decide whether to adapt musically to the new changes or simply call it a day. ‘We decided against following fashion,’ says Attisso. ‘That meant our gradual decline, but we accepted that in order to protect our originality, our identity.’
Thione Seck had already left to form his own highly successful mbalax outfit, Attisso got a job at the university and gradually the other members left, till there was only the original vocal duo Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis with bass player Charlie Ndiaye. An attempt to forge an updated version of the Baobab sound with a group of younger musicians failed to find an audience, and finally Sidibe was left as sole custodian of the name Orchestra Baobab.
Yet the late 1980s, when Orchestra Baobab were at the lowest point of their popularity in Senegal, was the very period when their music was being discovered on the burgeoning Western world music scene. While the likes of Youssou N’Dour and Baaba Maal were trying to break into the Western mainstream, Baobab’s earthily melodic sound struck a chord with listeners discovering African music for the first time. Baobab’s neglected 1982 album ‘Ken Dou Werente’ became a sought-after cult-classic. In 1989, it was re-released to huge acclaim by World Circuit under the title ‘Pirate’s Choice’.
Yet while Orchestra Baobab were now established among Western connoisseurs as icons of the African dance-band era, many of the original members were struggling. Sidibe, Ndiaye and Latfi Benjeloun eked out a precarious living playing in hotel foyers, while Gomis was running an African language school for foreign aid workers and Attisso had long since returned to his native Togo.
World Circuit's Nick Gold had long dreamed of reuniting Orchestra Baobab. Incidentally, the band's subtle blend of the African and latin was one of the main reasons behind the proposed meeting of Africans & Cubans convened by World Circuit in Havana in 1996 - a project which eventually became the multi million selling BVSC phenomenon. Talks about reforming the band had begun in 1997, by which time the cultural climate in Senegal had radically changed.
The novelty had long since gone out of mbalax, and a more open and pluralistic attitude prevailed. Indeed, among those closely involved in Baobab’s revival was Youssou N’Dour, who, it turned out, had been a huge Baobab fan all along. ‘They had such a clean sound,’ he says. ‘And they were pan-African. We’re ready for this approach to come back. We’ve put up too many barriers in our music. Young people understand now how important those years – the 1970s – were for our music. So they’re ready to listen.’
It was agreed that Baobab should appear at a special Dakar concert at London’s Barbican in May 2001 – on the proviso that guitarist Attisso would take part. Attisso was eventually tracked down to Togo, where he was running a successful commercial law practice, though he hadn’t touched a guitar in 15 years. Thierno Koite – sometime Youssou N’Dour sideman and brother of Baobab drummer Mountaga – was recruited on alto sax, while Assane Mboup, an up and coming star of Dakar’s mbalax scene, fulfilled the role played by his hero Laye Mboup.
The Barbican concert provoked ecstatic responses from the Western media. Far from crassly modernising their music, as many fans had feared, the group looked and sounded as though they had stepped through a 1970s time-warp. ‘Pirates Choice’ was re-released as a remastered double album with additional rare tracks, and a year of euphoric international touring followed. Finally, in June 2002, Orchestra Baobab made a triumphant return to Senegal to coincide with the release of a new album, ‘Specialist in All Styles’, their first in nearly twenty years. Comprising lovingly crafted reworkings of some of their best-loved songs, the album was co-produced by Youssou N’Dour and Nick Gold and featured cameos from N’Dour and the great Buena Vista crooner Ibrahim Ferrer.
Orchestra Baobab won two awards at the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music 2003 – in the Africa category and for Album of the Year – gained a Grammy nomination, were the subjects of VH1 Special and took part in the highly prestigious Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo.
Following on from a series of international tours, the band recently took up a Dakar club residency for the first time in nearly twenty years, playing hugely popular Saturday night sessions at the Just 4 U club. Here they began developing material for ‘Made in Dakar’, an album that takes them back to their lo-fi roots in the clubs and streets of their home town. ‘Made in Dakar’ presents a string of beautifully crafted new songs alongside reworked gems from their 20 album discography, some of which date back to their apprentice days in the Star Band.
