Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #223

Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #223. I am John Book and ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra. La la how the life goes on.

BTW - if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there's a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.

Also, each review features links to the artist's home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn't have most of these titles.

Now, the column.

Image Hosted by People may have heard the name 88 Keys for awhile, and the release of The Death Of Adam (Decon) has pushed him into the forefront in the world of hip-hop. It also doesn't hurt to have an album executive produced by Kanye West, so it might have its share of expectations.

So what does it sound like? The album is rooted in hip-hop, and it's partly a hip-hop album but he's not just about the boom bap. There are some tracks that sound like Kanye outtakes, and with the type of sped up samples he uses, it also has a bit of crossover appeal. It could be pop, it could be R&B, and some of it could be soul too, especially with contributions from Bilal and J*DaVey. In fact, J*DaVey's appearance in "Dirty Peaches" is one of the highlights of the album, and trust me there are many. Phonte's lines in "Close Call" is a continuation of this man's excellence as he talks about "until one night you let a nigga put the head in/and we ain't never use the motherfuckers no more/started going in and out with the raw sex, pull it out/seeded on your chest, like bring your ass herre/playing Justice Leia to your Jazmine Cashmere/so one night you said, baby leave it right there", and when Redman drops his in something called "The Burning Bush", you know you're asking for trouble.

The album is about the sins of the world, why they are sins, why we commit them, and why no one is ever completely pure. It's not a concept in the true sense but rather has a running theme about the lure of the apple from the tree that is too irresistible to ignore. 88 Keys' main role is that of a producer, but you do hear him rap and sing, so he continues to show the diversity he's had throughout his career. The album begins on a somewhat poppy note but fortunately it doesn't stay that way. It's hip-hop with a touch of soul, and perhaps it's that touch that hip-hop sorely needs today. Some of the poppier touches are disposable, so hopefully he'll ignore them in the future. Nonetheless, the apple is here, I dare you to not bite.

(The Death Of Adam is available from CD Universe.)

Image Hosted by Spoken Nerd is about the spoken word, and the word that is involved in hip-hop. His flows sound like a cross between Mike Shinoda and Jesse Dangerously, and he likes to play around with sampled hip-hop and real instrumentation. On 24 Carrot Dreams he tends to want to push his sense of humor, which is great, but this is someone who is far from a joke as his rhymes are on the money and worth listening to.

There are moments on this album where Spoken Nerd will enter that type of abstract world that will please Anticon fans immensely, but then he'll move out of it as fast as he went in and he's doing something that's more traditional. "Running Man" is the former while "This Is Hip-Hop" is the latter, and what I like is that he does this while sounding as raw as possible. Some of these songs sound a lot like rough demos, but it's well produced and mixed. If this guy had a bigger budget, I could only imagine how much better this album would be.

(24 Carrot Dreams is available from CDBaby.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic It may be a little over a week after Senator Barack Obama was elected to be the next president of the United States, but when this mix CD by DJ Noodles was made, that reality was nothing but a big dream. It wasn't too far from reality, but it had to be made official. What DJ Noodles does is puts together a number of songs that touched on the idea of a black president, and throughout PSA (The Closing Argument) (self-released) you can hear what people had been hoping for for years. That hope is now reality, but it doesn't take away from the power these tracks originally had. Listen to Nas' "Black President", Jay-Z's "Enough", Mims' "Barack Star", or Young Jeezy's "My President" and it felt good to know that these songs were providing the energy to make true change. After the fact, this mix CD holds up as a document of a historic moment, and no doubt a document hinting of the changes to come.

(PSA (The Closing Argument) is available as a free download directly from, where you will find many other of his mixtapes/CD's for free.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Elizabeth Willis was a musical prodigy whose love of creating had been something she wanted to now and forever. She received classical training and learned from the best, leading many to believe that she could become an important part of the classical world. Instead she had other, more personal ambitions, and proceeded to move into creating incredible pop but without sacrificing her classical influences. The end result is her self-titled debut (Little Blackbird Music), and she is very much of the Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, and Melissa Etheridge traditions in terms of recording raw and honest songs that are gutsy and edgy. If anything, she easily could reach into the corners Tori Amos often finds herself in, and with Willis she is able to create these arrangements that go a little further than the average pop song. That's a good thing.

As I listened to the album, some of the ideas seem to repeat, and I'm not sure if it's just Willis looking for a way to find a comfortable place or a slight fear to get more adventurous, because I hear it in the way she sings and plays (here she handles piano, violin, and acoustic guitar). There's a slight shift in the song "4am", and it makes me wish the entire album changed up as it does in "4am", but when repetition sets in it gets to be tedious.

