Archive | September, 2013

Unvarnished Elegance – “ICU” by Lou Doillon

12 Sep

Lou Doillon

French model and actress Lou Doillon is featured in Barney’s Fall advertisement campaign, which can be seen in the Madison avenue store’s windows. Ok … when did you turn into a fashion blog (like Hipstersleek, which you should definitely check out!) I haven’t. Doillon is a triple threat. Her career as a singer may soon trump her other two titles.

Doillon, whose father is French director Jacques Doillon and mother is British actress and singer Jane Birkin, quite obviously comes from an entertainment background. She started her acting career in 1988, where she played her mother’s daughter in Kung-Fu Master. Her modeling career has propelled her to more international celebrity status. But, as I claimed above, ultimately I believe her biggest strength is with her subdued music. Her 2012 album Places hit #3 on the French charts and helped earn her a  French Grammy for Female Artist of the Year.

“ICU,” my favorite single off her debut album, secured the best position on the French charts among her three singles. It is restrained and melancholy, much in the style of Lana Del Rey. That is how I see Doillon. Her music, like Del Rey’s, maintains a clear cinematic sound that is echoed by her haunting vocals; not so because of ethereality but because of the tempered power of her deep vocal. You can think of her as a pop lounge singer, but I find her craft more artistic and personal.

It’s an impressive song. While simple, it is unique and intriguing. The listener is ensnared by her voice, and this is such a premium quality for a professional musicians. Doillon has a bright future ahead of her as an artist.

How Festivals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hip-Hop

9 Sep

Something strange happened once Eminem completed his recent headline set at the Reading and Leeds festival a couple of weeks ago. As the final rousing chorus of Lose Yourself faded away, hip hop officially become part of the British musical landscape.

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Let me back up a little bit. Eminem had previous headlined Reading & Leeds (henceforth called R&L to save my fingers) in 2001. However, it is one thing for an artist to be booked when they’re a cultural phenomenon, and quite another when they’re a veteran of the genre. Many British festivals and magazines opened their arms to Eminem while he was at his height. Booking him 12 years on shows the confidence festivals organisers have in his huge back catalogue of work.

Unlike the USA, where rap is so mainstream Jay-Z can host his own festival, hip hop’s traditionally faced a lot of resistance in Britain. Back when Jay-Z headlined Glastonbury in 2008, many people were sceptical. Noel Gallagher claimed: “I’m not having hip-hop at Glastonbury. It’s wrong.” Jay-Z ended up receiving rave reviews for his performance, managing to please both the hardcore fans and those who only knew the chorus to 99 Problems. However, Glastonbury was always far more diverse than traditional rock festivals like Reading & Leeds.

If you need more evidence, look further down the billing at R&L this year. A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks both performed the penultimate slots on the NME Stage on different days. Neither are household names but both have cult followings. On smaller stages, you could find a whos-who of up-and-coming talent, such as Chance the Rapper, Angel Haze, Earlwolf and Action Bronson. You could quite easily have spent the whole weekend there without hearing a single guitar.

This breakdown of genre barriers isn’t limited to rap. Melvin Benn, the organiser of R&L, recently tipped Chase & Status as future headliners. Electric music is another genre experiencing a huge boom but this will still come as a surprise to the festivals’ hardcore rock fans; the emphasis seems to be less on promoting what people expect and simply putting good bands on.

Eminem may be the greatest crossover rapper ever, partly owing to his rebellious hits aimed at suburban teens and partly no doubt due to his skin colour. However, the fact remains he has opened plenty of doors in the UK and it surely won’t be long before hip hop superstars like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar step through them. 

The Deity of British Blues – Alexis Korner

8 Sep

Alexis Korner

Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Ma Rainey, Big Bill Broonzy – Names that are forever linked with their god-like status among the propagation of American Blues – an extensive genre that had an indelible impact on the future molding of rock ‘n’ roll.

On the other side of the pond, British jazz musicians and fans became ensconced with the Blues music of musicians like Ma Rainey and Fats Waller, acquiring much of these tunes from African-American GIs stationed there during the Wars. After the Skiffle craze died down in the 1950s, many Skiffle-influenced musicians turned their attention to pure Blues music. Muddy Waters had a shocking electric (literally) visit to England where he shocked Brits with his amplified electric blues. Some were appalled by his lack of reverence for the classic style, but the youth ate up this edgy playing. Among them was a guitarist by the name of Alexis Korner, who, like the Blues ancestors above, would spark a focus on Blues in Britain and influence a slew of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest musicians. Thus, he too should be considered a true Blues god, and it should come to no surprise that he is often given the moniker of the “Father of British Blues.”

Korner’s elaborate music history is extensive and impactful. It is not easy to keep the plenitude of anecdotes to a minimum, but for the sake of the reader I shall limit my focus to a few stories. Like, for example, in 1969 while touring with a new band, Korner was jamming with a little-known singer named Robert Plant. Jimmy Page, who often performed with Korner at the Marquee Club, was intrigued by Plant’s voice and asked him to join The New Yardbirds…who would soon turn into a rock band called Led Zeppelin with Page and Plant at the helm.

