Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #196

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The Run-Off Groove, in conjunction with Shanachie Records, is giving you have a chance to win a copy of Spirits In The Material World: A Reggae Tribute To The Police, featuring new interpretations of classic Police songs by Horace Andy, Inner Circle, Junior Reid, Toots & The Maytals, The Wailing Souls, and even Joan Osborne. I reviewed the album in Run-Off Groove #190, and I think the album is worthy of many listens. Click the following link and enter right now:

  • Aloha, and welcome to the 196th edition of this column I call The Run-Off Groove. I am who I am, welcome to a new week of reviews, news, and goodies. Begin? I shall proceed to do so.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us He calls himself M.anifest, and by the name one should expect some level of quality rhymes and MC'ing. Manifestations (self-released) shows him to be a rapper who has the knowledge to drop incredible rhymes, and a flow that is easy to listen to, and what is M.anifest's style? As he states in "Babylon Breakdown", it can be protest music straight from the vocal chords, as a good portion of his lyrics touch on social and political issues, but with the musical finesse that might be heard on tracks produced by Pete Rock, Kanye West or Madlib. In "Emcee PSA" (produced by Sebmaestria he offers a message to people who think they are MC's but have no idea what the role represents, at the same time establishing his credentials:

    I got a title, kinda like Obama
    An African but soon to be American Idol
    So old school like them vinyl
    Takin' you back like Doggystyle, all night long like Lionel

    He speaks about his roots in Ghana and his journey to the United States, centering himself in Minnesota, and coming up with an outlook that is as harsh and bitter as America itself, but makes sure to let everyone know that when one man struggles, every man struggles, whether it's where you're at, where you've been, or of course where you're from. His observations culminates into some incredible songs where you feel like you're listening to someone with an incredible gift. I'm not saying gift in a special way, as if everyone should bow down and worship the man, even he might agree with me. But rather he knows how to speak and write, a hip-hop craftsman in a field that has been lacking... craft. A track like "She Lives" begins sounding like any new smoothed out R&B flavored hip-hop track, but he reveals something much deeper. It's actually a letter to rhythm & blues, where he asks how hip-hop is doing, because a lot of people say that she's in ruins. It's almost an update of "I Used To Love H.E.R.", as he refers to everyone from Biz Markie to Alicia Keys, and tries to explain how much has changed and what hasn't.

    His work can be appreciated by those who enjoy quality lyrics, there are a few effective choruses here and there but the meat of the matter are in his verses, and you'll want to listen to him a number of times as a first listen will not allow some of his words to sink in. Manifestations may represent the different roles and perspectives of Africans around the world, but it also represents the manifestations of M.anifest, what he's capable of as an MC and what he is presenting as a young artist ready to move the world. In many ways he also comes off in the same way when we first heard Cee-Lo and Black Thought, where the intensity of their mental capacity is presented here in seed form, and one will only wonder what will happen when the tree begins to grow.

    (Manifestations is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us What I liked about jazz artist Felicia Carter's new double CD is that it had the look and feel of an old double LP on Columbia Records, right down to the lettering, how its centered, the photograph used, and of course how the face of the discs themselves look like old records. This is all fine and good for this vinyl junkie, but how does the music stand up? Quite well actually.

    Feather/Step Lightly (Alberta) almost comes off like an Americana masterpiece-in-the-waiting than a purely jazz album, but jazz vocal albums in the last few years have been almost anything but jazz. She is rooted in jazz, but I also hear some of the pop stylings that Barbra Streisand is known for, especially as you hear "Golden", which begins as a ballad before it goes into an acoustic/jazz/blues motif. When Carter sings, you hear her really get into the emotions that the lyrics are meant to convey, and she does it so well. To have that complimented by great musicians is a major plus. The Feather half of the album is something that would be appreciated by Wilco fans, but if you stay around and play the Step Lightly half (a/k/a Disc 2), she removes the bright skies of the front cover and moves knee deep into jazz and blues, and she works it furiously, especially in songs such as "Hooray For You", "Complicated Woman", and "Lover Come Back To Me".