What I do hear is incredible potential, which is my way of saying I hear the greatness she wants to offer but it's not quite there just yet. I give her another album or two and I can see Willis becoming an artist who will overwhelm people with her talent. For now, these are the seeds towards something much greater.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Luke Jackson could become this generation's rock/pop superstar, and his album ...And Then Some (Popsicle) has him sounding like a cross between The Clash, Weezer, and Ben Folds with his energy, passionate vocals, and jingle-jangle spirit that makes this a very moving power-pop album.

Comparisons aside, Jackson is someone who is influenced by a wide range of artists and styles, sometimes he could fit into an Elton John-type mode but in a track like "Goodbye London" it sounds like he's been listening to a bit of Green Day or The Buzzcocks. The wide direction he is going for is not as scattered as one might think it is, and when you listen to the lyrics and hear his playing and arrangements, you know there's some sense of craft and activity, it's not just "okay, let's bring this guitar bit here and fit in in where the drums are". It sounds healthy and live, I would even use the word vibrant. His songs are personal and come off as those type of diary entries you wouldn't dare share with anyone. Unless you're an artist of course, when the release of those personal thoughts become someone of a catharsis, especially in the track "The Fear":
We've all got the disease but we've all got the cure
We've all got the fear but our hearts are all pure
So let go of the things you know you'll never control
We've gotta lose the fear, it'll save us all

There are lot of nice touches on here, brief accents that help move the songs to where they will become personal anthems for those who will listen. Luke Jackson is someone who deserves to be heard, for he may provide the audio mirror you've been searching for.

...And Then Some is available digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by Future Clouds & Radar are a group fronted by Robert Harrison, and upon first listen the music on Peoria (The Star Apple Kingdom) sounds like an eclectic pop version of Maroon 5 in that themes within each song sound like something that came before, but you're not quite sure where it came from. What makes these guys different are the vocals and lyrics of Harrison, who at least sounds like he makes an effort to write something of long lasting value.

It's very much quirky pop, where bells, chimes, and steel drums are filtered to where they're almost unrecognizable, along with some Mellotron-type samples (most likely plug-ins) that help give these songs a more contemporary edge unlike those who go for the actual sounds which helps make them sound more... I was going to say "authentic" but Future Clouds & Radar are real and very much authentic, the kind of pop band who would be very welcome on a Lenny Kravitz or Flaming Lips tour package. Harrison can hit those high emotional notes as he does in "Old Edmund Ruffin", where he tends to hit those sensitive John Lennon or Glenn Tilbrook areas that will make people want to hear them. The horns during the break are a very nice accent that would help push this on the charts if the charts dared to put anything like this on the top of the charts. These guys could be a huge band if they were pushed to the forefront, for they show an appreciation for British pop while showing slight nods to The Doobie Brothers and Fireball with enough of their own ingredients to make them a band that could pull in big audiences. I hope they take it as far as they can, for this is quite remarkable.

(The compact disc for Peoria is available from CD Universe, and can also be digitally downloaded from eMusicFuture Clouds and Radar.)

Image Hosted by Previous to hearing this, I was unfamiliar with the music of pianist Larry McDonough, but his album Simple Gifts (self-released) made me wish I had heard of him before, and now I want to catch up.

The Larry McDonough Quartet play the kind of jazz that will be a delight for fans of Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, and Phil Woods in terms of the musicians involved (McDonough on piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and voice, plus Chas Draper on drums, Crag Materrese on bass and electric bass, and Richard Terrill on tenor and soprano saxes). They play in a very open fashion where all you want to do is kick back, relax, and let the music take you away to a place untraveled. "Tuscarora", a McDonough original, could easily find its way among the ECM discography, as Terrill's saxophone solo graces the soundscape as McDonough fills in the colors and eventually helps develop the picture. Their cover of Steely Dan's "Aja", done in a 5/4 time signature, will definitely keep you attentive throughout its close-to-eight-minute duration, and it's sure to be a Steely Dan cover worth telling everyone about. The 5/4 time signature returns at the end when they go into "My Favorite Things", and before the familiar melody is revived, it sounds a bit like the start of an Indian raga with the drones coming from Materrese's bass. Most listeners will probably familiar with the song in 3/4, so to hear it in 5/4 is a challenge but one that you'll want to take.

Simple Gifts may be a subtle way to describe the talents of McDonough and friends, but their arrangements are anything but simple or subtle. It's not too heady or avant-garde either, but for those who like their jazz with an unpredictable source of energy, McDonough is someone who is in full control of that power distribution, and he does so in a fashion that will make everyone beg for more.

