Friday, December 31, 2004

The Best of 2004

Here are the 25 releases from 2004 that I would pack f I were to be stranded on a desert island. Okay, it's cheesy, but indulge me. These are in no particular order.

  • Umphrey's McGee - Anchor Drops
  • The Roots - The Tipping Point
  • Joss Stone - Mind, Body and Soul
  • Keane - Hopes & Fears
  • cLOUDDEAD - Ten
  • Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
  • Interpol - Antics
  • The Futureheads - Futureheads
  • The Shins - Chutes To Narrow
  • Arel Larrieux - Bravebird
  • Teedra Moses - Complex Simplicity
  • The Comas - Conductor
  • Wilco - A Ghost is Born
  • Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Like Bad News
  • Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company
  • Elvis Costello & The Attractions - The Delivery Man
  • Nellie McKay - Get Away From Me
  • Mos Def - The New Danger
  • Prince - Musicolgy
  • The Delays - Faded Seaside Glory
  • !!! - Louden Up Now
  • Patti Smith - Trampin'
  • TV on the Radio - Desparate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babies
  • Air - Walkie Talkie
  • Sual Williams - Saul Williams

I might change a few things as I discover something I had forgotten, but this is what it is as of now. As I discover new sounds, expect that my list will be quite different next year. Still, for this year, here you are. I'd love to hear your comments, suggestions, and "Hey, you left __________ out!"

Enjoy 2005! Let the music do the talkin'!!

Monday, December 27, 2004

Interview with Umphrey's McGee - Part 1

I first came upon Umphrey's McGee on the website. After exploring the band's own website, I know that I needed to interview them. Several phone calls and emails later, here we are. The band is Joel Cummins (keyboards, vocals), Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Ryan Stasik (bass), Andy Farag (percussion), Jake Cinninger (guitar, synthesizer, vocals), and Kris Myers (drums, vocals).

I spoke with guitarist Brendan Bayliss prior to the sound check of a sold-out show at Irving Plaza in New York City. He explained, "We've been on a really good tear. We sold out in Boston, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Things are really on fire for us right now." As they should be for a band The Village Voice proclaimed "No doing anything else as ambitiously musical as Umphrey's McGee."

Enjoy the first of a four part interview with UMG guitarist, Brendan Bayliss.

BB: It's always been synonymous with the free form and extended improvisation and soloing. It's not rooted in structure as much as live and in the moment.

Certainly with the bands that came before, such as the Grateful Dead. You can consider Zeppelin a jam band. In some capacity, they were improv in that they were doing other people's music, old blues tunes, etc. But, that's a very fair statement.
It comes from many of these bands playing a lot and not playing the same set list. They play other people's music. They don't want to play the same songs and in order to do that you have to have a large repertoire.

I would say it's more paying homage. If you don't have confidence in your original stuff, I don't see the point in doing it. That's just me. I would imagine it's more of who you're influenced by, so you want to play it. It would be fun to play. There is also the whole element of fun. When you're not confident, you have issues of ego and self. When you eliminate that with a cover song, you can detach and have fun and not have to worry about whether it is a good song or not.

I would say that we play about 8 songs a set and one or two will be covers.

I guess. There is certainly something to be said about that. The number doesn't necessarily reflect quality. It's all relative. It's something we've pushed on ourselves because we want to do this full-time, long-term. For us, the only way to do that is to be fresh and not get stale. It's what we do and that what we do.

Friday, December 17, 2004

W.C. Handy Blues Awards Nominees Announced

The Blues Foundation will present the 26th W.C. Handy Blues Awards on Thursday May 5, 2005 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The awards honor the best of the blues for 2004.

For a list of nominees, visit the Blues Foundation website.

William Christopher (W.C.) Handy is commonly known as "the father of the blues. Born in 1873 in Alabama and passed away in 1958 at the age of 84. A full biography can be found online at the University of North Alabama Libraries.