‘Made in Dakar’ squares the circle on a band who suffered a sixteen year career hiatus, but for whom the flame never quite went out. As guitarist Barthélemy Attisso puts it, ‘We were very anxious before the Barbican concert, but when we heard the strength of the applause, we heaved a sigh of relief. And that's how the adventure started again. We had just been on standby for a moment. The Baobab is a strong tree. Even if you cut it down, it will keep on growing. So when you speak of Orchestra Baobab, you know that we're not the kind of band to disappear quietly.’
Live On Stage:
These guys are legends in their native country, but really unknowns here until Dave Matthews and Trey Anastasio hooked up with them and brought their music to a wider audience with a VH1 special. Ok so they don't sing in English, but these guys are fantastic and should be on your radar when putting together your schedule. Here they are with "On Verra Ca"....
Stream a full concert they did for NPR from back in 2005.
No official music videos from these guys, so let's go with another live performance, from the Malta Jazz Fest...
I can also highly recommend their album Specialists In All Styles, it's a great starting point if you're looking to get into their music.
For more on Orchestera Baobab head on over to their official MySpace page.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
The shores of New Jersey are littered, quite literally, with small towns whose better days are far in the past. They’re towns that have been written about, and sung over; towns that have been mythologized and idealized; and they are the towns that 28-year-old musician Nicole Atkins—a native of Neptune City, located a stones throw from fabled Asbury Park—was born and raised in.
They can be places steeped in their own history, buried under the sense of their own pasts. Places of hey-days and what-once-was. And it’s that sense of something lost, and of what perhaps should have been, and what might be, that permeates Atkins’s debut, Neptune City.
“Neptune City is just this old place,” Nicole says. “There was this glory time, way back when, that I never experienced, but that you cannot escape if you live there. Everyone talks about. They almost yearn for it, but I never experienced it. So maybe this album is my attempt to build something new on top of all that.”
It’s these environs that brought her to where she is today. Nicole was that kid slightly out of touch. When her friends were collecting the latest New Kids on the Block album, she was raving about Traffic or Cream. At the age of 13 she found an old beat up guitar in the attic of her house. It had belonged to an uncle who died when he was young, and she taught herself to play a Grateful Dead song. Her father turned her on to blues artists like Jimmy Reed, and allowed Nicole to sit in on sessions with local musician friends. And then she left that town, that place, behind, attending art school in North Carolina, where she played for three years with the North Carolina alt-country band Los Parasols before making a name for herself as a solo performer on New York City’s anti-folk scene. She slept in an old Dodge Ram Charger on Avenue A, finally, with a little help from her friends, among them David Muller (occasionally a member of Yoko Ono’s band, Fiery Furnaces and Fischer Spooner) finally discovered her own sound.
And it’s that sound that washes over Neptune City, produced by Tore Johansson (Cardigans, Franz Ferdinand, OK Go, Saint Etienne, New Order), an album that sounds like it came from anywhere but the New Jersey Americana rock tradition made famous by Bruce Springsteen. Her music ranges far afield: at some times vaudevillian, at others psychedelic, a little bit country, a dash from early musicals, all under a cloud of pop-noir, often all coming in the very same song. Atkins writes songs that could have come from an episode of Six Feet Under, or an updating of Grease, as directed by David Lynch.
The characters in her tunes seem to live in an idealized past. “This record is the history of my town; it’s the history of my family and friend in this town,” she explains. “From the time I was a kid I started collecting these sad little tragically beautiful personal stories from the people in my life, and my own as well. That sense of history really appeals to me as an artist.” These tales became her blue prints, her inspiration, that would become songs like “Maybe Tonight,” a Ronnettes sounding traipse about a possible chance meeting, or “The Way It Is,” a dark and haunting defense, an insistence by someone hell bent on finding out for herself that something might be wrong. But it might be right, too.
