Archive | June, 2011

The Voice Finale and Rave On Buddy Holly

30 Jun

Javier Colon Wins The Voice

“The Voice” blossomed into a constant show for my sister and I. It also worked as an inside joke because we just could not figure out why we taped and watched every episode. We concluded early on that it was for Cee-Lo Green‘s smooth colloquy and gaudy custom-made outfits. If The Voice did one thing, it proved the verdant creativity of Cee-Lo Green to most of the country. But we both know that it could not have been just Cee-Lo Green.

“The Voice” was the ideal 10-week publicity stunt for all four judges. If you are not familiar with the premise, basically the show saw four celebrity judges (Cee-lo, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton) blindly choose eight singers by voice only for their teams. Then the judges and country narrowed it down to a top four (one from each team) and eventually a winner, Javier Colon, of Team Adam.

The show was awfully predictable, but it’s 10-week format was the correct length and it didn’t give the audience an opportunity to get completely sick of it. The reason we kept watching was the talent. Out of the 32 performers, five had serious, unadulterated talent. Four of those singers made it into the top four. How do you like that? It seems America has finally figured out how to vote in singing competitions. We have had enough practice. The winner, Javier Colon, may not be as quirky and marketable as the runner-up, Dia Frampton (no relation to Peter), but his natural voice is simply better. He was the best singer and he won the money and the recording contract. The show actually worked. I think that is why we kept watching. If the best singers were eliminated early, there would have been no reason to sit through the judge’s specious praise of bad performances. Well, I’ll be honest, we fast-forwarded a lot of the show.

Congrats to Mr. Colon and I wish him well. Unlike the last few years on American Idol, I can actually see myself buying his work and, shockingly, Dia Frampton’s albums as well. Here is Colon’s first performance, a tremendous version of “Time After Time.”

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Modest Mouse Records “That’ll Be The Day”

Buddy Holly is the quintessential example of an artist who was struck down in his prime. The Day The Music Died, the McLean term for the day when Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were killed in a 1959 Iowa plane crash, took Holly away when he was only 22 years old. I turn 22 in a month and that really gives some perspective. By the time Holly died, he released a good amount of material that would go on to inspire musicians like The Beatles. Holly’s rockabilly music was tinkering with what would become rock n’ roll. Rave On Buddy Holly, sees numerous performers, including Paul McCartney, re-imagine Holly songs. The album makes us ponder what would have happened if Holly did not die.

My favorite song off the album is Modest Mouse’s version of “That’ll Be The Day.” It is low-key and brilliantly original. Take a listen.

The House of The Rising Sun – A Folk Evolution

28 Jun

All songs have stories. But some indelible classics have something beyond a mere story of creation. They have evolutionary histories. The transformation of early folk and blues songs into modernized favorites is extraordinary. These are songs that are not bound by copyright laws because they, like fairy tales, have been passed along from generation to generation, each manipulation furthering the song like a game of musical telephone. Lyrics and rhythms changed but the original melody, like the moral of a story, stuck. There was no basis for comparison up to the early 20th century when these folk and blues songs were finally recorded and preserved. This is how we know them today. Yet, the first recordings are not what the mass populace listens to. “The House of the Rising Sun” is an example of such a piece. While the 1964 version by the Animals is clearly the most known, the song’s first recording happened 31 years earlier, and the roots of the song stretch even further back.

Clarence Ashley

We will explore the disputed meaning of the song later in this post. For now, I want to provide a summarization of the recording history of “House of the Rising Sun” prior to the Animals’ version. Sound boring? It’s not. A lot of popular musicians recorded this song prior to the Animals and reading on will abet your quest to stump your friends on music knowledge.

Clarence Ashley was a clawhammer banjoist and guitar player from Tennessee. In 1933 he and fellow Appalachian artist Gwen Forest recorded a slow version of “Risin’ Sun Blues” (House of the Rising Sun) which I am including below:

Ashley said his grandfather taught him the song. Does not sound like The Animals, does it? The song is classic folk at its finest, twangy voice paired with a blues-inspired chord progression. The lyrics are significantly different than The Animals version. The Animals changed the song’s protagonist to a male. The traditional song is about a woman and her life with her “sweetheart,” a gambling drunk. The song acts as a warning to not make the same mistakes that she has made. The question is what is the house they call the “rising sun,” and I’ll ponder the two theories in a bit.