Tickets are currently available online.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Sounds From The Superhighway 6

The Capsules - She looks like a young Tori Amos, sings like a cross between Mary Chapin Carpenter and Sarah MacLachlan, and front an excellent band. The Capsules, from Lawrence, KS, have released two full length CDs (Reverser & Someone For Everyone) and six-song mini-set (Home). The EP was recently released and only available through the website or at shows. Thankfully, we can now say Lawrence is known for more than the Jayhawks. ROCK, CHALK, JAYHAWK!

Jake Brennan & The Confidence Men - Jake Brennan may not be household name outside Boston, but give him time. He's well on his way. His latest release, Love & Bombs (YepRoc) is further indication that this band has a bright future. Brennan began as the frontman for a hardcore band, but soon discovered that his heart lay elsewhere. Timely encounters with production and writing heavyweights led to him recording his first releases. Since then, Brennan has continued to receive much love from press and fans alike. Check out his website for samples.

Outrageous Cherry - Detroit's latest assemblage of musicians is not new to the scene. The four musicians that make up Outrageous Cherry have resumes that would rival any band in and out of Detroit. Their latest release, Why Don't We Talk About Something Else, is an EP that continues a 60s songwriting jones, but also shows the group veering in other directions. Matthew Smith, the main force behind O.C. and the Volebeats, shows he hasn't lost a step. Well worth looking into.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Sounds From The Superhighway 5

Island View Drive - A nice little three piece unit from Fenton, Michigan, consisting of the brothers Tower on guitar (Luke) and bass (Alec) with Brandon Maniez on drums. The brothers also share vocal duties. Their new release, What Will It Take, shows a more mature approach to songwriting with the added bonus of an increased comfort level in the studio. The most glaring comparsion may focus on bands such as Rush, Triumph, and Focus, but there is also an element of jazz infused within the sound. Good stuff from a band we can expect to hear more from in the future.

Free Dominguez - Unique first name, unique sound, tons of potential. Free Dominguez is a vocalist who pours everything into her music. The worry is that in the cookie cutter world of Los Angeles, CA, here home base, she may get lost. Still, "freedoming," her only release, is worth finding. Free produced, arranged and wrote the music for this record. I was able to listen to several tracks and came away impressed and wanting to hear more. I'd be curious to see if she can pull off live what she does on record. My guess is that Free will have no problems.

cLOUDDEAD - One might call them the bravest hip hop band. One might refer to them as just plain weird. Does it really matter as longas you refer to them? DIW Magazine wrote "The music of cLOUDDEAD isn't hip-hop, trip-hop, ambient or drum 'n' bass. Instead, it's stylistically schizophrenic, hovering somewhere in the gray area between all those genres." On their latest release, Ten, they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. This makes for mindbending music that is not for commercial hip-hop fan. This is for person who chooses to experiment and be daring. One guarantee: You won't be able to hit the stop button.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Linton Kwesi Johnson DVD

Live in Paris Released on Wrasse Records

Linton Kwesi Johnson is reggae's most underrated poets/artist. Johnson has been recording for 25 years, but has never truly received the recognition he deserves. Now, music fans worldwide will have an opportunity to see Linton Kwesi Johnson in concert. Here is the press release from LKJ Records:

"LKJ Records are delighted to announce that Linton Kwesi Johnson's first ever DVD, LKJ Live In Paris With The Dennis Bovell Dub Band, will be released worldwide by Wrasse Records. The DVD, along with the accompanying CD, will come out in South Africa and Japan on 29 November 2004, followed one day later by release in the USA. The DVD and CD will also be issued in parts of Europe including Germany and Italy. As well as the live concert, the DVD also includes an interview and some a cappella poems from the acclaimed poet. It was released in France and the UK this July to celebrate Linton Kwesi Johnson's 25th anniversary as a reggae recording artist."

If you are a fan of poet and/or reggae, this is a CD to check out.

