Archive | February, 2012

Living Life Among the Savages

29 Feb

Peter Barbee is living among savages. While I am pretty sure that the savages are a little different from those written about by Shirley Jackson in her domestic, short-story compilation Life Among the Savages, they are still savages – and they influenced the name of Barbee’s pseudonym. Barbee recently released his debut album Wanderings of an Illustrative Mind, and its dreamy indie concoction is musically insightful.

My sister told me to check out “New York City,” one of the 12 tracks from this Smoky Mountains native, and it hooked me immediately – enough that I got the urge to check out the entire album and then share my findings with all of you. Before I move on let me shamelessly plug my sister’s arrival into the blogosphere. If you are interested in fashion I ask you to check out her blog, Hipstersleek. While my view of “in style” is a pair of jeans and a sweater, she has some great insights into the world of runway/street styles.

On to Among Savages. The album is multifactorial. Yes, this is a word often used in scientific studies and mathematics, but I believe it is a great way to describe Barbee’s musical style (see I can use style too). Barbee plays with orchestral smoothness, alternative pop beats and variegated harmony. In order to successfully fuse all of these genres, though, the singer must be a chameleon of sorts, and Barbee’s voice certainly has this quality.

I’m going to start with the beginning. Simple enough, right? “Start at the Beginning” is not surprisingly the first track on the album and I think it does an excellent job introducing Barbee’s blend of indie music. It begins with refreshing strings followed by Barbee’s repetition of the title of the track. I immediately get a taste of OneRepublic, specifically Ryan Tedder’s voice, but the song travels a more subdued route. I also think Barbee has even more range to it. The man knows how to sing. He knows when to lay off and when to hit listeners with high notes. The ending is comfortable and infectious. The harmony is creative, to say the least.

I jump forward in the album to “Faith in You,” a concise track that features immediate piano and easy percussion. The song gradually rises, focusing mainly on Barbee’s excellent voice, until we hit a driving chorus that mixes an effervescent violin with the rhythm. 

The song that initially drew me into Among Savages was “New York City.” It is track 11 on the album and also features some of the best lyrics in the entire compilation of music.

It must be hard to live in the midst of all those buildings
Where the changing of the wind don’t seem a miracle at all
Don’t bother end to end, it’s a maze of bad habits
Where the rabbit in the hat is just a train in the fog

Yeah, you came here with nothing and you leave here with the same
Sometimes the road that you were walking on is going the wrong way
Just come as you are
When you leave, you will be changed 

That is just a small sampling of the piece about the big city. Barbee is a Nashville guy and this song is not an ode to NYC, but I do love the message that one must live everyday like it is a gift. I feel that this message while tired is always true and refreshing, and I don’t think his thoughts are hackneyed but personal and candid. The music though is where the strength lies.

Immediately, it is easy to notice something different about this song. The staccato piano leads into a Band of Horses-like harmony. A driving percussion sets the tone. The song is infused with clear Irish elements followed by loose horns and background party noises. It is like what happens when you combine Great Big Sea with eccentric indie music. That is just awesome! You know a song is great when it is over three minutes long but feels like it only lasts a minute. It moves quickly and is so wonderfully catchy. This is my favorite song on the album and absolutely relevant in the “great new artists and song” discussion.

For more about Among Savages visit their website. Twitter. Facebook

Advertisements

Zager and Evans in 2525 with Mr. Turnkey

28 Feb

Is it 2525 yet?

Zager and Evans represent one of the best examples of a 60s one-hit wonder. “In The Year 2525,” the repetitive, crescendoing, folk exploration of a future dystopia where humans are indolent and dependent on machines, was such a gigantic hit in the year 1969 that people still recognize it as one of the better folk compositions of the 60s in the year 2012.