(Simple Gifts is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by François Virot is the kind of guy you would pay to watch in concert at any decent venue, but would be welcome at any soup kitchen or VFW Hall. Anyone who picks up an acoustic guitar and makes the kind of music that would please people as much as it would irritate some deserves attention. Yes Or No (Frenetic) is along the lines of some of John Frusciante's solo material, especially the early stuff where Virot overdubs himself so it sounds like five Virot's singing and two of his clone brothers playing guitar. "Say Fiesta", ""Fish Boy", and "I Wish I Had You" (the latter made famous by Billie Holiday sound intensely rich with color and dynamics, as if he is a one-man Electric Light Orchestra but without that big hair. There are tracks with full instrumentation, or where it may be just drums and percussion, and... this is not the kind of music you would expect to hear at Carnegie Hall. Rather, it's the kind of music you would hear in the back of the teriyaki place off of of I-82, and that's a good thing. Sometimes the guitars are not tuned right, unless it's "alternate tuning".

It doesn't matter, this Virot guy is great and someone who enjoys the tortured soul who really isn't tortured, but enjoys being able to make music that will make people smile and laugh because of the spontaneity. Dig it.

(The CD for Yes Or No is available directly from Frenetic Records and digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by Dark Developments (Orange Twin) is the new album by Vic Chesnutt, who teams up on this one with Elf Power & The Amorphous Strums to record a rootsy, Americana-type album that feels a lot like some of The Band's best mixed in with a bit of post-modern Lou Reed-type ruggedness. With songs like "Little Fucker", they're not about to conquer Top 40 radio any time soon, but what they do is make some rip roaring music that mixes up the swagger of good rock'n'roll with the kind of jingle jangle unmockery that might bring to mind the music of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. This is Chesnutt by the way, who has never been afraid to say his mind or bring forth the music he feels is pure and the best.

Recognition goes to Derek Almstead for some of the most incredible basslines I've heard on a rock album in awhile. Job well done.

(The CD for Dark Developments is available from CD Universe, and digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by Lowfish is the one-man electronic project of Toronto's Gregory De Rocher, whose style of music is a mixture of sound that's beat happy but also goes back to the days when analog was king. Frozen & Broken (Noise Factory) will please those who enjoy the inner workings of Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Jean Michel-Jarre, and some of Prince's and Arthur Baker's work from the early 1980's, even Moby's most intense moments throughout his career.

Of course with that many comparisons, one might ask "how about the originality?" It's very much in there, from the pulsating rhythms to the type of sounds he creates in his songs, with melodies and counter melodies to please those who want their electronic music to be a bit more musical. He doesn't shy away from just making electronic noise, he does this throughout the album within breaks and the most unexpected moments. However, his gift of composition makes it possible for his music to be used for television, movies, or even video games without sounding cheesy, because cheesy this isn't. Every song in here will make you want to dance, twitch, or the wave which you can pass to your friend, which he'll pass on to his, which she will pass... etc.

(Frozen & Broken will be released on December 9. The CD can be pre-ordered through CD Universe and digitally from eMusic.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Trumpter Roy Hargrove has set a high standard for himself on the level of many jazz legends. He may be too humble to rank his output and talents, but if one is to listen to the music on Earfood (Groovin' High/EmArCy/Decca), many are sure to put him up high.

Hargrove is a man that plays jazz with so much soul, but this isn't just jazz with a soulful touch or a wall of smooth jazz. This is someone who plays with a high caliber, and any musician he chooses to work with treats him with honor and respect, and it leads to a healthy exchange that always ends up with the kind of music you want to tell everyone about. The album has some lengthy pieces such as "I'm Not So Sure", "Style", and my personal favorite, the close-to-eight-minute "Starmaker", where he and the entire quintet (which includes Montez Coleman on drums, Danton Boller on bass, Gerald Clayton on piano, and Justin Robinson on alto sax) come up with the kind of music that will inspire fellow musicians to challenge themselves and take their music to the next level. It's not revolutionary by any means, but it has the kind of chemistry that makes you want to grit your teeth, bite your upper lip and go "damn, now that's nice". The album moves through a lot of textures, including blues, gospel, and the undeniable presence of hip-hop, and that unfortunately might be a red flag for some so allow me to explain. A good amount of jazz has influenced some parts of hip-hop music, when producers and MC's would look to their old Blue Note, Prestige, and Verve albums for the best breaks, horns, and basslines. The influence of jazz would allow producers to flirt with and manipulate the music into new sounds that has lead to what Roni Size and Jazzanova are known for. While some jazz artists reject the connection, you do have a generation of players who grew up with Eric B. & Rakim right along with the Marsalis brothers. The influence here is full circle, as those beats made famous by Leo Morris (Idris Muhammad), Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams are now brought back home and explored even further. What you hear is a modern approach to the music, one where Hargrove plays with all that he has in him to keep the spirit of jazz going while taking it to a generation who may never have experienced it face to face. "Starmaker", along with "Rouge", "Mr. Clean", and "To Wisdom The Prize", are songs that may lead to an essential bridge for different audiences to come to Hargrove and jazz. As for those who have remained fans since his debut album 18 years ago, they're going to find this to be as powerful and meaningful as anything with his trademark of quality.