Friday, December 10, 2004

High Water Marks/Ulysses

High Water Marks
Songs About The Ocean

eenie meenie records

Okay, I know: There have been several reviews placing these two albums together. Well, DUH!!! Look at the history and you'll understand that these two albums, while separate entities are entwined in many ways. Most important is the connection between the main cogs that turn these wheels: Hilarie Sidney and Robert Schneider, main ingrdients in Apples In Stereo. But the comparisons do not end there. High Water Marks and Ulysses have delivered albums that benefit and suffer from the similar formulas.

HWMs Songs About the Ocean is an album that should have been much better than what is presented. The band seems to spend too much time trying to figure out whether they fall under the punk umbrella, pop or somewhere in between. The production also suffers. Vocals often become indistinguishable and guitars are muffled.

On the positive side, the songwriting is top notch. HWM have put together intelligent songs that are unfortunately buried under bad production. Hilarie Sidney is a better than average singer and there are times I wished she had put vocals to more, if not all, of the tracks.

Ulysses is another story. Robert Schneider went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum with this album. The songs on .010 are bare bones. Stripped like layers on a floor that reveal a gorgeous undercovering. The sound is straightforward without any punches. It's like boiling water - easy and you know what you're going to end up with - boiling water, silly!

The sole downside to this album is the production. .010 was recorded in a garage at Pet Sounds Studios and there are occasions when you can tell. Fortunately, it really doesn't take away from the enjoyment of this album.

While there is good songwriting associated with both discs, they are difficult to listen to in one sitting. HWM is especially difficult with its sound, but Schneider does tend to get redundant as the CD moves along. Both are worth the purchase, but do so with caution.

On TGB rating scale, Ulysses checks in on Earth and High Water Marks registers on Mars.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Sounds From The Superhighway 4

Wordsworth - He's Brooklyn born and bred, a Lyricist Lounge All-Star, and he's making waves on the hip hop scene with his retro album. His name is Wordsworth and while he may share the name of one of the greatest poets ever, in his own style and bravado, he is equally as adept a wordsmith. Wordsworth's most recent release, Mirror Music, on the Halftooth Records imprint, is about real life. In his bio, Wordsworth explains that "When people hear my album I want them to feel like I said everything they couldn’t say, so when a song ends their response is, ‘Word!’"

Masta Ace - Another Brooklyn rapper making noise in the underground is Masta Ace. Ace comes with an impressive resume. In the 80's, he was part of Marley Marl's (of Furious five fame) Juice Crew and later went on to score hits on the Delicious Vinyl label. After taking a three-year break from recording, Ace returned to drop some dope jams. His latest release, A Long Hot Summer, his fifth, showcases an underappreciated artist with a flow as smooth as ketchup from a squeeze bottle. This CD is bound to end up on many Top Ten lists.

Soul Rebels - The Village Voice wrote "...this shrewd crew of college-trained multi-instrumentalists are getting ready to teach the world that there's more to Crescent City hip-hop than Master P. The Soul Rebels are the missing link between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong." What incredible accolades for a band that identifies itself with marching band music. Yet what Soul Rebels has done is add hip-hop, funk, soul, jazz and anything else they found in the kitchen sink and came away with a sound that smells and tastes as good as grandma's fresh baked apple pie sitting on the window sill cooling off. Their next release, "Rebelution," is scheduled for release on Janaury 29, 2005.

Dimebag Darrell Killed

Former Pantera Guitarist Shot & Killed While on Stage

In February of 2003, the heavy metal world suffered a tremendous blow when a fire sparked by pyrotechnics at a Rhode Island club killed fans, and a member, of Great White. A community struggled as it attempted to piece together what happened. Yesterday, in Columbus, Ohio, former Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell, was shot multiple times at point blank range and instantly killed.

I was never a big fan of Pantera, but appreciated their music and enjoyed several tracks, esp. "Cemetary Gates." As far as I am concerned, if you can write music, play an instrument, sing, etc., you have talent. Dimebag Darrell (whose real name is Darrell Abbott) was a talented musician who was responsible for many of Pantera's hits. He was currently touring with his band, Damageplan, which also featured his brother, Vinnie Paul (Abbott).

