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Time (Specifically 1969) Has Told Me

28 May
Image result for nick drake

Nick Drake 

Image result for richard thompson

Richard Thompson

Image result for danny thompson

Danny Thompson

Have you ever played the game six degrees of separation before? The idea behind the game is that all people are connected within six steps of each other. For example, perhaps the guy you met on the train yesterday frequently eats at a bagel place where your brother’s best friend works the counter. It’s a small world after all, right? Well, it’s an even smaller world with music – you’d be surprised to find how many musicians have recorded in the same studio with other musicians. A quick check of an album’s liner notes may shock you. Thus is the case of today’s post – let’s head back in time to 1969 and find Nick Drake recording his debut album Five Leaves Left at Sound Techniques in London.

Drake, who signed to Island records at 20 and released three studio albums before turning inwards and committing suicide at 26, was a tortured folk genius whose creative guitar tunings, chord progressions, and lyric bent conventions and significantly impacted those lucky enough to work with him during his unfortunately short career. His music is haunting, much the probable consequence of severe depression, and although bucolic and tranquil for the modern listener, the music is tinged with a lugubrious solitude. Five Years Left, recorded when Drake was around 20 and released in July of 1969, finds its way on several top 500 album lists and for good reason; it is a masterful collection of Drake’s talent … and the talent of others. Take a listen to “Time Has Told Me.”

Right? There is nothing quite like it – hence the draw of Nick Drake. Did you notice the twangy electric guitar and swooning bass? That is where our game of musical degrees begins. Let’s start with the electric guitar.

Recorded at around the same time of Drake’s album and released in December of 1969, Liege & Lief, one of the most influential British folk albums ever released, featured the guitar stylings of Richard Thompson – “Farewell, Farewell,” one of my favorites on the album, is Thompson’s arrangement. Why bring up guitarist Richard Thompson? He played electric guitar on “Time Has Told Me.” He was also a founding member of Fairport Convention, who, in 1969, released three albums – the third being Liege & Lief. Impacted by American folk acts like Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention revived older British folk songs, and added a modern tint to the classics. The band, of course, is most known for the dulcet vocal of Sandy Denny, who, like Nick Drake, also suffered from depression and died young. Thompson’s guitar, though, cannot be overstated – his impact on the scene was invaluable.

Often when people consider late 60s British folk , they think of Fairport Convention and Pentangle, a band that explored more of the Folk Baroque scene, implementing Jazz influences into their folk tunes. Formed in 1967, Pentangle also featured a powerful female vocalist – Jacqui McShee (who still performs with the band) and a bassist named Danny Thompson (no relation to Richard) who also played bass on, you guessed it, “Time Has Told Me” by Nick Drake. Only a few months after Drake’s debut release, Pentangle released its third studio album (it had released two in 1968 – these bands were quite prodigious) Basket of Light, and on it was the traditional piece “Once I Had A Sweetheart” that was creatively arranged by the talented quintet. The music is tinged with a progressive sentiment – a true precursor to some progressive acts that sprouted after the British folk movement petered out in the early 1970s.

So there you have it – Nick Drake records his seminal debut album in 1968/1969 and from perhaps its most famous track we find two British folk giants whose careers have both spanned more than 50 years – time certainly has told us much.

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Off to the Races Wins Triple Crown – Jukebox the Ghost

5 Apr

I’ve written about Jukebox the Ghost before back in 2012, and since then the band has matured their unique brand of anthemic pop and have built a sound that can only be called the “Jukebox” sound. The D.C.-spawned trio of Ben Thornewill (vocals & piano), Tommy Siegel (vocals & guitar) and Jesse Kristin (drums) are now on their fifth studio album, and, despite my overplaying of the infectious earworm Everything Under the Sun (2010)Off to the Races, which was just released in late March, may be the band’s best release yet.

The album brings Jukebox back to its creative roots, calling back to the first two releases (my two favorites) and creating more tracks aligned with this theatrical pop/rock sentiment. The band’s last few releases had a few tracks that worked under this lens, but Off to the Races fits it more as a complete piece. The album also features one of the band’s most ambitious pieces, “Jumpstarted,” which introduces the album and certainly sets the tone. The piece begins with a Queen-like layered vocal harmony and rapidly tickled ivories and transforms into a percussion-fueled, toe-tapping carnival of sounds – the song is a cavalcade of music (fit with creative vocals, call-backs, guitar solos, and electronic interludes) that even progresses into some a cappella. It is an immediate party and a bit risky – thankfully, the song delivers and sets the tone for the rest of the album.

“Fred Astaire” is classic Jukebox. It is a drenched guitar riff mixed with a strong vocal and consequent percussion. The song fits together like a Jukebox puzzle – it is catchy pop but done to absolute perfection. It goes down smooth.

“Everybody’s Lonely,” while different in tone, also demonstrates Jukebox’s grasp over pop tunes. The song starts as a call-back to something I can only term 1950’s diner piano and then progresses into a more traditional pop piece with crashing percussion and a swooning vocal. Thornewill’s piano diversifies this pop; he often demonstrates classical chops and this adds to the song’s success.

Another successful release for Jukebox The Ghost – perhaps their best album in years. Maybe this time I will actually see them when they come to NY; I tried several years ago but the concern was snowed out and I could not go to the make-up date. I need to see this band in concert!

