Wonderful Ones: An Ode to the Josh Joplin Group

3 Jul


On the 2001 LP Useful Music, Josh Joplin opens the track “Gravity” with a sagacious maxim: “I will not be here forever, so I will not waste any time.” And he and his band and then group (inside joke for fans) did not. Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, Josh Joplin and his Atlanta crew released five albums of tremendous potency. Each was lined with extraordinary alternative folk/rock tracks, each written with the clever hand of Joplin, whose musical influences (Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan) seeped into each tracks lyric. If I had to describe the group in one fragment it would read: wonderfully skilled lyricist with a group that featured a defined taste for melody and instrumentation. This epithet unfortunately would also read “gone too soon” (12 years now), but, as Joplin sings in his ode to Phil Ochs, “you are not gone,” and, as this post demonstrates, the music of the Josh Joplin Group lives on.

So, why write this post? I don’t know how many Josh Joplin fans there are still. I’m sure many have at least a few tracks sitting on their iTunes track lists – as I do … well, I have more than a few. At least “Camera One,” which made an appearance on the first season of “Scrubs,” is on some playlists. However, Joplin and his group were (and still are in their individual ways – Joplin rarely performs but still recently released some music with Among the Oak & The Ash, a band he formed with singer/songwriter Garrison Starr and does still create solo stuff) way too talented to be reserved to turn of the century alt/rock playlists. I want more people to know about the “wonderful ones” that was the Josh Joplin Group. I will also reserve this one sentence as a minor request for the band to get back together and maybe do a little anniversary tour (the first album was released 20 years ago next year).

So, I need to provide some proof, don’t I. Well, trust me, I have proof of this band’s awesomeness. I’m going to pick two of my favorite songs from the Josh Joplin Group for you to gnaw on. Let’s start with “Better Days”

Much in the vein of Josh Ritter’s “Temptation of Adam,” which was released a decade after this song, Josh Joplin sings a delicate piece expressing his love for his significant other while the world around them was falling apart. The “tragic” nights and “ruins of rage” do not penetrate the couple’s love and although “the end is here,” Josh Joplin passionately professes that he has “never seen better days.” It’s a wonderful paradox that features a melody that perfectly captures the sentiment – soft violin and piano that crescendos when discussing the horror outside the couple’s window, but quiets when expressing the “better days” – however, the most passion of the song is the “I Love You” lyric, which just makes a good deal of sense!

I have to choose “Camera One.” Many of you are probably going, “Oh, this song – this is a really good song.” The song, which cautions Hollywood dreamers, appeared on the re-release of Useful Music in 2001. It is a passionate appeal to the masses, featuring a more radio rock sound – alternative and, true to form, clean and concise. It’s catchy – a driving incipient guitar followed by a build up to a strung-out chorus that bleeds over Joplin’s croon. Great song.

So, there you have it, my passionate appeal to listeners and readers of the Music Court. Listen to the Josh Joplin Group!

Seeing is Believing: Bells Atlas, Pegasus Warning, and Mark de Clive-Lowe

1 Jul
Bells Atlas

Bells Atlas

Last Friday, June 26th, was a big day. Yesterday I dedicated a medley to the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, but with that my day was only just getting started. That night, I also saw Bells Atlas give a life-affirming performance at the Lyric Theater.

The warm up act was something to behold. At times, I wanted to call it a stereotypical weird local act, but Pegasus Warning undoubtedly has talent. Pegasus Warning is the moniker of Guillermo E. Brown, and I was tempted to shout, “Pegasus, that’s you!” but I controlled myself. He had a voice that impressed, but all in all it was quite a lackadaisical performance. Even still, Brown had a good rapport with the crowd, which gave him the perfect platform to experiment, and he certainly left his mark.

Bells Atlas were next to take the stage, and they did more than just take it, they commanded it. The talent exuded in all of them individually is what draws me to their music, showing that such an amalgam of sound can be so satisfying, and seeing it live was breath-taking. The driving force of Bells Atlas is obviously in their vocalist Sandra Lawson-Ndu, whose voice killed it in person.

Guitarist Derek Barber

Guitarist Derek Barber

My favorite track, “Bling,” which features quite an interesting lyrical construction, truly came to life in the live performance. As an aspiring drummer (in my head only), I also thought that Geneva Harrison was on point. The precision of each track is often dependent on her rhythm, and she lived up to the challenge. Bassist Doug Stuart offered his vocals on “Sugar For the Queen,” another track that expands on the versatility of this band. If you haven’t heard their Hyperlust EP yet, set aside fifteen minutes later today and give it a go, you will not regret it.