The record calls to mind Roy Orbison if he were a woman; the bleak visions of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen; the darkly mysterious girl group-on-acid musings of Julee Cruise and Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti; the sorrow of Patsy Cline, the ‘60s experimentation of Love and Nuggets; all with a redeeming sense of hope amidst the emotional wreckage that is all Nicole. A sense that’s perfectly captured on “Cool Enough,” on which she sings, “I don’t care where you’re going/You’re taking me with you/This place got nothing that I could want/But I think that someday, I might feel different/But still, that’s someday/Still that’s someday/So take me with you.”
“War Torn” is about the frustration of a long-distance relationship that inevitably must end for your own good, while “Neptune City,” with its double-tracked harmonies providing its ghostly atmosphere, is an elegy, an homage, to her home.
Over everything, Atkins brings a painterly quality to her music, fitting for a woman who studied illustration while at UNC Charlotte, and still has her own mural business. Her songs are aural paintings, mixing and matching colors and sounds.
“That’s why I have such a hard time playing solo these days,” says Nicole, who plied her trade in hundreds of bars North Carolina, New York, and New Jersey before attracting the attention of a major entertainment attorney, who helped her get signed. “When I write a song, I think about all the different layers that will go on top of it.”
In the end, Neptune City comes across as a restoration project in a way, an attempt to build something new on something old. There’s an acute subtlety to the art of restoration. Do it wrong and you’re simply cribbing the past. Do it right and you’re actually, in a profound way, carrying it forward into today. And that’s what Neptune City accomplishes. It brings its past with it, carries its heart on its sleeve, and strides hopefully into a better day it can hardly imagine, but hopes will be there nonetheless.
Live On Stage:
Man I'm getting stumped on some of these acts at the bottom of the bill this year. I really don't know anything about Nicole Atkins at all, so let's discover her together. Here's her performance on The Late Show from last October...
Pretty damn good. Sort of sexy, jazzy, Broadway-esque.
Nicole Atkins On The World Cafe
Nicole's got two music videos, both off of her debut album Neptune City. Here's the title track from the album...
And here's "The Way It Is"...
For more on Nicole Atkins head on over to here official site.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Chromeo is Pee Thug and Dave 1: best friends since their adolescence, virtuoso musicians, walking hip hop encyclopedias, and the only successful Arab/Jew partnership since the dawn of human culture. After spending the three years since the release of their debut album, She’s In Control, jet setting, globetrotting, and embarking on an overall sensual conquest of planet Earth, Chromeo headed back to their Montreal lab to put together album number deux.
The result, Fancy Footwork, is quite simply the most smoothed-out, hook-heavy, unabashed lovers’ funk since…Chromeo’s last album, actually. What makes this footwork so fancy, you ask? Step the fuck off and open your heart to the finest distillation of Minneapolis groove this side of Mazarati. Dave and Pee are back in the ‘07 to heal the fractured soul of dance music. Teenage lovers, 20 something blogpoders, 30 something burn-out ex-raver “graphic designers” and 40 something sistas can all finally party under one roof...and that roof has a name, AND that roof is on fire, and the only ones who can put out that funk-fire also happen to be the guys the roof is named after: CHROMEO.
Does analog synth wizard P-Thugg still rock nightgown-sized DipSet t shirts, talk through a keyboard, and have the thousand-yard stare of a well-practiced gangster? You bet he fucking does. Does vocalist and guitarist Dave 1 still dress like a French Lit professor from 1965? Can he still ask you to twerk without coming off like an imposter? You better believe he can. Chromeo is slick. Chromeo is dripping with reverb. Chromeo is Moog riffs, luxurious harmonies, macho guitar solos and real-deal songcraft. From the dancefloor-ready singles “Fancy Footwork” and “Tenderoni,” to the autobiographical Jew-boy ballad “Momma's Boy,” to the epic sax-laden album closer “100%,” Fancy Footwork rolls you through a sleek, melodic world where all you need to worry about is whether you’ve got your sunglasses on and the right moves to keep up. Remember the debate when Chromeo first came on the scene? The endless back and forth about whether those boys were joking or not? Well, Fancy Footwork will put any vestigial haters to sleep forever. There ain’t nothing “ironical” about this music. It’s Hall & Oates riding on 22’s, busting shots in the air with Quincy Jones driving. That shit ain’t funny.