After Ahsley’s recording, the song was forgotten about until it was revived by Alan Lomax, the famous co-curator (with his father) of the Archive of American Folk Song. In 1937, Lomax recorded 16-year-old miner’s daughter Georgia Turner performing a version of the song. He would later incorrectly credit her with creating the lyric, even though her interpretation can technically be considered original, I guess. Nobody knows who created the original lyric. And it doesn’t really matter because I guarantee that if the original lyric was over located it would bear little resemblance to “The House of the Rising Sun” we know. This is the natural progression of traditional music.

The song would go on to be recorded throughout the 40s by performers like Josh White (’47), Leadbelly (’44) and the fascist killer himself Woody Guthrie, who recorded the song in 1941. Guthrie’s version maintains the same lyric as Turner’s interpretation, but the verses are in different places. This is a key difference because Guthrie’s version is closer to The Animal’s verse placement. You can definitely attribute some of this inspiration to Woody Guthrie. His version is below:

The song’s simplicity is a huge reason why it has been able to transcend so much time. The chord progression is

Am, C, D, F

Am, C, E, E7

Am, C, D, F

Am, E7, Am, E7

There is nothing else to this basic chord progression in the scale of A-minor.

Nina Simone

At the corner of Thompson and Bleecker street in Greenwich Village, New York, stood a club called The Village Gate and in 1961, Nina Simone recorded a jazzy version of “The House of the Rising Sun” that is one of the most powerful and intriguing performances of the song ever recorded. Yes, I do personally prefer The Animal’s picked take on the classic, but Simone’s version accentuates the full flavor of the song. It is passionate, despite its methodical pace.

The lyrical transformation is minor. The true change came with The Animals’ version.

Bob Dylan, who recorded “House of the Rising Sun” a few months after Simone’s live version (sparking controversy with Dave Van Ronk who was mentioned in yesterday’s post, but let’s not delve on petty music controversy), is said to have “jumped out of his seat” the first time he heard The Animals’ version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” He would also never play the song again because fans accused Dylan of plagiarism. That is what The Animals’ did with “The House of the Rising Sun.” They sped it up, masculinized the lyric, and made the song their own. Eric Burdon’s voice significantly helped create that bluesy aura, but the intelligent decision to pick the song mixed with the keyboard’s distinct presence made the song a classic and one of the first folk/rock songs of the 1960s.

Okay, we got it with the recording history. Where did the song come from? What is it really about? Well both of these questions come with numerous answers. Where the song came from really is narrowed down to two potential answers. According to Alan Price of the Animals, the song is a 16th century English folk song about a brothel. Many other British folk aficionados claim that the song has a similarity to “Matty Groves,” a traditional English folk song.

Others believe that the song is an American folk tale, but it is certainly not out of the question that the folk song was brought to American by early settlers and then revised to fit the time period. What is the house, though? Many believe it is, like Price said, a brothel. Obviously, since it is in New Orleans, the lyric has been transformed to fit the area where it was popularized. We can then conclude that the version that stuck was first imagined in New Orleans or with New Orleans in mind. This would place it somewhere in the early 19th century. There was a small, short-lived hotel called the “Rising Sun” in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1820’s that burned down. It is quite possible that it acted as a brothel as well.

Another theory states that the House of the Rising Sun is actually a women’s prison. Van Ronk says that he saw a picture of a the old Orleans Parish Women’s Prison and the entrance had a rising sun decoration. That seems almost too convenient.

The House of the Rising Sun could also be a reference to a plantation. Like I said, there are many different possibilities. Reviewing the earliest lyric, I can see the song being about a prison or a brothel.

Perhaps we should just all listen to New Orleans’ Williams Research Center Research Librarian Pamela D. Arceneaux who wrote:

“Many knowledgeable persons have conjectured that a better case can be made for either a gambling hall or a prison; however, to paraphrase Freud: sometimes lyrics are just lyrics”

Dave Van Ronk Movie – Reznor TV Show – Best Albums of 2011, What was left out?

27 Jun

Coen Brothers and Dave Van Ronk

The Coen Brothers have embarked on a new movie project that has its roots firmly ensconced in the 1960’s Greenwich Village folk movement. And if you are familiar with the 1960’s folk movement in the lower east side (or if you simply read the words above the picture) you know that the movie has to be related to Dave Van Ronk, the Mayor of MacDougal Street, whose classic style of acoustic blues was inspirational. Van Ronk was known as the village’s friendly uncle and he provided friendship to up-and-coming artists like Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

The Coen Brothers are obviously into blues music. “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” featured the tradition folk/blues piece “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Van Ronk, who unfortunately passed away in 2002, was extremely respected and talented, but still remains a cult-ish figure who deserves more acclaim than he currently has. I am very much looking forward to the project, which at this time has no release date, and I hope that the movie will help raise Van Ronk’s stock and get more people listening to his great music.