The tragedy is that Abbott was not the only person killed. Three other innocent concertgoers were shot to death when the gunman opened fire on the crowd. Had police not been in the area, and responded expeditiously, this situation could have been much worse. The shooter was killed when an officer opened fire.

The flag of heavy metal flies at half mast today in memory of Darrell Abbott and the three Columbus, Ohio natives killed in this tragic occurrence.

UPDATE 12/13/04: Click on Yahoo for comments from music industry.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Runner & The Thermodynamics

A Correspondence with Marc Pinansky

A friend recently passed along a CD put out through Marlboro cigarettes. While I am not a smoker, I am a music fan. I graciously accepted the CD. After popping it into my player, the first song that emerged was Runner & The Thermodynamics' "So Sorry." It conjured up images of T-Rex, The Who, and Big Star.

Recently, I began a correspondence with guitarist Marc Pinansky. Here is the first of those emails. Enjoy!

TGB: In your bio, it states: "Rock N' Roll merely passed-out around 1979 and is just now beginning to wipe the sleep from its eyes." What do you think this means?

Marc Pinansky: The intention of that statement was kind of a stab at the bloated, over-produced "rock" that began to emerge - i.e. Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, 38 Special, etc. Our mission statement is about rekindling the spark that pushed the boundries of rock from 1966 right on through the 70's. Even by the late 70's, rock music, to me, was still impressive - from the tightly wound power of The Jam or The Police, to the more expansive, orchestrated stuff, like Rush or Genesis. In all fairness, I love a good melody, and I do rather enjoy some of these acts that I speak out against (I particularly dig 38 Special). There has always been an underlying urgency to our music, a hint of desperation, and I feel that searching in most rock n'roll - just not so much in the aformentioned "lite"rock bands. But I do see a glimmer of hope in rock today. Not so much in the stuff that actually makes it to commercial radio, but the hard touring bands that have earned thousands of fans who just love music - especially live music. These bands will play for 3 hours a night because they want to, they need to.

TGB: Tell me about the Marlboro CD and how you came to be part of it.

MP: Last CMJ, we played a secret party in New York withJet, The Hiss, Mondo Daio, and Secret Machines. There were a lot of folks in the business at this place, as is the point of CMJ. Anyways, all of those bands had a lot of buzz going on, and we were this unknown band from Boston who played right in the middle of it all. We got real drunk off the free booze pushed on us and just did our thing, not expecting to do anything more than play for some folks we wouldn't normally get to play in front of. Well everybody seemed to dig it (except for The Secret Machine's drummer. Roger borrowed his drum stand and broke it. He was about to hit him when he got distracted and Roger snuck out and didn't come back for 2 hours!), and some of the folks were from the Leo Burnett ad agency in Chicago. They came to see us again at SXSW (which resulted in more mayhem and destruction) and really wanted to work with us. Marlboro has been putting out these comps of up-and-coming bands and they asked us to be on it.

TGB: With all the anti-smoking sentiments in this country, do you believe an appearance on this CD will help or, possibly, hurt your career?

MP: At first, I said no to the comp (much to the upset ofmy broke band). Although we are a band, I wrote the songs, so it was my call. I explained that I could see no other point to this comp than to hook in young smokers and college kids by using underground "buzz"bands. They assured me that it was only aimed at loyalty - meaning keeping the smokers that they have from switching brands. It was only being sent to smokers who verified their over-21 status and had already been in their database. Despite this, I still said no.

I quit smoking over a year ago, and big part of me quiting (besides saving my voice) was that I wanted to break the stereotype of smoking and rock n'roll. Honestly, that is why I started smoking at age9! The addiction had my brain convinced that it was not only cool and artistic - but the ONLY way to be if you play rock.