So there you have it: Chromeo, the band reborn...the sex, the beats, the dream, the suits, the gloves, the laughs, the tears, the past and the future. All rolled up into one big blunt, smoked up through Pee’s talkbox tube and exhaled into your brain. Enjoy.
Live On Stage:
If you like to get your dance on, then you're going to love yourself some Chromeo. Their sounds falls somewhere in the realm of disco, electro-funk - lots of synthy sounds, with a catchy dance beat. Here they are with "Bonafied Lovin'" from their appearance on Jimmy Kimmel...
I don't think it would be far off to compare these guys to Gnarls Barkley.
From the looks of it the guys in Chromeo like to have fun with music videos, here's "Needy Girl"...
Let's go with a two-fer since I'm digging their videos, here's "Tenderoni"
Couple more for you to check out...
You're So Gangsta
Here's an IMEEM chocked full of Chromeo...
For more on Chromeo head on over to their official website.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
A decade ago, Tom Gabel began his music career as a 17-year old solo acoustic act known as Against Me!, belting out songs of rebellion in laundromats and any other venue that would have him.
Flash forward to today, and Gabel’s agitation cycle is still cranked high, but not without a wild streak of optimism thrown in for good measure. For the past five years, the gravelly roar of the vocalist/guitar player has been part of a thunderous and thoughtful foursome featuring Andrew Seward (bass), Warren Oakes (drums) and James Bowman (guitar), still doing business under the Against Me! moniker. Churning out a distinctive blend of punk, rock, and even folk that is impossible to label, they have toured all 50 states and foreign lands from Iceland to Australia, forging an intense connection with their growing legions of fans.
Now, after three successful full-length records on indie labels-- Reinventing Axl Rose (No Idea, 2002); As The Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck Chords, 2003) and Searching For A Former Clarity (Fat Wreck Chords 2005), which reached #9 on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart and featured the thumping “Don’t Lose Touch”-- this Gainesville, Florida band is making its major-label debut on July 10, 2007 with New Wave (Sire Records). The title is tidal for a powerful reason.
“We felt like that was our mission statement, or our manifesto for the record,” Gabel said. “Instead of sitting back and complaining about how there's no good music out there, you should be energized and take things over. Be the bands you want to hear. It meant 'wave' in a literal sense, coming and washing away mediocrity… Why let someone else have the loudest voice?” asks Gabel, and with his band’s new record, he most surely has not.
The album opens with a colossal, angst-fueled one-two punch: “New Wave” and “Up The Cuts” are driving, irresistible tracks, seething with energy and alternately pleading and snarling for change. It’s a theme that reverberates throughout the record, both on personal and artistic levels, coming up again most pointedly in “Piss And Vinegar,” with Gabel caterwauling “Just say what you’re thinking!” to the faceless pap-pushers of the mainstream.
For a D.I.Y. outfit like Against Me!, signing to a major label meant some changes in approach—namely, that the band was going to enlist a full-time producer for the first time. They didn’t mess around, teaming up with alt-rock heavyweight Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Garbage).
When the label was prepping a list of potential producers, Gabel and his mates were afraid the candidates would be hot-shots who “didn’t even give a f*ck about our band,” the singer says with a laugh. He confirms that a few mega-producers were indeed on the document, “but Butch was there, and I’ve been a fan of tons of his records, all across the board. I like the fact that the majority of his records are great-sounding sonically, but still sound like real bands. They don’t sound like all the life has been drained out of them.”