Let’s give the song some credit. It claimed the #1 spot on the U.S. Hot 100 for six weeks. That is a difficult feat. It sold over four million copies in a year. To say things were looking up for the folk duo in 1970 would be an understatement. So what happened? Why did the duo not have another big hit. The answer to this question is simple. How about we take a look at the history of Zager and Evans prior to answering it?

Denny Zager and Rick Evans met at Nebraska Wesleyan University and founded The Eccentrics with drummer Danny Schindler. When Schindler left for Vietnam in 1965, the Eccentrics just became Zager and Evans, and the duo added bassist Mark Dalton and drummer Dave Trupp. The 2525 warning followed soon after. The song was actually written in 1964, but it was first released by Truth Records in 1968. It received a good amount of local radio play and then RCA signed the band and the song blew up.

Now, realistically, the advancements in technology that Zager and Evans talk of in the verses of the song – which gradually rise in close-to 1,000 year segments – could probably come to fruition prior to 2525 (to a point of course). I find it funny that they mention test-tube babies (nice premonition guys) for the year 6565, but a pill that does everything by 3535. Actually, there is a flaw in the lyric, because if there is a pill that controls everything you do in 3535, then why would you need to pick your baby in 6565 – the pill would just do it for you, right? Okay, I’ll stop my over-analysis now.

My favorite lyric from the song is the final verse:

Now it’s been ten thousand years,
Man has cried a billion tears
For what he never knew.
Now man’s reign is through.
But through eternal night,
The twinkling of starlight,
So very far away,
Maybe it’s only yesterday 

This final lyric suggests the circular nature of human existance. It’s creative and an excellent ending touch to the song.

Many people do not realize that Zager and Evans didn’t just record the apocalyptic classic and then stop making music. After the success of the song, the band released a follow-up single, “Mr. Turnkey,” a song about a rapist who nails his wrist to his prison cell because he is sorry for…wait, back up, what!?!

Yes, Zager and Evans followed up their cautionary tale of the future, with a slowed-down piece about a rapist. I don’t know why either. It also features one of the oddest descriptions of pulchritude in modern rock history, “she was lovelier than oil rights.” Take the melody, and it’s a beautiful song, but add the lyric, and it is disturbing (kind of Pink Floyd-esque with that). I have to think the release was a joke because if not, well, I just don’t know. The scary thing, though, is that the song is actually pretty good. Take a listen.

So why did the band not achieve any more success after “In The Year 2525?” Because of “Mr. Turnkey?” Well, I guess that it may have played a part. I think it is more because of how big of a hit “In The Year 2525” was. It has difficult to follow up a first release that spends six weeks on the Hot 100 charts. But Zager and Evans should still be heralded for their release of one of the iconic songs of the late 60s, and a blatant song about a rapist.

A Music Review of Oscar

27 Feb

At around 10:30 p.m. yesterday I wrapped up my viewing of the Oscars. I bidded my family and the downstairs television adeiu, climbed upstairs, prepared for bed, and then sat in bed for another hour until Billy Crystal wished the audience a good night. Yes, if I truly wanted to end my watching of the show I could have easily not turned on the television in my bedroom, but I cite this otherwise useless mention of the movements of my previous evening to prove a point. The Oscars, even without having anything invested in them, is intriguing and entertaining – enough to make you watch (even with an early-morning train in the morning).

I was happy to see The Artist pick up most of the large awards (including the Best Picture award), because this ode to pre-sound flicks demonstrated a good-hearted nature and an ode to film itself (which is what the Oscars represent). The Artist also won for Best Original Score and Ludovic Bource, the composer of the film’s music, definitely deserved the award.

On Friday I predicted the winner of the Best Original Song category and, while there were only two choices (so I had a decent chance of picking the winner), I accurately picked “Man or Muppet” as the winner. And while I am happy for Kermit and Miss Piggy, I am most happy for this guy.

