Archive | April, 2014

Would You Believe – The Unforgettable Album

30 Apr

Would You Believe

I write the title of this post in partial jest because most music lovers have never heard of Billy Nicholls’ obscure album Would You Believe, but once you do listen to this album you cannot forget it. What is so tremendously intriguing about this album? What if I told you that the personnel enlisted for the recording of this album oozes with a plethora of British musical talent that you never realized took part in the creation of this lost masterpiece? Would you believe?

Would You Believe was conceived as the British response to Pet Sounds – as ostensibly evidenced by the similar colors (green and yellow) on the album cover and the wavy psychedelic wording. When you delve into the music, though, it does not at all resemble the airy surf psychedelia mastered by the Beach Boys. Instead, the listener receives a glimpse of the height of British psychedelic perfection, a combination of seemingly light sounds that actually represent a subtle grittiness featuring diverse instrumentation, swooning vocals, and heavy percussion. In a way, Would You Believe, which was released in 1968, represents a consistent bridge with the transition to early 70s British progressive blues-influenced rock. Oddly enough, the individuals who took part in the recording of this album played a huge role in this future music.

Andrew Loog Oldham, manager and producer of the Rolling Stones from 1963-1967, conceived this album and recruited Billy Nicholls, a teenage staff writer for Oldham’s Immediate Records, to take the lead role. Nicholls composed most of the tracks, except for the title track, “Would You Believe.” So who took part in the recording of the 12-track psychedelic pop album? Let’s see if you recognize the drowned-out secondary vocal in “Would You Believe.”

If you guessed Steve Marriott, you are correct! That’s right, that is Steve Marriott, the frontman of Small Faces and Humble Pie. The attempts to hide his vocal only add to the nonsensical humor it provides. In some sense, the song is a bit of a mess,  a jumbled concoction of eccentric instrumentation and even more eccentric vocals, but the abstruse combination of gibberish combined with a folk breakdown and baroque pop works well.

Who else is playing in the background? Future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones provides bass on the album with Ronnie Lane (of Small Faces and Faces). Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley combined with Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones for percussion, and session keyboard king Nicky Hopkins combined with Small Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan and future Elton John collaborator Caleb Quaye. Not a bad lineup, right?

Enjoy one more piece, “It Brings Me Down”!

Morning Harmony – Hannah and Maggie

28 Apr

Hannah & Maggie

The Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter and Gordon, and the Indigo Girls – All duos who effortlessly blended melodious vocals with upbeat instrumentation to create music still eagerly consumed today. What is it about good musical duos that is so attractive to the ears? One might say simply that good music is good music, but I believe it goes a bit further than that. Musical duos share a unique quality that other bands lack. Because of the limited power in numbers (2), paired musicians must completely rely on their partners for creative support. Thus, a symbiotic relationship develops that is evidenced in the music by the distinct vocalizations and the elegant use of melody. That said, there are not many musicians who can successfully fulfill the qualities of a successful music pair. The bands listed above are masters of the craft. Hannah & Maggie, a duo marked by strong harmonies and effervescent strings, is creeping up towards mastery.

An acoustic folk duo, Hannah & Maggie are a dulcet amalgamation of tasteful arrangements and passionate, hard-line folk power performances, an eccentric mix of The Weepies and Mumford and Sons. It is this diverse style that truly sets the duo apart. Some folk groups are easily pigeon-holed into one specific style of the variegated folk genre, but clearly Hannah & Maggie do not have to worry about this limiting specification.

In one word, the duo is refreshing. Each song represents a story and the tremendous harmonies fit like puzzle pieces in each song. Let’s take a listen to two songs off Hannah & Maggie’s latest release In The Company of Strangers, which came out this past February.

“Morning Star” is of the Weepies variety, and it plays even more to this comparison because Hannah & Maggie create a toe-tapping, easy to sing-along to folk piece. The song moves like a tandem bike on a sticky summer day. It may be impossible to listen to this song and not smile. I challenge you to do this. This is the definition of folk easy listening – just a delicate piece that waves in the wind.

“The Final Straw” is grittier. The guitar is choppier and the country whine is well-placed. The vocals are still competent and strong. For a New York duo, Hannah & Maggie sure do invoke a southern muse in this piece and do it as if they were natives. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It gets you moving. What else can you ask for?

You can check out more about Hannah & Maggie at their website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Fenech-Soler

27 Apr

LOLO

Fenech-Soler

Fenech-Soler

Fenech-Soler

HOLYCHILD

(All photos from the show can be found here.)

After a (possibly too long) delay in posts, I’m happy to say I’m back. Midterm weeks were brutal, but I’m glad to say I made it out alive for the most part. A couple of months ago I found out that Fenech-Soler was coming to the states on their very first American tour, and I could not have been more excited. They’re an “electropop” band from Kings Cliffe, often compared to Friendly Fires and Delphic, incorporating synth, indie, and electronic elements into a collective sound. I think the world should know about this group, and their set was entirely too short that night, but nonetheless incredible. The show took place on April 3rd at The Westway, a converted gentleman’s club that still had the dancer’s platform in the middle of the stage. Needless to say, the lighting in this venue was a battle in itself, but I think I managed to get some cool pictures.