Riding a Moon Taxi Two High

14 Jan
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Photo Credit: Harper Smith From L to R: Tyler Ritter, Tommy Putnam, Wes Bailey, Trevor Terndrup, and Spencer Thomson

In the category of bands that finally got their due in 2017 is Moon Taxi, a band that existed prior to the original iPhone but has just now signed on with RCA Records. On the heels of the band’s fifth album (and first on RCA) which will be dropped in less than a week, I figure now, albeit a bit late, is the best time to introduce this five-piece Alt/Indie outfit to a growing world of listeners.

Moon Taxi follows a classic band tale, a piecemeal collection of bandmates through high school, college, and the local music scene. Stationed in music hotbed Nashville, Moon Taxi originally played a variety of music closer to jam rock, and this is where they cut their teeth with their first few releases – hence their casting as opening acts for bands like Gov’t Mule and Umphrey’s McGee. The band transformed with the times, taking on a style emulating the trend in alt/rock, a sound most similar to infectious riffs and creative instrumentation. This is where Moon Taxi found a true comfort zone, and this is reflective of the tracks that one will hear when listening to the new album – Let The Record Play. Already festival darlings, Moon Taxi is soaring to the, well, moon, and perhaps the greatest indication of this meteoric rise is “Two High,” a track that reaches the stars with its optimistic lyric and uplifting sound (count the space references in the previous sentence).

First released back in May, “Two High” has amassed more than 70 million streams on Spotify, which is most certainly in the not too shabby category. It’s success is for good reason also. The song begins with a saturated guitar riff – think brighter X Ambassadors. The vocal features that twangy southern charm that one expects from a Nashville band. The song has a couple of stand-out components that have helped propel it to popularity – one the horn fill in the chorus because everyone likes horns in Alt/Rock music (I’m surprised they are not used more) and second the slowed bridge with drowned percussion. Towards the end there is even some subtle Spanish guitar. It’s a strong track from what will most likely be a strong album.

Moon Taxi is a band you want to keep an eye on in 2018 – it’s time for them to touch the sky.

Content Updates and Reflection

7 Jan

When I started The Music Court nine years ago one of my first content-related posts was a “Song of the Day” – the one above, albeit a version from nine years ago and not from the summer of 2017. At that point I did not have a firm direction for the blog; I just wanted a space to demonstrate my absolute love of music; the Music Court has twisted and turned since then, seeing the creation of several new categories and writing of more than 10 authors, some of whom are still with us (Toria Munoz has done an excellent job, hasn’t she?)

It is rather apt that Colin Hay’s “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” was one of my first posts because at that point in my life, a college student, I was literally waiting for my “real life” to begin. Nine years later, real life has gotten in the way of this blog so many times; however, it has persisted, because the love for music is still potent. And it will continue on; I want to use this post to just acknowledge that I am still here – even though I have not posted in a while, and I am going to try to do a better job to post more consistently.

The Music Court will focus more now on new artist profiles and the occasional concert review. Yes, I will, when inspired, still post about classics, but I plan on mainly profiling one new band a week. I will take on more alternative rock and singer-songwriters, while Toria will focus on EDM, eclectic rock, and other genres. Together, we will keep you updated and informed of some of the excellent sounds emerging in the music world today.

Stick with us; nine years and going strong – The Music Court perseveres into 2018.

Review: Arcade Fire at MSG

22 Sep
Arcade Fire In Concert - New York City

Credit: Billboard

When I attend a concert I intend on reviewing I take a series of mental notes to add content and spice to the review. Generally, the notes are brief and dull, a collection of tracks the band performed well and perhaps some words on the audience. However, Arcade Fire’s Sept. 12 performance at Madison Square Garden garnered an eclectic series of notes, perhaps most akin to that of a tropical birthday party of an eccentric retired boxer.

  • Boxing ring for a stage. Seriously, not just a box stage. There are ropes. The band enters through the crowd on the floor while mock boxing statistics are projected onto the board.
  • The board features some jerky animated individual with a western drawl and TV static for a face. It’s mighty odd. That is replaced with alien advertisements for products during songs from the Everything Now album – the band is on point with its social commetary
  • Haitian dancers for “Haiti.” That makes sense. Nice touch
  • Great moment for Hurricane Harvey relief – Win Butler plays The Suburbs in honor of the city of Houston and urges individuals to donate to a charity that is projected on all of the screens
  • The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the opening act, comes back for the final tracks during the encore – the sound is electric.

Pair those notes with a sold out MSG crowd with a crowded dance floor and perpetual sing-alongs, especially with “Wake Up” – which was practically yelled by the crowd – at the end of the concert, and you have a vibrant, eccentric concert. Like anyone would expect anything less from the Indie Rock superstars. Since released Funeral in 2004, Arcade Fire has blended creative Indie Rock with mainstream sing-alongs and accessible tracks – always balancing aberrant, polarizing sounds with catchy melodies. That is Arcade Fire’s charm, and a big reason why they were able to sell out MSG with an unsurprisingly engaged collection of fans spanning the band’s history.

I saw the band once before during their Reflektor Tour, but this go-around seemed more electric and inspired. The band seemed more confident. They sprawled around their boxing ring stage like predators, playing each track with an effervescence engendered by the raucous crowd. You could sense just how much the band enjoys what they do and there appreciation that people like the product. This vivacity never faded throughout the concert and the band practically had to be forced off the floor, playing an amalgamation of the chorus of “Wake Up” and “Stand By Me” as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band buttressed the performers as they walked toward the side entrance, Win Butler, the lead singer of Arcade Fire, singing until he finally got to the tunnel. A fitting end to a unique concert by a skilled band at the prime of its career.

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