    It sounds like two unrelated halves, and maybe Carter had a reason for doing it. What you hear on Feather/Step Lightly are two distinct sounds that show a more broader view of the singer and artist. She could have easily trimmed it to a single disc and have the songs go back and forth between the styles, but by having two halves, each one covering a full disc, she's saying "this is me, and this is also me". She sounds like the kind of singer who could go country and maybe a bit of pop rock and not even worry about it. By producing the album with Amy Shook, it is obvious she is in control of her sound and how she wants to present herself, and if it was a terrible album I would be saying that she's the only one to blame. This is an album that fans will still be talking about in ten to twenty years, and those who aren't aware will never know about one of the best albums of the first decade of the 21st century.

    (Feather/Step Lightly is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The horn and piano riff that opens "Requiem", along with a fluctuating Hammond B-3 organ, sounds like it came from a different time, not something that was recorded in 2007. But that's what opens Magnificent Fiend (Birdman/american recordings), and with an illustration of a butterfly on the cover, you prepare yourself for the 44 minute journey that likes ahead.

    Howlin Rain sound like a really cool jam band, with hints of rock, soul, country, funk, and bluesy psychedelia to keep people guessing, or at least moving and dancing. Vocalist Ethan Miller has the kind of energy not unlike Chris Robinson and Melissa Etheridge, in fact "Dancers At The End Of Time" sounds a bit similar to "Bring Me Some Water". In "Calling Lightning Pt. 2" the band (Miller on vocals and guitar; Garett Goddard on drums, Mike Jackson on rhythm guitar; Ian Gradek on bass, and Joel Robinow on keys) create a very uplifting vibe that makes you want to hear more, perhaps attend a few outdoor music festivals and take off your shirt, and some of you may feel that this would be the sound of Blind Melon had Shannon Hoon lived on. The abrupt tempo and mood changes in "Lord Have Mercy" lets the listener know that this isn't an album based on a drum machine. The country rock influence goes back to the days of Poco, Loggins & Messina, and The Band, and it sounds organic and true, not something that's just a reflection for nostalgia. Of course, the band's target audience may not know a damn thing about the influences being passed on, but because of that sound they have found a growing fanbase of potential record buyers who still care about following a band throughout their career. In other words, older fans who recognize what Howlin Rain are doing and accept as a continuation of what has been going on for almost 40 years. Magnificent Fiend may sound rustic in nature, but do not fear it, for it is the type of rock that is still in demand because it brings up emotions that a lot of today's music lacks. Welcome home, friends.

    (Magnificant Fiend is available from CD Universe. "Calling Lightning Pt. 2" is available as a 12" single, also from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Improvvirussoundexperience may be self-explanatory if you know how to read their name, but it doesn't hurt to ask for assistance for a definition. I don't know if I have a proper one, but this 13-piece "improvisation orchestra" from Italy are about creating and uplifting spirits in, around, and through their music, beginning in territory where it's safe only to start exploring individually and the listener has no idea where things will go next. Supercoclea For New Apes (Setola di Maiale) consists of four songs, three of which are over twelve minutes, and the group pay in an unpredictiable way, not unlike Sun Ra's Arkestra. In "Eliogabalo #211006" you can hear them doing things that are definitely of the moment, and yet they are manage to hold on to each other through each sound that builds over each other. "Flowers For John" could easily have been recorded on Impulse Records circa 1968, and one could imagine Pharoah Sanders, Charlie Haden, and Ron Carter sitting in, smiling, and wanting to get involved. The musicians get free at times, but they each know that the show is about being precise. At times it sounds like a funeral dirge or two, as if they stepped into New Orleans and decided to pay homage.

    The cluster of sound comes from having an 8-piece horn section mixing it up with electric guitar, electric piano, and electric bass, on paper it might sound unconventional but on CD it is the perfect union of strangeness and beauty, the obvious and the unpredictable, which is what the best jazz is all about. A few elements in their music may be familiar to the casual jazz fan, but instead of having eight musicians solo one after the other, they may choose to solo all at once, or speak to each other through instrumental grunts and slides, all before getting back on track and taking the song to another level. It reminds me of some of Charles Mingus' more daring arrangements, and John Zorn's more complex recordings. I hope these guys are able to make it to North America very soon.