For his part, Vig was instantly drawn to the relative unknowns the first time he saw the band play live. “I was blown away by the way they played the intensity and the reaction from the crowd,” Vig said. “The way the audience sings all the songs, I could see this passionate connection with their fans and the way the band communicates with them.”
The veteran producer was excited to work with a band that’s not shy about sharing their feeling on any subject. “One of things I found refreshing in their music, in Tom’s lyrics, is that they give a shit, but they’re never preachy or anything,” Vig shares. “He’s saying something that makes you think about what’s going on. The songs lyrically are complicated and dense. They’re not simple pop songs, but they rock.”
The first single, “Thrash Unreal (Bah Bah),” is a perfect example. In the manner of early Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen songs, it empathetically chronicles the damaged life of a typical college-town burnout—a 40-something female junkie who says she has no regrets—to a defiantly upbeat chorus.
Bass player Seward, who joined Against Me! in 2002, says the new step forward for the band is “not a new adventure—it’s an extension of the adventure. It’s something we wanted to do—we own this move [to a major label]. But I’m not going to lie to you,” Seward added. “I was scared shitless, like ‘Oh shit we’re going to make a complete rookie mistake, we’re going to go to Hollywood to some big-time studio and record something that sounds like…” he trails off with a laugh. Instead, Seward is proud of their latest work, saying “Tom has written by far the best batch of songs he’s ever crafted… Everything is necessary in these songs, everything is there for the greater good. There’s no bullshit or filler in there.”
To make sure he had absolute focus on writing the record, Gabel holed up in a Gainesville motel whenever the band wasn’t touring. As with previous Against Me! records, the subject matter on New Wave is freewheeling, as befits the mind of a 27-year old American male at a crossroads in his life. Conceived by Gabel as “in many ways, a reaction” to the “self-centered, dark and moody” terrain of Searching For A Former Clarity, the new 10-track, 34-minute CD covers the topics of love, lust, war, personal integrity and substance abuse, with a unique blend of attitude that Vig describes as “intense, but with a positive undercurrent.”
New fans drawn by the incendiary 2006 “Jimmy Kimmel Live” performance of Former Clarity’s sizzling screed “From Her Lips To God’s Ears (The Energizer),” with its plaintive chorus of “Condoleeza! What are we gonna do now?” will find more in store. The former “Army brat” (until his parents divorced when he was 12) has stepped up to the plate and cranked out two more raucous fist-pumpers about war and national identity.
“White People For Peace” celebrates the nobility/futility of protesting war, while “Americans Abroad” rails against corporate greed with the aid of Oakes’ road-rage drums and Bowman’s ominous guitar tremolos, before boomeranging with a cautionary that maybe we’re all part of the problem—even the band.
“I don’t feel like I’m a person who has any answers,” says Gabel, who self-published a ‘zine called Misanthrope while in his teens. “But I often feel like I’m searching for identity in the world and trying to figure out where I fit in.”
Wide-eyed and world-weary. Never naïve, but often idealistic, Against Me! is in many ways the punk-rock embodiment of Matthew Modine’s character, “Private Joker,” in the classic Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket. They’re flashing peace signs in a seething mosh pit, and there’s no place else they’d rather be.
Live On Stage:
I don't want to make any blanket generalizations about Against Me! - they seem just like a straight ahead mainstream rock band from what I can tell, usually the kind of stuff I avoid. They are currently on the road opening for the Foo Fighters and later in the summer can be seen on the Warped Tour. Let's take a look at them from last year's SXSW with "New Wave"...
Spin named their latest album New Wave their album of the year for '07, while Rolling Stone had it at #9. I can't really vouch for this download, but did find this...
Against Me! - Live In London
Also Ben Lee loved the album so much that he recorded his own version of it.
Let's go with "Thrash Unreal" the second single ofF their latest...
Here's a few more to check out...
White People For Peace
Don't Lost Touch
Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Ballled
Want more, here's a rather lengthy and assuming full discography in a nifty IMEEM playlist...
For more on Againt Me! hit up their official website.