To cap off the night was a rousing set from New Zealand-born, LA-based DJ, Mark de Clive-Lowe. Nia Andrews joined him on few tracks, and her voice floated beautifully along with the beats of Clive-Lowe. Most of the crowd disappeared after Bells Atlas concluded, which made the venue seem pretty empty, but that just meant more space for- and less people to judge- my uncoordinated dancing.

Buy Bells Atlas’s Hyperlust EP here. Find more information on Bells Atlas on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Find more information on Pegasus Warning on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Find more information on Mark de Clive-Lowe on his website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

Married Medley: Astronauts etc, Tape Runs Out, A Copy for Collapse, Nerve Leak

30 Jun

I’ve made this medley’s alliterative title a nod to the landmark decision by the Supreme Court this past Friday. This has been long overdue. Also, this extended medley would be the most metal start to a wedding playlist ever. Just saying.

Continue reading

A Family Affair: The Weepies

29 Jun

WEEPIES There was a rule in the Tannen home that, according to Greg, little brother of Steve who is one of the tag-team duo that is the Weepies, every child had to pick up an instrument and learn it – no drums though.

That’s one way to engender a musically-inclined family, and this penchant for music has sparked the career of both Tannens, who, this past Saturday, depicted these musical talents at Town Hall in NYC in front of what seemed like 1,000 of their closest family and friends. In celebration of the Weepies’ first album in five years, the band teamed up with Greg Tannen, who opened for the married duo – Steve and his wife Deb Talan – to put together a jam-packed, “two days” of music – according to Steve.

Ok, it may have not run for two days, but the band did play around 30 songs, inflecting their sweet married badinage in between tracks, establishing the soothing feel that we were all actually in their living room, minus the crying kids! That is what made the concert so delightful. It was such a warm, personal environment. I almost felt like taking off my shoes and putting my feet up; although, I’m sure the people in front would have not liked that. Throughout the show, Steve and Deb picked out people in the crowd who they knew, and during the changeover from Greg’s opening act to the Weepies I heard numerous people by our seats talk about how they have known Deb and Steve for many years. To top it off, the Tannen parents were in the audience taking in the show. When I put family affair into the title of a post, I do not lie!

The music, though, is what made the show. The Weepies have always warmed the cockles of my heart’s ears. Let that imagery sink in for a second. Their dulcet 2-minute ditties are rich with soft acoustic melodies and effortless harmonies. Talan’s vocals are quirky and original, and they match well with Tannen’s more traditional, soft croon. The new material is a bit of a change of their early stuff, creating more instrument-rich music with some more complex sounds. It’s just nice to hear the Weepies making some more music. All in all, the concert made me smile, and isn’t that what a performance is often supposed to do. It was just enjoyable listening to the tunes, and the family aspect made the show that much more comfortable.

Let’s listen to a little live performance. Here are the Weepies performing “The World Spins Madly On,” which is the song that initially turned me on to the band, at the Oregon Zoo in 2011. Enjoy!

Something about the tilt of the earth tells me it’s summer

24 Jun

Summer songs! Become instantly intoxicated on fumes of fun with this here collection of songs. SPF 30 recommended for maximum enjoyment.

Flyte – Closer Together

“Closer Together” is a romantic take on wishing someone ‘bon voyage’ that turns the typical summer fling on its head. Both the guitar riffs and message contribute to its sweetness. This tune marks the return of Flyte from the confines of their studio, so there is surely more to come.

Find Flyte on: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | tumblr

Lion’s Head – Firecracker

“Firecracker” has the title and attitude of a July tune, at least for me as an American. I would listen to this track on loop rather than those played out anthems during Fourth of July celebrations. Also, Lion’s Head sounds similar to Whilk and Misky, with their combination of acoustic guitar and drum machines that make anyone want to move his or her feet.

Find Lion’s Head on: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Swiss Lips – U Got the Power

Swirling synths open this track up and though they can sometimes overshadow the main vocals, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. After all, they are the lifeblood of the song and the main force that has me tapping my toes.

Find Swiss Lips on: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Jimmy and the Mirrors – Still I Fall

Those horns! How can you not want to dance in the warm moonlight with those trumpets tooting in the background?! Jimmy’s gruff voice gives this song a very Americana vibe, which is endearing unto itself. Pack a picnic to enjoy under the stars, and let this be your soundtrack.

Find Jimmy and the Mirrors on: website | Facebook | Twitter

Young Buffalo – My Place

A rhythmic song to rock ­gently to on your porch swing. The falsetto and polite percussion is what really sells “My Place” for me. Allow yourself to enjoy the breeze, you deserve it.

Find Young Buffalo on: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


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