    (Supercoclea For New Apes is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us With some artists, I will get into their music completely backwards. I have known about Anticon for years, but for me they were a collective that by the time they were getting a lot of attention, they had released about twenty different records. It's not that I didn't want to listen, but I didn't know where to start. Friends would often tell me "listen to these guys, you'd like them and they sound like the kind of music you might record yourself", and when I hear recommendations like that, I don't know if they are being sincere or if it's an insult. I would see the names, recognize a number of them, and wonder why I hadn't listened to them before. Let's cut to the chase.

    Why? is a band featuring vocalist Yoni Wolf, whom I had known of through his great work with Reaching Quiet and cLOUDDEAD. The band also consists of brother Josiah Wolf and Doug McDiarmid, and Alopecia (Anticon) is their third album. Their music is a mixture of indie pop and rock with electronics and hip-hop, but unlike Reaching Quiet and cLOUDDEAD, Why? leans more on the indie rock side of things, and they play the role very well. Lyrically, Wolf is just as twisted, weird, and complex as the other groups I'm familiar with but somehow hearing them in this musical context makes them more believable. There's a lot of talk about not liking the present state of the world, and whether or not it has to do with his presence on the planet is what makes you want to hear the album from start to finish. The bio states that the lyrics are all downers and suicidal, and that the albums last song, "Exegesis", is the revealation of everything that was discussed on the album. I read that and think "okay, so what does that mean for me?" Instead, what I hear is a guy who thinks everything sucks, doesn't mind bringing himself down, but knows that things are what they are, and if one can't change, just live. As he says in "Good Friday":
    If you grew up with white boys who only look at black and Puerto Rican porno
    'Cause they want something that their dad don't got
    Then you know where you're at

    The question arises, where are you at? Where is Yoni coming from? Is he frustrated with how he was brought up, with the world, with who he is? It's done in a low-brow rap style, and you're not going to hear lyrics about living in Motel 6 or putting on Purell until your hands turm red and swell, that's not hip-hop, and yet he's very much of the spirit of rap music when there was an openess to do anything and everything. That in turn seems to be the reason why he does Why?, because he allows himself to go anywhere and everywhere. "These Few Presidents" sounds a bit like some trippy indie pop from England, and yet the words could have easily been told from a 60 year old man at a park too busy with his chess game... with himself. The beautifull orchestrated and arranged "Song Of The Sad Assassin" begins with a trobbing bass riff and stuttering vocal choir. On its own it could turn into a demonic prog rock masterpiece, but the boxy piano and Yoni's vocal performance shows that he's about taking what is known and turning it inside out. The lyrics are less about killing oneself, and more about shedding what he sees in the mirror in order to find the core of who he is, or who he believes he is, perhaps to find what he wants to be. "Fatalist Palmistry" has him seeking a mystic who hopefully can provide him with the answers, and with its brief nod to The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man", it could easily become a huge hit if it was promoted that way. By stating, but God a put a song on my palm that you can't read, it seems that he feels that what he feels cannot be interpreted by others, or that he doesn't want his inner feelings to be known. It's not about putting himself in isolation, for he seeked help but chooses to keep himself bottled up. At least that's how he expresses the character in the song, and it moves along that pace until the album reaches its conclusion, which is far from the suicidal tone that some are suggesting, but more about the continual acceptance of the inevitable and everything leading up to it. On the surface it can be heard as a heady album, and by listening for the first time some of the lyrics and stories expressed might come off as goofy wordplay, done this way because he feels like it. This is not unlike any other singer/songwriter who prefers not to take a smooth road towards acceptance, in fact the bumpy path can often be the most enjoyable. Alopecia is the unfamiliar bumpy road that leads to the same results, and the joy is of course about the road and the journey, not the destination. Indie rock fans may not like the occasional bursts of sub-dope flows, and the hip-hop purist will find no reason to listen to Why? but... why not Why?

    (Alopecia is available from the Anticon store.)