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Jim Uhls to Write Reznor’s HBO “Year Zero” Script

Jim Uhls, of Fight Club fame, will write the script for Trent Reznor‘s “Year Zero” HBO mini-series that is based off of the 2007 Nine Inch Nails apocalyptic concept album of the same name.

“Year Zero” is set in 2022 and, to be frank, the sh*t has hit the fan. The album was apt criticism of the Bush Years and U.S. Government Policies that Reznor and NIN disagree with. “Year Zero” has already been morphed into a video game.

NIN promoted the album in creative ways prior to its release. At concerts, for example, the band left mysterious USB drives with exclusive material for fans to randomly find. Maybe Reznor has a few things up his sleeve for the mini-series. There is no set date for production, but with a script-writer on the case it can’t be too far away.

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SPIN Releases Their Top 25 of 2011 So Far

SPIN has released their Top 25 albums of 2011 So Far list, an annual mid-year event for numerous music sources. I will copy and paste their list below:

Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Big K.R.I.T. – Return Of 4eva
Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
James Blake – James Blake
Adele – 21
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!
TV On The Radio – Nine Types Of Light
DJ Quik – The Book Of David
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
The Strokes – Angles
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde
Panda Bear – Tomboy
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
The Weeknd – House Of Balloons
EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints
Yuck – Yuck
Alela Diane – Alela Diane& Wild Divine
G-Side – The ONE … COHESIVE

What do you think? Seems like a pretty fair list. Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Panda Bear. It’s 25 albums, so it is difficult to narrow down. I do see at least two glaring excluded albums.

I would have added in Cut Copy’s Zonoscope and Toro Y Moi’s Underneath The Pine, two solid February releases. I feel like Cut Copy’s synth-pop and Toro Y Moi’s chillwave deserve mention. And you can probably take out some of the commercial rap and dubstep.

Grizzly Bear – Yellow House

26 Jun

In the middle of the woods, somewhere no one has ever set foot, sits a Yellow House. A place of serenity and a place of magic, it is only inhabited by the souls of people who yearn to escape. Wooden and dusty, it was furnished during a time long ago, when posterity borrowed its thoughts. Cut off from peering eyes, it is open only to you, a space so relative you cannot even place the feel of the wooden floorboards under your feet.

You may have heard of the Brooklyn-based Grizzly Bear’s newest album Vekatimest. The name may have confused you, but you saw them on the David Letterman show and the poppy music intrigued you. You may have even bought (borrowed) the album and have since happily listened to its mystery.

*Puts on Hipster Glasses*

Well, I listened to Grizzly Bear before they blew up. Let me simply tell you now that their previous LP is one of the most mind blowing pieces of music ever. Their newest album strayed way too far and struggled to maintain the beauty of its predecessor whilst tackling the face of pop culture. It still turned out to be a very nice album, but today we focus on the pure musical serenity that is Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House.

I will start you off with the single. Knife, being the most approachable songs on the album. It features one of the most confusing music videos you will ever watch.

The song starts off with a slow and ghostly guitar riff. Try to imagine a sunny, yet haunted beach, where people go about doing the same thing forever, like on replay. The vocals are just the perfect brand of pop to make even the most hardcore magic user smile. The slow beat is just perfectly reminiscent of those unbearable summer days where simply walking down the street is putting oneself at risk of melting.

As the verse ends, a brisk guitar riff transitions the song like a cool breeze. But as quickly as it comes, it departs, leaving you again vulnerable to the sun. The vocals here are particularly amazing, the kind that ask you to remain calm as it is actually the ‘cool thing’ to be melting.

When that part ends a drumstick beat ushers in the main lyric. “Can’t you feel the knife?” It leaves you utterly shocked and confused as you scramble to figure out where you have been stabbed. But the song floats on as if it was just kidding about the knife part, hoping you will enjoy the rest of the song in peace. A nice touch of that 60’s psychedelic mind-trickery.

The extended ending is very soothing, just in case the knife part is still bugging you out. An interesting beat coaxes on piano notes, which wistfully echo a sweet tune.  The both of them remind you that you were actually inside a yellow house the entire time.