But I am getting ahead of myself. That was in the late 60s. Korner’s career (even though he dabbled in Skiffle) really began in 1961 when he founded Blues Incorporated with Blues harmonica extraordinaire Cyril Davies. Blues Incorporated (like The Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and Cyril Davies’ All-Stars) was an early example of a “supergroup.” But, in truth, it was just a platform for talented blues musicians to play music. Blues Incorporated, though, has the special mark as the first electrified Blues band in Britain. The band secured a residency at the Marquee (mentioned above) and even established an R&B Night at Ealing Jazz Club.

Remember what I said about the youth loving electrified Blues music? Well, where do you think they went to hear this music? And who do you think inspired them to pursue this music? So when I tell you that Korner played with musicians like Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Paul Jones, Eric Burdon, and many, many others, you should not be too surprised. Most of the early Blues musicians in Britain are linked with Alexis Korner in some way. He is like the Kevin Bacon of British Blues. And when Cyril Davies left Korner to form his All-Stars he played with musicians like Nicky Hopkins and Long John Baldry until he died far too young in 1964. The All-Stars were led by Baldry who created Hoochie Coochie Man, featuring a singer named Rod Stewart. Page also had a few All-Stars jam sessions, adding individuals like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, and Mick Jagger to the mix.

But back to Korner for one more story before I urge you to watch this documentary about him.

Blues Incorporated was asked by BBC radio to broadcast a session in the early 60s, but the producer only had room for six musicians. The seventh member of the group with a singer named Mick Jagger. Jagger was asked to gather some friends and play the normal spot at the Marquee. The friends he gathered were Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart on piano, Dick Taylor on bass and Tony Chapman on drums. The band went by the name of  Rollin’ Stones after a Muddy Waters tune.

Cyril Davies on vocals and harmonica. Alexis Korner playing a mean acoustic guitar. Released in November, 1962.

Tubthumping – One-Hit Wonders

4 Sep
If you were cognizant in the late 90s, this creepy baby is implanted in your mind

If you were cognizant in the late 90s, this creepy baby is implanted in your mind

Oh yeah, the “I get knocked down” song. I remember that one. Wasn’t that by Chumbawamba, or something like that? I guarantee that if you are a product of the 90s (like me) you took one look at the purple baby with the huge mouth and thought of taking a “vodka drink” and a “whiskey drink.” Chumbawamba’s 1997 classic “Tubthumping” left an indelible mark on our impressionable minds for better or for worse. While some argue that the song is trash, I’m here to defend its merit as one of the better one-hit wonders.

First, Chumbawamba. Did you know that the band was active for 30 years before breaking up in 2012. 30 years. Yes, that means the British punk band had been together for 15 years prior to the release of “Tubthumping.” Many forget – or didn’t know – that Chumbawamba was a protest band at heart. Most of the band’s music focused on issues like animal rights, class struggle, and feminism, etc. –  the word “tubthumper” is used to describe someone who often jumps on the bandwagon with populist ideas. Thus, the band’s cumulative lyric is far more deep than “He sings the songs that remind him of the good times. He sings the songs that remind him of the best times.” But, it is the simple lyric of the late 90s mega-hit that helped draw so many listeners in.

As a group of talented musicians, though, they could not resist the temptation to sample a few Easter eggs for the careful listener. The “Danny Boy” reference is explicit, but at the end of the song the trumpet samples Clarke’s “Prince of Denmark’s March.” But, let’s be honest, the reason the song gained such immense popularity was because of its repetitive, punk-fueled chorus that proved to be beyond infectious. I can’t imagine many who have not hummed the beat to themselves during the reading of this post.

And that is why “Tubthumping” should be praised. The song has tremendous lasting power. Some may consider that feature to be a grand part of its “annoying” factor, but I think that earworm power cannot be overstated. Plus, come on, it’s not like many songs today that lay down a simple percussion track and a catchy synthesizer riff to maximize catchiness and listens. There are legitimate elements to “Tubthumping.” Enjoy!

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To the Moon and Back with Topher Mohr

3 Sep

topher mohr

It should come to no surprise that musician Topher Mohr grew up in Michigan. His eclectic music, which aptly pieces together elements from several genres suggests inspiration, and what better motivation than the elaborate music history of Detroit? While Mohr is impossible to pigeonhole, his music did spark a thought. If Michael Fitzpatrick (of Fitz and the Tantrums) is today’s modernizer of old-school Motown hits than Topher Mohr is reviving the old art of tender crooning. It seems like a lofty proclamation until I introduce you to:

His gentle voice is soothing but subtly strong and passionate. His vocal is saturated with emotion, and the soaked feeling is easily identifiable in his airy guitar plucking. While Mohr does not have the dark, coffee-roasted voice of the traditional old-school, five-pack-a-day crooner, he does, however, revive the old sound and modernize it. It’s exciting to listen to him make an old standard like “Fly Me to the Moon” ring with a contemporary flair.

Beyond his black-and-white performance of “Fly Me to the Moon,” Mohr released his new LP Phlotilla earlier this year. Prior to the LP release, he toured the world with his friend Mayer Hawthorne, another artist who features an eccentric style of music creation. Mohr’s album focuses on vintage pop, and “Ruthless” stays true to the genre.

The rhythm is similar to Fitz’ Motown-inspired hits, but Mohr combines the rhythm with a Maroon 5 meets the 1980s melody. This combined with Mohr’s versatile vocal creates an intriguing hit that even has room for a clean guitar solo! It’s a moving piece and one of the strongest on the new album.

Find out more about Mohr (yes, I went there) at his Website. You can also check out his Facebook and Twitter.

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