Bret McKenzie

 

As you can probably tell from the suit and the Oscar, Bret McKenzie won something last night. He was tasked to write music for the 2012 Muppets movie, and, as musical supervisor, he penned “Man or Muppet” and another four songs for the soundtrack. So why I am happy for Mr. McKenzie, besides the fact that we are both human and he achieved a feat of accomplishment. Bret McKenzie was one-half of “Formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo,” The Flight of the Conchords. The other half was Jemaine Clement. 

My friends and I first listened to Flight of the Conchords’ unique brand of folk/comedy when we were in High School. Their purposefully awkward interplay, catchy riffs, hilarious one liners, and surprisingly good voices, had us repeatedly watching Youtube videos of their performances. And while watching those videos I just knew that one of the duo would win an Oscar for a song about muppets. Just knew it. To celebrate Mr. McKenzie’s Oscar victory here is a song about business time. I’m sure he was wearing his business socks!

On to another Oscar note. Esperanza Spalding, who has recently come into notoriety with her Grammy for Best New Artist, performed a beautiful version of “What A Wonderful World” during the In Memoriam section of the Oscars. Spalding, who plays a unique brand of soul/jazz/fusion, is proficient on bass and in vocals. Listen to the version of the classic – which she performed with The Southern California Children’s Chorus – below:

Man, Muppet, and Rio – Oscar Music in 2011

24 Feb

The One Ring to Rule Them All...Oh...That's not the ring from Lord of the Rings?

Ah, the Oscars, the culmination of the past year in cinema, adorned with obsessed fashion coverage, long-winded thank you speeches, and Billy Crystal (as much a part of the Oscars as the Oscar statuette itself). The awards show is easily bashed, but, let’s be real, it is the true acting award, and it’s hard not to take a peak at the telecast. The 84th Oscars will air this Sunday and it is very likely that an ode to movies created before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 may win Best Picture. While I have not seen “The Artist” (and trust me, I want to), I have heard from reliable sources that it is not only beautiful, but also it, even without a spoken word, makes you smile throughout.

But I’d like to focus this post on the music of the Oscars. Have you ever had a good idea a little too late? I had one of those earlier today. I would love to do a series on the Best Original Song category through the years, presenting my pick of the best original song winners of each decade, but I arrived to the show just before they announced Best Picture, so to speak. There is just no time to do this feature this year. Next year, though, watch out for it around this time (hopefully a week or two prior).

I will, though, feature the nominees for Best Original Song of 2011, and I will provide you with a little teaser of the string of posts I will do around a year from now. This year there are only two nominees for Best Original Song. The fight is between an animated animal party movie and The Muppets. “Real in Rio” vs. “Man or Muppet.”

Both songs come from light-hearted kids movies and feature colorful characters. “Man or Muppet,” despite how idiotic it seems on the surface, does present the conflict of identity and I like how the song actually does have some meaning, so I am going with that as the winner (and I think it will win). No offense to both of the songs, but this is a category that has seen some pretty awesome songs in the past, and this year’s small stock is weak.

The category was not an original Oscar award. It was installed at the 7th Annual Oscars in 1934, where “The Continental” by Con Conrad and Herb Magidson took home the prize for their song that appeared in the movie “The Gay Divorcee,” a movie that ends in dancing and features Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (one of the 10 movies they made together). Was this the best song of the 1930’s to win the award for Best Original Song? If you are up on your movie release years then you know this answer is clearly no. While it is a good song, and so is the 1936 winner “The Way You Look Tonight,” written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, which was also featured in a movie featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (“Swing Time”), it is not the best of the decade.

The 1939 Academy Awards featured a decent year of movies (I’d say). Best Picture went to a small featurette about the Civil War called “Gone with the Wind.” How about that movie starring that Iowa kid who was in a lot of Westerns. What’s his name again? John Wayne in “Stagecoach.”

And then there was the winner of the Best Original Score and Song category. A movie about a girl who just wanted to go home. Yeah, you know it.