The first opener was a two person group called LOLO, with a powerful female lead and bass/keyboardist. She did an incredible cover of “Halo” by Beyoncé to close their set, and her vocals were absolutely amazing. Because Fenech-Soler wasn’t headlining, they were on next, playing a variety of songs from their latest album Rituals, as well as older classics from their 2010 self titled album. The group consists of four members, and their live performance was indistinguishable from their in studio recordings. They incorporated some really amazing rainbow lighting throughout their set, and I’m really pleased with how they were captured. The headliner for the evening was HOLYCHILD, another female fronted group from LA. They’ve been labeled as a top group to watch in 2014, and their set was high energy and very crowd interactive. I’ve waited quite a while for the moment where I would be able to see the incredible music of Fenech-Soler live, and can’t wait for them to make another trip to the US.

 

Live at The Cafe Au Go Go – The Blues Project

25 Apr

The+Blues+Project+-+Live+At+The+Cafe+Au+Go+Go+-+white+label+-+LP+RECORD-529277

During a four-day stretch of concerts in November of 1965 at the revered Cafe Au Go Go, a band of New York-based blues musicians recorded its first album. The club, which was the first New York venue for the Grateful Dead, also featured an often weekly collection of uber-talented blues artists entitled the Blues Project. I mention the Dead because the Blues Project was known as the New York response to the Grateful Dead, which was also a collection of incredibly talented blues musicians. Unfortunately, the Blues Project lacked the staying power and fell into 60s music history – although two members did form Blood Sweat & Tears. I bring the band back today on the Music Court because the debut live collection of covers is a sparkling example of true 60s blues music that engendered the propagation of the genre stateside.

The Blues Project was a jam band at its finest. The album was actually a cut version of several longer covers of famous blues songs like “Back Door Man” and “Goin’ Down Louisiana.” These covers were fresh and inspirational, as several British blues musicians would also come to cover these songs with similar aptitude. The big three members of the Blues Project were guitarists Danny Kalb (also vocals) and Steve Katz and organist Al Kooper. Tommy Flanders kicked in some vocals, and the band also included Andy Kulberg on bass and Roy Blumenfeld on drums. Al Kooper actually joined the group after its failed audition for Columbia Records; Kooper was a session musician and liked what he heard. It didn’t take long for the band to secure a record deal with Verve Records and record its first album. 

So, let’s talk a bit about Live at the Cafe Au Go Go. One of the interesting components of the album is that it blends classic 60s folk with pre-60s blues. For example, The Blues Project performs a version of “Violets of Dawn,” a piece by Greenwich Village folk staple Eric Andersen.

The piece is quintessential psychedelic folk, which was developing at the time with bands like the Byrds. The mellow song features a bright guitar that provides a consistent lead while the percussion and bass hold down the subdued rhythm. It’s the type of song that does not stand out to the listener but easily flows like a narrow stream. It’s hard to believe that the next track on Side 2 of the album is a version of Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man,” which sounds like this:

Just a killer version of this classic. It moves with vigor: effortless percussion, whining blues guitar, efficient bass, and fitting vocals. It is gritty and more true to real rock n’ roll blues. It also demonstrates The Blues Project’s ability to successfully swap between folk and rocking blues with ease. A truly talented band that deserved more listerners and success.

 

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go, Miko and The Musket

22 Apr

Miko & The Musket

While Indie singer-songwriter extraordinaire Miko de Leon delicately croons for his listeners to “slow it down” in the single “On Your Mark,” this proves quite difficult when you do not want the infectious rhythm to end! But at least when the song ends you can always hit repeat, which I’ve done several times in the last hour. This is the case for most of the music released by de Leon’s band Miko & The Musket. The 7-piece Indie band exceeds what one expects from most Indie bands, for instead of falling into a consistent sound, the band provides diverse instrumentation and vocals that provide a diversity of sounds much like a variegated strobe light in a dark room. There is such richness in the multifaceted vocals, and this is only accentuated by the folk/funk/pop rhythms evident in each piece. Thus, in a sense, Miko & The Musket is genre less, a fascinating combination of a slew of sounds and rhythms that form a pleasant amalgamation of sound. This is perhaps best portrayed by the single mentioned above, “On Your Mark.”

“On Your Mark,” combines a fresh funky rhythm with creative folk harmonies. The song begins with an Americana funk sound much like that of Rusted Root. The percussion almost takes on a World music quality, and the band seems to ride the wave of many different types of rhythm. de Leon’s voice is like whipped cream: light, fully, and tasty. He blends well with his supporting vocalists – Molly McAdoo and Lannon Killea – who both provide fun fills – much like UK Indie folk. There are just so many catchy qualities of this piece, and it is difficult to not sing along or at least bop your head to the rhythm. The song falls off towards the end and quite literally slows itself down, but, much like the style of choral pop bands, rises back up into a culmination of sound and instrumentation.

Great piece by an up-and-coming Indie powerhouse in New York. Check out more about the band on its website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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