    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us There's a brand new music festival you'll want to know about, and it's happening in San Francisco from August 22nd-24th. It's called San Francisco's Outside Lands Music & Art Festival at Golden Gate Park. Artists scheduled to appear include:
    Radiohead, Beck, Wilco, Steve Winwood, Lyrics Born, Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, K'naan, Donavon Frankenreiter, Jack Johnson, Primus, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Regina Spektor, The Coup, Goapele, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, and many more artists yet to be announced.

    To make things interesting, the festival plans to make this a Green festival. There will be composting and recycling, which means don't be a pig and start your own trash heap, as there will be enough places to properly dispose of your trash. The website indicates there will also be a recycling store, where you can buy biodegradable cups that you can re-use throughout the festival, and also win prizes for your efforts in caring, including concert tickets, food, drinks, and more. The festival will also have an eco-village that will be run by solar-powered stage, featuring smaller level events such as yoga classes, comedy and poetry. Have an old cell phone? You can recycle it at the festival, even if it's in poor condition. The festival will be powered by generators that run on a 20% mix (BD20) of biodiesel, and rather than drive your car to and from the park, they will be offering complimentary bike valet service. Of course, all of this can't be done properly without your participation and cooperation, and with luck, "green" festivals will become a common practice.

    Tickets go on sale this coming Sunday (March 30th) at 10am Pacific Time.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Kelly Rowland, the lady from Destiny's Child with the better voice and looks (IMHO), has released a brand new album today. Unfortunately it's digital-only, and it's really an EP with extras. Go figure. It's called Ms. Kelly: Diva Deluxe, and you can consider it a digital extension of her most recent album, Ms. Kelly, rather than a proper album. It features five brand new songs and a bunch of remixes. You can find it through your favorite digital shindigs.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Fans of MIDIval PunditZ are able to download a brand new track for free in the form of "Piya". The song is from a new compilation being put out by Six Degrees Records called Music from Rudy Maxa's World, featuring music taken from the PBS travel show.

    I'm not sure if they know what their name means among the surfing community, but The Kooks (from England) are going to be releasing an album on April 15th, Konk, through Astralwerks. You can see and hear them by watching the video for "Always Where I Need To Be" by clicking here (Windows Media Player), or sample more of their work by clicking to their official MySpace page.

    If you like what you hear, you can pre-order the CD through Newbury Comics (which will come with an autographed booklet), Amazon.com (which will come with a bonus 9-track CD), or CD Universe. Digital head can pre-order it through iTunes.

  • Lewis & Clarke are a bit like The Thompson Twins, at least in name, and at least for now, since Lewis & Clarke is not a duo, but a trio. In their case, they are named after C.S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke. Their brand of trippy Americana can be described as... well, trippy Americana. Here's a look at what they're about, with the video for "We Think We Have Eyes":

    Moved? They are on tour in support of their recent album, Bare Bones and Branches, and you can find them near you:
    03/26/08 - Pittsburgh, PA - Garfield Artworks
    03/27/08 - Columbus, OH - Surly Girl (with The Black Swans)
    03/28/08 - Chicago, IL - AV-aerie
    03/29/08 - Madison, WI - The Annex (with A Catapult Western, Matt Jennings, Patchwork)
    03/31/08 - Bloomington, IN - Art Hospital (with Resting Rooster)
    04/02/08 - State College, PA - Roustabout! @ Bar Bleu
    04/03/08 - Wilkes Barre, PA - Fixture @ Fuse (with Illinois)
    04/04/08 - Philadelphia, PA - Circle of Hope (with Caroline Weeks + Mary Hampton)
    04/05/08 - Brooklyn, NY - Union Pool (with Caroline Weeks + Mary Hampton)
    04/06/08 - Cambridge, MA - The Lily Pad - (with Caroline Weeks + Mary Hampton)
    04/07/08 - New Britain, CT - The Art League of New Britain (with Caroline Weeks, Mary Hampton, + Mandrake)

  • Listen children, what does it all mean?

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us If you know that quote, then you should be very familiar with the work of Steve Stein, known better to hip-hop fans and sample junkies as Steinski. Before the word "sampling" became a worldwide phenomenon and record label liability, Steinski was becoming known for his audio collages, where he would splice recordings of known and unknown origins in a rhythmic pattern. His influential work with Double Dee wasn't meant to be influential, but rather it started out as an entry for a contest sponsored by Tommy Boy Records. The song, "The Payoff Mix", is better known as "Lesson 1", and what was meant to be nothing more than a contest winner ended up getting massive airplay. In fact, I remember hearing it on the radio in Honolulu, but I didn't know what it was. For years, all I remembered were the words heal, toe, heal, toe, heal, toe, heal, toe/hop forward, hop back/hop, hop, hop. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I found that same bit of audio on a cassette tape given to me by a next door neighbor. That first "Lesson" would lead to two more lessons, "Lesson 2" and "Lesson 3", and it became records that many DJ's would use as inspiration towards making music from any and every source they could find. While tape collage had been used by everyone from The Beatles to Raashan Roland Kirk, it managed to thrill a younger generation who were excited by the idea of a song made out of different songs. It was definitely an influence on me, although people like Prince Paul, DJ Shadow, and Cut Chemist are names you are more familiar with.

    Over the years, Steinski continued to record music, some for records, some for television and movie production, but still keeping to his thievery ethic. For those who have only heard about him but are unaware of his influence and impact on hip-hop and electronic music, Illegal Art will be releasing a 2CD compilation called What Does It All Mean?: 1983-2006 Retrospective. Many of these songs in their original form are difficult or impossible to find, as they have always been in demand throughout the years. Here is the confirmed track listing:
    CD 1 (Retrospective):
    01. The Payoff Mix (a/k/a "Lesson 1") (free MP3 download)
    02. Lesson 2 (James Brown Mix)
    03. Lesson 3 (History of Hip Hop)
    04. Jazz
    05. Voice Mail (Sugar Hill Suite)
    06. The Motorcade Sped On
    07. It’s Up To You (Television Mix)
    08. I’m Wild About That Thing
    09. The Big Man Laughs
    10. Vox Apostolica
    11. Is We Going Under?
    12, Ain’t No Thing
    13. Everything’s Disappeared
    14. Number Three On Flight Eleven

    CD 2 (Nothing To Fear):
    01. Tonight From NY Intro
    02. Swingset
    03. Opening Credits
    04. Greatest Man Alive
    05. The Id
    06. Let’s Get It On
    07. Hit The Disco
    08. Lolita
    09. Hot Spot
    10. It’s A Funky Thing Pt. 1
    11. Bboy Breakdown
    12. B-beat Classic
    13. Funk Construction
    14. Them That’s Not
    15. Swan Lake
    16. Here We Come
    17. Product Of The Environment
    18. By Any Means Necessary
    19. The Art Of Getting Jumped
    20. I Like It Like That
    21. Solid Air
    22. Country Grammar
    23. Let’s Get It On (Reprise)
    24. Muscles
    25. Easin’ In
    26. It’s Time To Testify
    27. The Acid Test
    28. Silent Partner

    The double CD will be released on May 27th.

  • Is Halycon the best record store in the United States? It may become that if their new websites are any indication, as Halycon will not only serve as a record distributor, but also sell MP3's at 320kbps, a spot to buy clothes, books, and other goodies, and they also organize performances. Halycon is in Brooklyn, New York, so if you don't know how to get there, click to their website and be open to finding some incredible stuff. If someone can pay for me to pay a visit, I'm (obviously) there.

  • Impatient on waiting for the new Time Machine album to drop? Trust me, I am too, but until then, you can check out their new video for their new single, "The Groove That Just Won't Stop":
    Time Machine, The Groove That Just Wont Stop

  • Down-tempo heads (and I know there are many of you) will want to check out a mix King Megatrip had put together five years ago for a radio show. He called the mix Relaxed, But Never Alert, and it is now available for download by clicking here.

  • On a self-promotional note: BOOK'S MUSIC!!!

    The brand new Book's Music podcast for this week is installment #60, so head to PodOMatic.com and download it to your digital player of choice:

  • That's it friends, at least for this week. There's a lot of music I didn't get into this week or was not able to review and listen in time for this week, but next week should be jam packed with the goods, so come back.

    If you have any music, books, or audio equipment you'd like for me to review, you can contact me through my MySpace page.