The last song on the album, my absolute favorite, is Colorado. It opens similarly to how Knife ended. This time though the beat is a low thumping kick and the piano notes are lower pitched and unevenly distanced.  The vocals fade in mid-sentence, unintelligible yet mystic. They eventually begin chanting “Colorado” in an almost confused manner, as if the state was the only thing responsible for some unknown misfortune

I am particularly fond of the use of many different forest-esque noises throughout the beginning. It makes me feel like I am sitting by some mountain lake somewhere in Colorado watching nature evolve in circles.

The drums drop in a very easy jazz beat which quickly grows on you. The song begins to build up, as the singer switches to asking “Now what?” A very nice and minimalistic guitar solo occurs and again “Colorado” is chanted.

The song builds and builds and finally just stalls, but only in the most brilliant way. The simple slow bass kick remains and a mysterious woodwind instrument transitions into one of the most epic drops my ears have ever heard.

Just the sound of the guitar. I am not sure what kind of effects or amps are being used, but the result sounds like pure gold. Combined with the piano and the drums, they together paint a ridiculously vivid picture. The vocals return, layered over one another and the entire song climaxes so high that any magic user would be thrown into an amazing upbeat state for a long after it’s over. And trust me, it’s a great feeling. You definitely don’t even need magic.

These two snippets of the album Yellow House definitely give you an idea for the entire album. A couple of the songs are a little bit hard to get into at first, but that is mainly due to fact that they are very slow. Not that the entire album is compromised of rather slow moving songs, but it definitely can take some time to learn to appreciate that kind of music. Also keep in mind that a bunch of the songs start out slow, but pick-up halfway in magnificent fashion.

Now my music player shows the genre of this album as rock, but if I had to label them I would most definitely go with Psychedelic-Folk, give or take the rock. If this is something you are into then most definitely listen to this album. You will not regret it. And if you don’t believe me on the folk part, then listen to the song I will post at the end.

And if you find yourself in a Yellow House at any point while listening to this album, you’re doing it right.

&)

-oko

P.S. Here ya go folks. This song has probably one of my more favorite lyrical lines. Enjoy.

Heavy Glow and the Midnight Moan – Album Review

24 Jun

Heavy Glow

On June 23 of last year I profiled Heavy Glow on the New Band Palace. It is sheer coincidence that I am bringing the band back on the blog today. Something about June and Heavy Glow, I guess. Never heard of Heavy Glow? Click on their name above for last year’s post on the three-man hard rock group. Their new nine-track release Midnight Moan treads the line between hard blues rock and heavy metal. But not the heavy metal that you may immediately think of. Heavy metal traces its roots back to the late 1960s when blues rock and psychedelic rock collided and formed a genre of massive sounds and heavy distortion. The genre immediately focused on heavy guitar and hard drumming, hence heavy metal. Heavy Glow, an apt band name, is just that. They play to the sounds of the progenitors of the genre, i.e. Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Yes, their music is highly modernized. Heavy Glow uses several recent distortion techniques and the electric hard guitar sounds much more like recent metal guitar than early 70’s rock, but they are familiar with their roots, even experimenting with some acoustic blues at the end of the album.

Right out of the gate Heavy Glow demonstrates their grasp of classic rock blues. “Lose My Mind” entraps listeners with its traditional blues feel mixed with a hard-hitting rhythm and a clean, but raw solo. I particularly enjoyed its shortness. The song only takes up 2:45 of the album. Like a book’s first sentence, the first song of an album should be representative of the material you will experience throughout and it should be intriguing. “Lose My Mind” makes you want to listen to more.

Track two, “Slave Dance,” is modern blues/metal. The riff is effectively slow and monstrously well struck. It is a pump-up riff that acts as a drawn-out head banger, a perfect compliment to the celerity of the first song. “Slave Dance” develops small verses and more rock experimentation culminating in a planned solo attack that acts as a solid firework before the song’s ending.

“All My Money” which falls in the fourth spot on the album is the most catchy track and I will mark it as my favorite because of its carefree rock flavor that is refreshing when you are trapped in a sea of near-metal explosion. Check it out:

While track four may be my favorite, I particularly enjoyed the last few tracks on the album, where Heavy Glow decided to experiment with some old-fashioned acoustic blues, an unexpected but welcome transformation from the modern heavy rock we hear at the album’s outset.

“Smithereen” is an unusual tune, melancholic but melodious. The acoustic guitar work is appreciated and vocals are not to shabby. By the way, the following track “Midwestern Lullaby” is a 1:42 pure instrumental treat and it leads into the plus seven-minute finale.

Solid effort by the young band and an enjoyable album indeed.

Check out and buy the album:

www.heavyglowmusic.com

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