What made me turn around on doing the comp was the fact that it was going out to 3 million people - possibly 5 million - if people like it. I have given my life for music and the fact that I could bring my music to that many people seemed too exciting to pass up. We tour a lot and it would be great to have some of these new fans coming to see us in the cities and towns. The e-mails we've gotten (about 3 a day for the last couple of months) have been so nice and positive. People asking to cover our song, people from all over just telling us that they liked it, and, now, TGB! Our ultimate mission is to bring our music to as many people as possible so they can enjoy it. That is what it is all about. It is a give and a take with the moral dilema, but my intentions are pretty honest.

Check back for more from Marc.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sounds From The Superhighway 3

Volume 3

David Porteous - To call David Porteous a workaholic might be an understatement. This may be the hardest workng musician you have never heard of. Porteous already has ten indenpdent releases (since 1999) under his belt, plus songs for an HBO pilot, several tracks for movies, numerous guest appearances, and a tour schedule that might make the average band's head spin. His latest release Missing April is another testament to the talent possessed by this Canadian standout. A documentary on David Porteous is currently in the work and you can expect that to be release early in the new year. Until then, check out his website and his music.

Thee Minks - A power punk trio from Philadelphia, PA that will kick your ass, lay its carcass on the ground, and stomp it to a pulp - but in very loving fashion. How can one not love a band fronted by two ladies (Hope Diamond, Liz Lixx) with a male drummer named Plaything. Currently, the band has produced a four song mini-LP, Songs About Boys, and is currently working on a full-length release which will see the light of day in 2005. While you will not be able to download complete songs from their website, you can hear snippets of two tracks from the mini-LP. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The Greenhornes - I had the pleasure of seeing this band about three years ago in Seattle on a bill with Burning Brides. I came away very impressed and wondering why this band wasn't better known. Then I come to learn that bassist Patrick Keeler and drummer Jack Lawrence were the rhythm section for Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, which was produced by Jack White of The White Stripes. Two tracks you can listen to on their website are "Lies" and Hightime." Both have a 60's garage feel that conjures early Kinks or ? & The Mysterians ("96 Tears"). It's that Hammond organ sound that permeated the mid to late 60s. The band is currently working on new material in their native Cincinnati, Ohio. Stay tuned for more info.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Saul Williams

Saul Williams
(Fader Label

by Bill Nevins

"This ain't hiphop no more. It's bigger than that," declares Saul Williams in an early cut on his latest, self-titled cd, Saul Williams. The man is right. This cd takes spoken word and beats and carries them into new territory. Saul Williams may be the Picasso of contemporary spoken poetry--cutting new angles, new attitudes with his fierce wit and political vision.

A movie actor (Slam, K-Pax), author and respected performance poet (at the Nuyorican and Taos World Championship Poetry Bouts and in the NYC streets at this August's Republican National Convention protests), Saul Williams is first and foremost an edgy, musical activist. No droning verse here. Saul Williams, like his earlier recordings, Amethyst Rockstar and Not in My Name, has Saul singing, shouting, rapping and chanting--even moaning--over varied and exciting rock melodies and hiphop riddims.

This cd takes on both the twisted exploitation and potential cultural redemption enmeshed in the Hip Hop culture, and Williams does not leave this meditation without an assertive growl: "There's nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come!" Elsewhere on the cd, Williams attacks both racism and the destructive economic machinery of death and war. His weapons include an astonishing vocabulary and a free-associating intellect that sparks striking images and revelations. Saul Williams, like Saul himself, is at its fiercest moments astonishing.

The cd slows down at points and does not always hit such volcanic levels of revolutionary fervor and verbal-musical incandescence. But this recording rewards multiple listenings, and its varied pace itself reveals a powerful pattern. This is music, and poetry, from the people and for the people. Williams is a peoples' word warrior and no mistake.

Saul Williams aims to set the world ablaze with words. Saul Williams lights that fire.

This CD definitely hits the "SUN" earning it a 10.