The Left Banke Ask Renee To Walk Away Again

22 Feb

Yesterday I mentioned the Left Banke in my brief discussion of bands who inspired progressive rock. Today, I not only want to explore this statement a little further, but also I want to share some excellent news. Let’s begin with some history of one of the pioneers of progressive rock.

Baroque Pop hit its mainstream success in the latter-half of the 1960s and bands like The Beatles, The Zombies and The Beach Boys sampled its fusion of pop and classical music. But one of the originators of this style of music, The Left Banke, also played it like no other. The genre in itself demarcated a different style of music that would become increasingly popular after the psychedelic movement met its mainstream end.

Progressive rock, a genre of music defined by (as I said yesterday) “creative arrangements, unusual blends of genres (like Jazz/Rock), eclectic (almost baroque) instrumentation, and classical constructions,” was clearly engendered by the promotion of baroque pop (among other things), and when The Left Banke, a band formed in New York in 1965, released “Walk Away Renee,” but more so “Pretty Ballerina” in 1966, a true pre-prog-rock staple was introduced.

The Left Banke’s founding roster included Michael Brown (keyboard, songwriter), George Cameron (guitarist), Tom Finn (bass), Warren David-Schierhorst (drums), and vocalist Steve Martin Caro. After some initial recordings David-Schierhorst was removed, Cameron switched to drums, and Jeff Winfield was brought in to play  guitar.

“Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina” were released in 1966 in July and December, respectively. The song was written by Michael Brown (who was 16 at the time, by the way), and was written about Tom Finn’s girlfriend, who Brown was enamored with. Good thing for all. See “Layla” for another ‘I want your girl’ song that turned out to be successful. It was a huge success.  It spent 13 weeks on the charts with a top spot at #5 and several artists have covered it.

We will talk about “Pretty Ballerina” in a second. Why did The Left Banke not go on to achieve tremendous success. Well, first off, I think their music would have succeeded more in the later 1960s and early 1970s. They were bellwethers and sometimes those individuals who lead get ultimately forgotten. Also, there were some serious internal issues that ripped apart the band. Brown recorded a single without the band while using the band’s name The Left Banke. He used session musicians with Bert Sommer on lead vocals. The band legitimately split into two Left Banke’s. The radio stations were confused and pulled the song. In 1967 the band reunited and recorded some more material, but, Brown left the band soon after. The band (Cameron, Martin, Finn) moved on, brought in Emmett Lake, and recorded their second LP (some songs featured a young Steven Tyler doing background vocals).

This, my friends, is “Pretty Ballerina,” a song written by Brown, sung by Martin, and is also about Finn’s girlfriend. Man, this young dude was obsessed. Talented guy obsessed with a girl. Heard it before and will hear it again.

First off, it is clearly of baroque sentiments. The strung-out strings, rhythmic keyboard, and orchestral core (with Oboe!) help make this song what it is. It is beautiful. It is subtle, simple, and Martin’s voice is ethereal and heavenly. But there is something else in this song below the surface. While it is superficially happy, I always feel weird listening to the song. Its short length, repetitiveness, and dream-like quality, almost suggest something oddly dark in it. It’s just a strange feeling and I get that it may be sparked by the esoteric nature of the song. It is my favorite from the band and one that still is original and independent today.

Now for the Good News:

George Cameron and Tom Finn reunited for two shows at Joe’s Pub in New York City in March of 2011 and have announced that they have reformed the group. The group consists of Cameron, Finn, and other musicians. How cool!. They will be performing at BB Kings Bar and Grill in NY on April 29. They will then perform two shows in Maryland (Rockville – Parilla Performing Arts Center on May 5, and Annapolis – Rams Head on Stage on May 6.)

Considering my location (NY), I will be attending the BB Kings show and I’m exciting to see two 60s legends perform on stage. If you plan on attending the show, let me know, and we will share some drinks and enjoy some quality music.

Check out The Left Banke’s official website for information on the band and the shows: www.leftbankeband.com

%d bloggers like this: