Aloha, and welcome to the 199th edition of The Run-Off Groove, with your host, John Book. 199. Man oh man oh man. Rather than look back right now, we look forward and begin this thing by shifting the focus to the Pacific Northwest, specifically the PDX.
Braille has got to be one of the hardest working MC's and budding entrepreneurs in indie hip-hop today, the guy doesn't seem to stop. The schedule he is on involves recording, mixing, planning, touring, recording, touring, planning, I do not know how this guy has time to stop and think, and perhaps he would say the same thing. But after releasing three albums he has reached a level where he can be confident about his execution on the mic, more than ever. With the release of The IV Edition (HipHopIsMusic/Syntax/Koch) he will no doubt move a few levels up and I was going to say "the game" but this guy is serious, he's not about playing games.
There are so many things one can say about his music. Braille has talent, skills, wit, heart, and humor, and does so without having to be too vulgar about it. There's a spiritual side to his music but it's not the major focus of his songs, but it is a big part of who he is. The guy is hardcore in his approach but there's no vulgarity whatsoever. If one tends to think that makes him soft, then you haven't really listened to Braille. If there's a good time to get to know what he's about, start with album #4. Like his other albums, it's a look at the thoughts and concepts going on in his life, but the album also touches on some of the things that have happened in his life. The passing of his father may have put a pause in Brian Winchester's life briefly, but the album begins on a strong note with his father congratulating him on making it to album #4. Braille knows he's going to use it for the album and tries to make him sound hip and cool, but rather than try to be what he isn't, he speaks from the heart in a simple manner and just says hey Brian, this is dad. It feels more like home, more intimate, and he gets right into the issues at hand in "Beautiful Humanity" with a beat courtesy of Ohmega Watts:
Vision for the cataract, counterattack
Fall down and bounce back, holla, I'll holla back
Start it like this, son, they can't shine like this one
Lyrics in my head and I'm about to spit some
Mission: Impossible, now I'm missing my father now
He passed away. I coulda said "why even bother now?"
Lose my integrity, let the music get watered down
You know my steez, you know the foundation of this sound
I'm working harder than ever on this endeavor
He died from high blood pressure, I don't got a vendetta
I dedicate this to the process of life and death
Walking through the valley of the shadows taking righteous steps
West Coast native, listening to Native Tongues
I stay away from drugs and I don't play with guns
I keep it safe like a stolen base
You're Ricky Henderson, learn a lesson from the greats
At this point in this song he states that he will be more than just an asterisk*, but then he lets his pride and ego down and speaks about what he hopes to see in the future, more "u-n-i-t-y" in the concept of what is humanity, and that the idea of one love has to come through appreciating each other for the diversity and not argue or have issues with the differences that tend to keep us apart. Braille has always spoken with wisdom, but there's a bit of enlightenment in his voice as if to say "life goes on, let's keep on going".
He goes on a mission throughout the album, and one of the more surprising tracks is one that could lead to a bit of crossover airplay, "Main Squeeze". Produced by 88 Keys, it could easily be a song of admiration towards his lady but that's just the chorus. The song almost seems to be his answer to songs where all of the emphasis is in the chorus, but when you listen to the verses it's about him wanting to have a firm grip on your consciousness with his lyrics and way of speaking. "Counter Attack" (produced by Oh No) sounds like something directly from the vaults of the Beat Junkies, with a filtered string section layered over a dusty beat and bassline. The beat is dirty and nasty, but Braille, along with Theory Hazit, speak out against the dirty and nastiness of the world, and slam those who continue to glorify negativity. DJ Idull's turntable work gives it a nice B-boy feel. CunningLynguists's Kno offers up "Get It Right", and the dark theme of the song goes back to the vibe Braille had visited on his Shades Of Grey album where self-evaluation leads to self-doubt and a bit of self-(re)discovery. Kno's beat and piano loop is perfect, I'm not sure if Braille wrote his words to fit in with what he felt out of the instrumental but you tend to see everything he describes vividly and support him to make it towards getting it right.
In terms of true righteousness, it happens on the album's closer over something that I'd like to call production righteousness courtesy of J-Zone. If you are familiar with any of J-Zone's work in the last ten years, you know what he's capable of in the beat department. The songs begins with a repeated sample of drums and a Hammond B-3 running through a Leslie, and you immediately feel the immediacy of the intimacy of the groove, it's thick with the funk and it's knee deep in obscurity. For the last 16 tracks Braille has expressed himself through the thick and thin, talked about marriage, the passing of his father, becoming a father, and having to fight evil for the sake of supporting positivity. After all is said and done, he still goes back to the origins, and it's as if he becomes animated, figuratively and literally:
Straight out the boonies, from the land of The Goonies
It's the goody two shoes with Tim boots and a hoodie
Double XL on a medium frame
Just in case my body grows at the speed of my brain
The beat is insane, needles get deep in the grain
The record, like an IV, inserted in veins
Medicine for the mundane monotony, I'm stoppin' this
Preposterous monopoly, it's not for me, honestly
I ought to be considered an anomaly, a nominee
For rocking the microphone so phenomenally
Dropping heat so hot, they say muy caliente
The El Presidente, musical Master Sensei
Masterpiece light show burning through retinas
It'll be a 10 when the earthquake registers
On the Richter scale, this is how I tip the scale
Rails blowing up just in case the missiles fail
Braille, with pride, says that sometimes an MC just has to rip, and he does it flawlessly. Yet it's just the first verse.
The IV Edition is for anyone who loves lyricism in hip-hop, at a time when that word seems to be thrown around carelessly as if anyone and everyone can do it. Yes, anyone and everyone can do it but not everyone can do it with style. Braille loves the art of the rhyme, and committing himself to dropping his words over well-chosen beats and productions, and on this album he also works with The Are, J-Thrill, DJ Spinna, and Marco Polo, along with vocal and DJ appearances from Mr. J of The Procussions, Speech of Arrested Development, Poems of L.A. Symphony, S1 of Strange Fruit Project, Rob Swift, and DJ Bombay. They all band together to create an album that represents Braille as an artist who honors the music with integrity and intelligence.
(The IV Edition is available through CD Universe.)
Ego Trippin' (Geffen) is being promoted heavily not only as Snoop Dogg's new album, but also as his 9th album, because at a time when it seems every other rapper comes and goes without saying thank you, Snoop has been fortunate to have had a career. He has been hardcore and street, but he has always been fascinated by the fortune and fame aspects of his career, and for this new album he flirts with both while managing to put his foot in a few new doors.
First off, accessibility. This album is easily one of the more accessible ones of his career, and when I say accessible, I mean outside of the hip-hop circle. That's not to say that he's never been accessible, let's face it, he has been making music for about 17 years, he couldn't be in the position he is today without messing around with the formula. With this album he revealed that he does receive outside assistance for his lyrics. While there has always been a "hush hush" policy when it comes to rappers and ghostwriters, this is the first time a rapper of status has admitted that he has reached a point in his career where he can get songwriting help, and isn't afraid to admit it. By knowing this, does that or should that change the way people hear his music, and does it really change his music at all? Let me answer the first part of the question by saying that it's subjective, what you think of it is your thing. I'm here to answer the second half of that question by saying no, it really doesn't change his music at all, because he has always been about being hardcore, being fun, speaking of good times, and not afraid to share a sense of humor. He does do a country track with Everlast, which might seem a little late in the game since Everlast did the country/Americana thing years ago. However, Snoop has always been one of the big names, someone who generally set the trends for what was to come, and this time he's not afraid to say that he's going to follow a trend or too. "My Medicine" (originally titled "Johnny Cash") has him giving props to "a real American gangster" by talking about how quick he can be, and he follows that up with "Ridin' In My Chevy", where he has put down the 10 gallon had and replaced it with locs and cruising slowly as he heads towards the traffic light. The hardcore tracks people have grew up with are still there, but Snoop continues to share his love of the records he grew up with, whether it has that early to mid-80's R&b vibe to the laid back funk of the late 70's. The lyrics are true Snoop, with him talking about fucking and fucking around, smoking up a chalice while getting freaky, all laid over music that for some listeners may sound like those old records in grandma's closet, which is fine, for that is the Snoop trademark.
Is there anything new or special about this album? Outside of the country track and catchiness of "Sexual Eruption" (the more risque version of the radio friendly "Sensual Seduction"), not really, but you are hearing new stories and adventures from D-O-double-G, and while he knows that this is a Doggy Dogg world, you're more than welcome to join in on the party. Just leave enough in the bong for everyone.
(Ego Trippin' is available from CD Universe.)
Gnarls Barkley's follow-up album to the massive St. Elsewhere left many people wondering if they could come up with something just as catchy and as powerful as the first. Months before the release of the new album, people were quick to say that Cee-Lo Potsie and Danger Mouse Rodriguez could not do it. The title was released: The Odd Couple (Atlantic), accompanied by photos of Cee-Lo in a wedding dress and Danger Mouse in a powder blue suit. Now people were saying the former Goodie Mob man was gay, and as for Danger Mouse? As he said on the last album, but who cares?
Which is exactly the point. The album begins as the first album did, with the start of a film projector, and the adventure begins. If there's one thing I noticed immediately, the music/production seemed more cinematic and diverse. Some of the lyrics seem to be variations of the mind trips explored on St. Elsewhere, but they work as reference points towards what Cee-Lo wants to talk about on the new album, which seems to have him in a much darker place, one of isolation and lost, but one where he's trying to escape his circumstances and maybe an effort to get the characters in the song into a better place. "Who's Gonna Save My Soul" sounds like something from obscure Italian Western, complete with massive tape hiss which got me all ting-a-ley, but away from my audio fetish, the song is about someone who has lost faith in someone who had faith in him, as he sings Maybe I feel like somebody/like somebody else/although he was imitated often/I feel like I would be myself/it is a shame that someone else's song/was totally and completely depended on/who's gonna save my soul now/who's gonna save my soul now/I wonder if I'll live to grow old, now/gettin' high 'cause I feel so low now and it sounds like a more melancholy continuation of "But Who Cares". It's that tape hiss though, I'm loving that... I'm sorry, let's continue with the review.
One thing some fans have said is that this album has Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse sounding more white than ever, and depending on one's perspective, it might. One song I want to target is "Going On", which has a girl group sound to it, as if Amy Winehouse could've sung this with ease, but that doesn't make it white. Sure, there were many white girl groups but there were many black girl groups. Puerto Rican, Mexican, countless Asian girl groups, all of whom were trying to have that sound for themselves. Does this make Gnarls Barkley gay? Of course not, and I'm only confronting one stereotype with another to make a point, and that's these guys are making successful attempts in challenging their fans, for better or worse. In "Going On", the beat slows down by half as it is soothed by an aching, Richard Wright-ish Hammond B-3, only for Danger Mouse to attack the senses with deafening bass frequencies and guitars covered up with reverb that hopefully will take the listener to another destination, as the song hopes to do (the Asian-sounding synths are a nice touch). "Run (I'm A Natural Disaster)" sounds like it would have been perfect for some cop show circa 1966, complete with muffled bongos and a swinging rhythm (complete with drums from unknown sources) that may represent a more simpler time, even though the lyrics is a message for the youth to run towards something better. I like the use of the crackle during one point of the song, where it seems out of place but if it isn't tape hiss, it's vinyl crackle that I goosh about, as it gives me chicken skin and... oh wait, sorry, the review.
The one thing about the lyrical content is that Cee-Lo is willing to anywhere at any time, without giving people clues. "Would Be Killer" seems to be a more humble perspective of what the Geto Boys rapped about in "Mind Of A Lunatic", and Danger Mouse compliments this with beats and samples that are equally filled with doom and gloom. I don't know if Danger Mouse was listening to Andrew Poppy, but try to tap your feet or nod your head to "Open Book". At first it isn't certain what the time signature is, or if there even is one, but depending on your perspective it could either be heard at 3/4 or 4/4 (now go hunt down some Poppy records and see what I'm talking about).
Some of these tracks almost seem to make fun of some of the novelty records of the 60's and 70's, which may come from Danger Mouse's love of odd records to sample from. They may be odd and unusual, but if you take a deep listen it is obvious these guys have a sense of what they're doing. A good example of this is "Whatever", as there's a Mystikal-type voice being scratched in the background, heard within the chorus screaming "WHAT?!". Then you have "Surprise", which could either be something heard on some beach blanket bingo or during the last four minutes of 400 Blows if it was a spaghetti Western made in Laos (with Cee-Lo singing like a Laotian martian in this one).
It's odd and unusual in the sense that no one in the mainstream (or in the current Top 20) would dare make music as adventurous as this. For Cee-Lo, The Odd Couple is a continuation of the creativity he has been known for since he spoke out about feeling locked in a gated community way back in "Cell Therapy". For Danger Mouse, it amazes me how many avenues he wants to go on at one time and all of the risks he's willing to take, the album comes off like an Atlanta version of Psyence Fiction and the first Mr. Bungle album. There's soul, funk, hip-hop, pop, and a lot of quirkiness inbetween, but as a whole it could be the musical equivalent of Zabriskie Point or La Vallee, where it may not make sense scene by scene/song by song, but as a whole you consume it for overall viewing/listening experience. It will take a number of listeners to sink in, but once it does you'll find a lot to grip on to, like a thick Warner Robins stripper.
(The Odd Couple is available from CD Universe.)
When it comes to John Zorn's Tzadik label, you never know what to expect. I don't know how Zorn records many of these projects while monitoring the releases of others, it always amazes me, but what amazes me is the quality of the music expressed. Bar Kokhba's Lucifer: Book of Angels Volume 10 is for fans who loved Zorn's The Gift or the Naked City albums in terms of genre hopping and going into places not expected. Some of it sounds like Jewish folk melodies, others are more European in nature, or as is the case with "Azbugah" it sounds like a folk melody mixed in with mid-60's surf music. The work of Mark Feldman (violin) and Erik Friedlander (cello) helps give these songs and the group more character, as they tend to be the primary instruments, although Joey Baron (drums) and Cyro Baptista (percussion) help to enhance the songs by making it worth dancing to or listening to it in a quiet calm. Marc Ribot's guitar work goes everywhere from traditional to cinematic, the latter being the vibe he generates in "Zazel". Greg Cohen (bass) anchors everyone and at times it seems everyone is focused on him to reach to the musical goal first, whatever it may be.
The tendency to lean back and forth between ethnic folk and jazz works very well, and one might mistake this as being an all-folk album if it wasn't for some of the things the band do alongside playing the melodies. For all I know it could be just a folk album, but one that isn't afraid to switch up on time signatures at a whim.
(Lucifer: Book of Angels Volume 10 is available directly from Tzadik.)
Cyro Baptista. The man's name brings to mind incredible music, musicianship, composition and arrangements. Whether it's as a session musician or as a leader, Baptista has never been afraid to give his all, and he lays it on the line once again with Banquet Of The Spirits (Tzadik).
The spirits that are represented here are a mixture of spirits from various sides of Brazil's rich musical history, whether it's folk, bossa nova, or a hint of the avant garde. "Macunaima (A Hero Without A Character)" sounds like something right out of the Roni Size catalog if he grew up listening to a lot of Tom Zè, which moves right into a fierce piano solo, locking Baptista and his band Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz-oud, bass, & gimbri; Tim Keiper on drums and percussion; Brian Marsella on keyboards) into a jazz vibe for a minute or two, only for it to play some kind of old horror movie melody, before going into jazz again and then some kind loose funk and ultra hypersensitive metal (almost sounding like Urban Dance Squad).
Despite the different styles moving rapidly, there is still a oneness in their playing that shows a love and respect for the music Baptista wants to present to the world. One of the more revealing songs is the album's closer, "Anthropofagia", where Baptista speaks about the origins of Brazil as the world knows it, and how the first settlers discovered a land of non-stop orgies and fornication, only to demand that everything get cleaned up for the sake of purity. The arrival of the Portuguese helped enhance some levels of the country, but as time went on the Brazilian people began to hunger for anything. The mixture of flavors, and in truth influences, would create the Brazil we know and love today, good or bad, and despite the rules the government places on its people, they find a way to celebrate through music and dances of unknown origins. The celebration is portrayed as a massive sound of music and vocals, and it becomes the moral of the story. What's the moral, and what's the story? If you let yourself go to the spirits that move you, perhaps you will find out.
(Banquet Of The Spirits is available directly from Tzadik.)
The Dreamers (Tzadik) is music from the dream state of John Zorn, for I don't see how the man would want to dream in the way his music sounds in an awaken state. I love the chaotic works he has done over the years, but for his new album he has recorded some songs that are more sensible, or at least the kind of music that would sound perfect as the soundtrack to The Endless Summer than Uzumaki. Or at least, that's how it sounds at first.
The style of jazz he plays here is of the lounge/exotica variety, with guitar, an organ, vibraphone, percussion, drums, and bass. Zorn's sax work is very subtle, almost to where he comes off as a spectator than a participant but when he plays you know it's him. He is surrounded by some of the best, including Trevor Dunn, Joey Baron, Jamie Saft (whose piano work in "A Ride On Cottonfair" might make people look at their CD players and wonder if they're listening to Dave Brubeck), Kenny Wollesen, Marc Ribot, and Cyro Baptista. Zorn has been praised as many times as he has been bashed for foolish reasons, some knowing he can play and arrange but making the kind of music the jazz elite generally don't want to hear. Yet after creating jazz that sounds kind of blue, they'll get into a trippy King Crimson/Soft Machine moment with "Anulikwutsayl", then give Frank Zappa a head nod with "Toys". It seems that once Zorn and friends found a toy box, they're going to pour it out into the room and have fun, and that's when the album gets a bit more daring and adventurous. If this is still the dream state, it's a dream that will be fun analyzing, and within the tentative bursts of jazz thrash are those slivers of exotica. It could be a more mature Naked City, but mature generally suggests calm. The music makers on The Dreamers create eleven trippy dreams that should not be analyzed too deeply. Just listen and be amazed at how Zorn can still create music like this without a problem.
(The Dreamers is available directly from Tzadik.)
When Van Morrison releases an album, some people feel it is a big event. The reason is because millions of people have adored his voice and music for years, and rightfully so. Some argue that Morrison has not released a great album in years, but the recent PBS special on the blues showed that the man has not lost his touch. Perhaps some of those criticisms made it his way, and he has answered his fans and critics with the aptly named Keep It Simple (Lost Highway).
The album goes back to the vibe he shared in the early 70's when his music felt communal, with hints of blues, rock, soul, and some gospel. It's the kind of album that might make people he was raised in the South and not in Ireland. Here was a guy willing to sing about a "Brown Eyed Girl" when a good portion of the world had no idea what he was really talking about, and that love for the down home music he has appreciated for years is in full bloom here in songs like "Songs Of Home" (which would have fit perfectly on any album by The Band, see The Last Waltz for references), "Behind The Ritual", and the sly "Don't Go To Nightclubs Anymore", the latter of which he speaks about how he was once a trooper when he was younger, but now can only reminisce about the old friends and gatherings that were once a big part of his life.
This is music from a man who will be 63 years old this year, and he mixes up his struggles with time and age with the pride in knowing he has made it this far, very much in the vein of Bonnie Raitt's Nick Of Time. He longs for the good times but knows he has experienced a lot, and while age and aging are factors on this album, it sounds like the music of someone 20 to 30 years younger. The difference is that we know this is Van Morrison, and with that comes someone with enough experience to condemn us for all of the good times we think we're having. To Keep It Simple means going back to the basics, and in a better time this would have been one of the best selling albums of the year. Do yourself a favor by buying this, and find out why it's that good, and why you'll value it when you reach 63.
(Keep It Simple is available from CD Universe.)
Way back when, I've liked The Orb. Today, I still like them, but I have not kept track of their music in ages. The Dream seems to be another piece of their puzzle to create musical mind games that take the listener on a unique voyage, and this time around it takes 72 minutes and 15 tracks to do it.
Arguably I may not be the right one to review this, because I have not followed the other pieces of the puzzle but this is what I hear. The album is a mixture of ambient tracks, funky sample-happy drops, dance club noodles, out-of-this-world symphonic disco hybrids, down tempo stoners ("Codes"), and psychopathic ballads. The music is never too comfortable, and while it does occasionally segue into each other, it sounds more like a gallery of Orb sounds than something that is cohesive, and maybe it works best this way. The album brings together once again Dr. Alex Paterson and Youth, and while an open door policy has more or less existed with The Orb, somehow the union between Paterson and Youth has been one that many have preferred. The production as always is superb, with the both of them continuing to bring on their skills and offering surprises that will make anyone smile. It may not be the perfect Orb album, but both of them would be the first to say "what is?"
(The Dream is available from CD Universe.)
Jamallad's West African roots will always remain true to who he is as a person and as a singer, songwriter, and musician. Now a citizen of Hawai'i Nei (the island of Maui to be exact), he had brought his worldly view to a new place and hopes that each person who listens will become a Global Citizen (United Globe Music).
Loosely this would be called "world music" but people want to know what types of sounds actually make up this "world". For Jamallad, it's a mixture of reggae, African pop, folk, and soul. Imagine Peter Gabriel & Youssou N'Dour with a bit of early Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Richard Bona and you will get a taste of Jamallad's uplifting music, whether it's "Give Love A Chance", "Like Children", "Ode To The Land", or "War No More". You can feel every emotion made in his songs, and fortunately the lyrics are not heady to the point where some might interpret it as being too forceful. Anytime someone brings in a political or social side to their music one thinks they have an agenda, and I think for him it's about believing in a positive message and wanting to share it for those who should listen. In "Happiness" he speaks about the world as one living organism, a celebration of a "one world, one people" philosophy that so many have shared, where he sings in this life, we're living all together/none chose where he was born/nor where he will die/need to make the best, of the life we've got today/loving thy neighbor was always preached in every religion/but before we can give our best/we need to live in harmony and happiness and he goes on to say that you have to not only live in it, but believe and share it too. The liner notes also share his personal story of how he came close to death after being paralyzed, and it was possible that he would not be able to walk or sing again. Despite the obstacles he faced, he finished the album and is still going through rehabilitation. The album not only celebrates his rich heritage and love of music, but a new re-affirmation of life and a need to take advantage of what is in front of you before those things are completely taken away. A remarkable album from a remarkable talent, with a message that I hope will be heard worldwide in his lifetime.
(Global Citizen is available from CDBaby.)
John Swana has found his way in studios and on stage with some of the best names in jazz in the last few years, and many of these musicians would probably say that Swana is one of the best trumpeters out there today. It might lead to some heady competition from the many trumpeters who play for the love of the music but also want their own voice to be heard, but Swana is someone who could take any battle and go until the final musical punch, which is what he does with success on his brand new album, Bright Moments (Criss Cross).
Along with Swana who plays trumpet and flugelhorn, Bright Moments features Kenny Washington (drums), Peter Washington (bass), David Hazeltine (piano), Grant Stewart (tenor sax), and Eric Alexander (tenor sax). Together they swing and swing well, and play the kind of jazz that moves in a way that moved people to buy Kind Of Blue many times over since its release almost 50 years ago. Swana has a very rich, smooth style that he has perf... I was going to write perfected but perhaps a better word would be sharpened, for I feel that while he plays incredible with the kind of tones that will make the men salute and the ladies swoon, he is far from reaching a level he is comfortable with, he sounds like a explorer. The same can be said for Alexander and Stewart, who get into their saxophone club motif and constantly trade licks back and forth as if it was no one's business (listen to "Road Trippin" for the competitive force the three horn players have amongst each other, only for Hazeltine to have his time to shine and play. Swana comes back before Alexander and Stewart join in, and not to be outdone Hazeltine still has a few points to make and does until the song fades out. It's fun to hear, and I'm sure it was as fun to play.
All of these songs sound like jazz standards, but one look at the liner notes indicates that all but one were written by the band leader. Bright Moments? There are eleven of them here.
(Bright Moments is available from CD Universe.)
Pete Malinverni has been recording and releasing music for 21 years or so, and he's back in the swing of things again with Invisible Cities (Reservoir Music). His piano work and songwriting/arrangements are a must-hear for anyone who wants to hear their jazz vibrant, and one gets that in songs like "Istanbul", "Chicago", and "I Love Paris". The album is meant to sound like travel because the theme is songs that take us from city to city without having to leave one's listening chair.
What I like about his playing is how he captures space and time and makes it work with what he's doing, as if his dialogue is the only dialogue work listening to when he speaks through his playing. Hearing "A City Called Heaven" is almost like hearing contemplation, about the inevitable last destination for some and looking back at all of the places traveled in life only to realize that in time, we all make one last stop. Perhaps those travels will continue in the memories of those who loved and respected us, and that is something we all like to be comforted by, and he plays in a way which let's the listener to stop and think about what life offers before it's too late. Tim Hagans (trumpet) and Rich Perry (tenor saxophone) help take this message home, and just the feel of the album reminds me of some of Duke Ellington's more poignant pieces, especially in his last decade. Malinverni plays beautifully on this, and it's an album that you'll want to hear repeatedly for a few weeks, only to go back to it throughout the years when the time is right, and it's an album that demands the kind of attention for repeated listenings.
(Invisible Cities is available from CD Universe.)
Their last collaboration features Anders Widmark making an album featuring Sara Isaksson, but now the roles have been reversed with Isaksson taking the lead, but not without Widmark making his presence known in the music. The end result is Pool Of Happiness (EmArcy/Universal), an album that brings together elements of jazz and pop to create music that sometimes sounds like neither.
In some of these songs Isaksson sounds like a more polished Kate Bush, or at least a Kate Bush that sings lyrics that are direct and to the point and not about falling in love and getting lost in ones sensual world (mmmm yes). There are songs where Isaksson simply sings with pianist Widmark, other times they will have a string or horn section playing alongside them, or they will have something more developed with a bass and guitar, playing the kind of songs that could help them gain a pop friendly audience if this was something they were looking for. The piano solo in "What Difference Does It Make" may sound a bit Steely Dan-ish at first but the way he plays is a bit more adventurous than that, in fact he could have went a few more bars and I would have been content, but Isaksson swoops in with her vocals as if to compliment him, and they move towards the end together, but not without Widmark making one last bold statement.
This album is interesting in that you have Widmark, known for his work in jazz but this is not purely a jazz album. You have Isaksson who is a beautiful singer who sounds great with jazz soundscapes, but she is not a jazz vocalist. Perhaps the pool to happiness they both speak about is one that makes it possible for each other to play with each other in a musical and mental sense, and create music that lives for the moment without worrying about what it is. It just is, and in the end that's all that matters.
I'm not sure what my listening habits of my uncle in Hawai'i are these days, but when I was growing up I always looked forward to finding some of the guitar-driven albums he had underneath the stereo: Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, Pat Travers Band, The Michael Schenker Group, UFO, The Scorpions, and countless others. Steve Lukather of Toto has been one of the best guitarists of the last 30 years, and outside of the work he does with Toto he of course continues to do countless session work, and manages to take time to release solo albums. Ever Changing Times (Frontiers) is his brand new solo album, and if you've only been familiar with his work with Toto, you are definitely in for a treat.
The album is filled with the kind of songs that cross boundaries between hard rock, pop/rock, and ballads, all featuring the guitar work he is known for. "New World" sounds like a long lost Night Ranger outtake, while "The Letting Go" could have easily been a hidden gift from the Toto IV archives. "I Am" is a bit reminiscent of Toto's "I'll Be Over You" (all that's missing is a harmony from Michael McDonald) but could also be a Richard Marx song as well. What I've always liked about Lukather's guitar work is when he gets into heavy mode, he plays as if he's out of control but he reaches all of the right places at the right moments, such as his solo at the end of "Rosanna". Or he can be subtle and smooth, as he is in the jazzy "Icebound", or in the Steely Dan-ish "Stab In The Back". In this case, he's in mellow mode circa Gaucho or Christopher Cross's first album but just when things may sound like it could remain in automatic, he gets wicked again and starts shooting out notes in that way that makes you have to pay attention... or else.
As someone who was responsible for one of the biggest albums of the 80's, and someone who has played on some of the biggest albums of the 70's, 80's, and 90's, it makes me wish that Lukather could have the kind of success today that Carlos Santana had with Supernatural. The man can sing, he writes his own material, and is a killer on the axe, and probably would not be afraid to do tracks with Rihanna and Jill Scott. The man has had a level of integrity that remained untouched, and it would be hard to say if fans would be open to an album like that or would shun him for doing what he has done for four decades. On Ever Changing Times he proves once again why he is a master of rock and pop craftsmanship, and could easily compete with some of the jazz guitarists out there today.
(Ever Changing Times is available from CD Universe.)
Hearing Kim Deal sing the words I can feel it like a mantra while distorted guitars and bass decorate the premises brings back a time when The Breeders seemed to be everywhere and meant something important for anyone who became a fan. Then again, Kim did have attention from her previous band, but this is a Breeders review, so I'm going to talk about this brand new album.
What do The Breeders sound like in 2008? As great as they always have. Mountain Battles (4AD) has the creativity, intricacies, interesting stories, and musical power that their previous albums had, and the energy moves between being overly hyperactive and overly molasses like, such as "We're Gonna Rise", the title of which might lead people to think it's going to be a raging track but it just moves along at a humbling waltz pace as she sings about feeling the light on her face. It's almost a "going nowhere fast" song, not unlike Weezer but it's moving nonetheless. "German Studies" features Kim and sister Kelley trading German licks, and I have no idea what the hell they're saying, one line sounds like they're singing "pussy sockin" but I can't say that or they will come over and give me a couple of slaps.
To boil it down, the band (Kim and Kelley, plus Mando Lopez on biss and Jose Medeles on dims) are on a path towards creating an album that is still as fun as spontaneous as their music has been in the past, with some of the quirkiness and in-jokes that their fans will fall in love with. "Istanbul" is a trippy and intricate song where they sing in a meditative manner about coming into something, but what we don't know. There is still the immediately live sound that they were known for, but there are also a number of tracks that sound like studio experiments (such as "Istanbul"). When you feel comfortable in their experiments, they put on guitars and come out with some Americana in the form of "Here No More", and it will be interesting to see how this transfers in a live setting, and perhaps more importantly who will come on stage with them to sing and play with them.
You know, I want to say this. Mountain Battles sounds like a Melvins album that has yet to be made, with all of the unusual textures and unpredictable turns that both groups share. But it's in the mindset of the Deal sisters, who have always seemed like some of the coolest people you could hang out, talk, and drink a Yoo-Hoo with. There are no big gigantic alterna- hits on this one, but there's no need. It's the long awaited return of The Breeders, and it feels like home.
(Mountain Battles is available from CD Universe.)
Sarah Brightman is not someone I've ever really listened to, but you can't listen to or write about music without hearing her or reading about her accomplishments, so it came as a surprise to me when I received Symphony (Manhattan/EMI).
What I didn't know was that Brightman had some roots in making disco and dance records. She apparently was moved to take some vocal training, and it was there that her teachers learned that she had an incredible voice with a great range. Her story and popularity around the world grew, and it seems there's not a section of the world that doesn't know her or her music. Symphony is the latest part of her journey that mixes her pop sensibilities with her operatic voice, and I now understand why so many have taken to her. People love the angelic voice that she has when she sings opera, as she does in "Sanvean", and while the synths and orchestral backing helps, the song's emotional strings are pulled on their own by her voice, which sounds sad and yet courageous at the same time. For me, it's the kind of song I probably would not listen to normally but entering it means getting caught up in how beautiful it sounds, it's almost a spiritual experience. "I Will Be With You" could easily be a country song, and it happens to be a duet with Paul Stanley (yes, the Mr. Operatic Starchild himself from Kiss) that works very well.
Her operatic work is amazing, to hear that voice come out of someone is mindblowing and I could only imagine how she takes that home in a live setting. Yet as someone more familiar with pop music, her voice is very strong and she is able to be seductive with her singing as easily as she can sing something that may be melancholy. More pop singers, and perhaps the new line of R&B singers, should take some cues from her to find out how it can be done without sacrificing what you feel is important about your music and image. In fact, while Brightman is a beautiful woman, it is not about image. Sure, she can have the dreamy graphics for the album and forthcoming tour, but as with any album cover they are nothing more than a guide for what to expect with the music that's inside. Symphony is very much Brightman's own symphony, both musical and personal, and while it seems she wishes she could do more, she is happy with what she has and sings with the kind of power that comes from someone who isn't afraid to speak to the world. She definitely has a world audience, and while I have a preference for the pop oriented material, I have no hesitation in listening to her classical work. The album has a nice, even balance of both.
(Symphony is available from CD Universe or directly from the official Sarah Brightman website.)
Kieran Hebden is back as Four Tet with a brand new release, a mini-album (31 minutes and some seconds) with four moving tracks that will definitely make his fans happy. The new one is called Ringer (Domino), and for this one he goes through a bit of techno/dance exploration, and really calling it a techno hybrid of anything is really not giving this album the credit I feel it deserves.
It's electronic music exploration that can move you to dance or nod the head, but it's not instananeous. A track like "Swimmer" could be a derivative of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn", or perhaps a continuation of the free and fast travel that the Germans spoke about over 30 years ago. I bring up the comparison because there's a synth drone that seems to go on forever until it morphs into the sound of what sounds like a car passing you buy while on the highway, while pulsating beats and sequencers move in and out, flange a bit and create a rhythm that sounds endless but you're in it for the duration. In fact, that's how you should listen to Ringer, as someone who wants to hear these songs for the duration for you will be completely rewarded by its drones and meditative qualities. "Ribbons" has an almost 8k quality to it, or if someone had just come back from the 80's, heard the music of today and wanted to try something new, this would be the track you might hear. "Wing Body Wing" almost sounds like electronic revisions of those ethnic albums you might find at a thrift store/charity shop. My favorite track out of the four happens to be the opener, the close-to-10-minute title track that starts off with rattling sounds before the synths come in, having the feel of something you'd expect to hear on a Jean Michel-Jarre or Tangerine Dream album. It has a classic feel at first, with one of the synths (filtered?) sounding like a distorted string section. Minute by minute, new layers are added as the tempo keeps going and grooving, and soon there is a solid beat rumbling at your feet. It's almost as if it's making the transformation from the old to the new, and you know the new is there when the break hits, and now the song levitates and beams with so much energy, the listener may not know how to control him or herself. The drums only last for about 45 seconds before it returns to its well-worn pulse, and slowly makes its way to the end.
The end is not something you want to hear, but it's a great way to start a new album, and Ringer could have easily been an additional ten minutes or so but since this is a mini-LP, it could only mean that more intense pulses like this are around the corner. Job well done.
(Ringer will be released in the UK on double vinyl and CD on April 21st, and can be pre-ordered directly from The Domino Record Co. Digital fiends can purchase the MP3's directly from Other Music.)
If Jon Bon Jovi didn't shave his chest and smiled a lot more, the brand of country-fied music he wants to do would sound like the kind of music Gary Louris knows all to well as a former member of The Jayhawks. Vagabonds (Rykodisc) is a laid back bluesy rock album with country touches, and one of the first things I said when I heard "True Blue" (the opening track) was that it sounded a hell of a lot like The Black Crowes. Good reason: the album was produced by Black Crowes vocalist Chris Robinson, so the earthiness you have relied on with their albums can be heard hear.
How does Louris fair solo? Quite well actually, as he sings songs about hope, vulnerability, and looking for a way to escape the sorrow he sometimes feels. The gospel vocals that pop here and there and the Hammond B-3 kind of makes it sound like Exile On Main Street meets If I Could Only Remember My Name, and I say this because it doesn't have a distinct regional sound. The world is too small, everyone knows each other's business, so it seems natural these days for an artist to travel everywhere throughout the album, if not throughout the song. The vocal effect, an echo added to Louris' vocals in "Black Grass" is very effective, having quite an old feel and by the the time the song reaches the end he is so filled with echo and reverb that it sounds like he found Phil Spector's echo chambers and decided to have lunch there. Louris and Robinson sing together in "I Wanna Get High" as they both ponder on whether or not to take the high road together, while one of the delicate vocals heard in the chorus of the title track sounds like Susannah Hoffs, as she and everyone else in the studio singing to the fellow "vagabond" about how it's okay to sing, everyone has gone away. Perhaps it's a way of saying that everyone is now on the same level, there is nothing to fear, sing to your fellow man and woman. It could be a depressing song, but instead it's time to sing and celebrate, which is exactly what they do.
Judging from the photos in the CD, everyone was in the studio at the same time as this album was recorded, giving things a more intimate feel which can be sensed throughout this album. Vagabonds is an album for the free spirit inside of it, the one that lies dormant or the one that continues to move us through our lives. Gary Louris, what is he? Country, blues, rock, Americana? Yes, and he knows where you're going and has the perfect soundtrack ready for you. A travel album for the weary and those who wish to wear themselves out even more, on the crossroads between the wasted and the wishful.
(Vagabonds is available from CD Universe.)
The Raconteurs has been a project that White Stripes fans have enjoyed since it means being able to hear more of Jack White. Maybe the appeal is to hear him in a more accessible manner, because you know, some might think his brand of punk blues is too wooly and can't wait to snuggle with his fame and accessibility. Well, the accessibility is there, and with the help of Patrick Keeler (drums), Jack Lawrence (bass), and Brendan Benson (guitar, vocals, keyboards) they have put out Consolers Of The Lonely (Warner Bros.) for the world to hear.
The album does help bring to the forefront how well White sings and writes outside of the White Stripes persona, and by collaborating with Benson they show that they have a love for power pop that could be as bright as sunshine but aren't afraid to take it to the nether levels of Nick Drake while giving it the ballsy rock all of them love to play. When "Old Enough" opens up with the words you look pretty in your fancy dress/but i detect unhappiness/you never speak, so I have to guess/you're not free, one expects it to be a brutal attack of the senses, but instead it's a bit of country rock as they speak to a young girl who is down and out about her situation, although in truth they are revealing the wounds of their adult ways and comparing her naivety with their jadedness. Having the Hammond B-3 gut along in the song works wonders, and so does the freaky guitar attack that opens "Five On Five". Every song makes you want to hear the next, and once you're through, you want to listen to it again. Each song does what it has to do from start to finish, and if their debut showed a group with a few rough edges, here's a band who are saying "fuck it, we like it rough every once in awhile" and they do not fear a bit of melody and eloquence.
I have not heard the vinyl pressing yet, but I do know it was mastered by Kevin Gray. It was approved by the band they would prefer that you listen to it on vinyl, but the choice is yours.
(The 2LP vinyl pressing of Consolers Of The Lonely can be purchased from Elusive Disc. The CD is available from CD Universe.)
Before Moby had big mainstream success, he had always been that guy who wasn't afraid to bounce back and forth between making intelligent dance music (long before there was such a term for it) and doing guitar-driven tracks that made his music perfect for films and video games. He was doing the kind of music for gamers long before the term was popular, but popularity came and for a short time it seemed that he ruled the world. While electronic music has been removed from the spotlight for the time being (which is funny considering much of what is Top 40 today is electronic driven), Moby has decided to go back a bit to the kind of freedom and experimentation he was known for on Last Night (Mute).
Songs like "257.Zero", "Everyday It's 1989", "Disco Lies" and "The Stars" are ready made for the dance floor, with the kind of celebratory vibe that people of all persuasions will compliment him for. "Live For Tomorrow" has the potential to make some asses move with a vocal, which sounds like an acapella from an old disco 12". The more adventurous stuff happens in "Alice", "Hyenas", and "Degenerates", and in fact when the album reaches "Degenerates" (the 10th track) it goes into a more mellower direction. Perhaps the first part of the album is meant to describe a night out on the town, dancing at every club, meeting good friends and having a good time. The last five songs could be interpreted as the chill out songs, as they border on the ambient sounds of some of his contemporaries. The album closes with a ballad, the title track which is meant to have the listener imagine what happened the night before, but in a way represents what Moby career had been for the last few years. Now he has reached the chill out moment, but can he come back for another festive night? I think for him it may not matter too much, the fact that he's still making music, and good music like this, shows that he has come a long way. With luck he will continue to make thought provoking sounds like these for years to come, be it in the studio or in a DJ booth.
Remember this for all that it's worth...
(Last Night is available from CD Universe.)
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