Earfood couldn't be a more appropriate title, fans who are hungry for the goods will load up musically on the meat, beans, two scoops of rice, and a serving or two of dessert. It is very much jazz as most people know it, and it comes from someone who continues to put his spin in the music to assure fans that jazz is still one of the most breathtaking styles in the world. When he closes the album with "Bring It On Home To Me", you feel like walking down the street along with his band to offer gratitude because you feel you understand his music inside and out. Even without words, there's a dialogue going on, and it's one of hope and promise, with a need to keep the journey moving forward. It's not too heady, but it's as complex as you expect for Hargrove to be. It's musical comfort food, undo a button and allow the music to put you in that zone you always take time to get lost in.

(Earfood is available from CD Universe.)

Image Hosted by Barbara King is a jazz singer who does something quite well: sing. That might sound funny, but considering the amount of vocal jazz that is released on a weekly basis, sometimes it's difficult to know who is good and who isn't. MP3 samples mean nothing if you can't get a feel for the full song, but I'm here to say that Perfect Timing (CCC Music Group) is an album for anyone who is a fan of vocal jazz, and those who want to hear someone who can truly sing with all of their heart and soul.

What I hear is someone of the Natalie Cole tradition, and hearing her perform "One More Day", Bob Dylan's "Forever Young", and Donny Hathaway's "Tryin' Times" makes one want to hear more of whatever songs she feels like singing. I like it because as I've said in the past, sometimes a jazz singer will blow me away but it would be nice to hear them do something more than jazz and pop standards. Here she takes these songs and molds them into something new but recognizable, and it may move you to consider her version one you'll want to listen to for a long time. Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon In The Sky" is even a slight Brazilian touch, and is one that is sure to get a significant amount of airplay on smooth jazz radio, especially with the Herb Alpert-esque trumpet solo from Cecil Bridgewater. It should be said that King is not a smooth jazz artist, far from it, and anyone who says she is after hearing her do The Beatles hit "Let It Be" is obviously in denial. It's a nice album, and one that fans of vocal jazz will be pleased to add to their collection.

(Perfect Timing is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Mt. Sims have been around since the beginning of the decade with their brand of gothy rock that may make some long for those days in the early 80's when it felt like a healthy movement. On Happily Ever After (Hungry Eye) they take on the topics that matter to today's generation and tries to find a way to deal with it and instruct their mentors to do what feels right despite the circumstances. It's very dark and gloomy, and it sounds like the entire world is monochromatic.

Perhaps it is.

"Grave", "Continuations", and "Tightrope" are the kind of songs you'll find goth kids swirling to at a bus stop as they hold their diabetic Big Gulps and bags of glow in the dark Cornnuts. The album is produced and mixed well, and those who have been crying for the day someone would make music that brought back the sacredness of Joy Division, this is your lucky day. Or unlucky, as the case may be.

(The CD for Happily Ever After is available directly from Hungry Eye Records and digitally from eMusic.)

Image Hosted by The voice that is heard in the opening track of ph10's Well Connected (Helmutplex) album explains that electronica music is a weird place, but one that is inventive and interesting. This is possibly why so many have moved to electronic music and electronica, because of the endless possibilities and lack of limits one can place on the music and themselves. ph10 is a mix of that heavy funky Crystal Method-type beats to the deep drum'n'bass that keeps everyone on ludes for the duration of the songs and mantras.

That right there is key, for ph10 create electronic mantras that you want to turn in something sacred. The entire vibe sounds like the kind of techno, jungle, and drum'n'bass that started massive movements in the early to mid-90's, but the difference is that it sounds clean and modern, and at times one can be taken aback by it if you're used to the grittiness some of the genres and sub-genres had provided in the past. "Enter The Underground" features Pete Miser and Jamalski doing a little bit of that reggae stylee, and "Serious Delirium" will make a number of DJ's mix it alongside Ming + FS, Roni Size, or any white label sides from the Metalheadz crew. The great thing about artists who are heavily into drum'n'bass is that they more often than not reveal their hip-hop upbringing, and that can be heard throughout the construction process of this album. It bites hard and it sends zings to the molars as the beats and bass pulses as it searches for any open cavity. Once it's in, it repeats the process until something juices. Well Connected is that non-sticky lube.

(Well Connected is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Jon Larsen had worked with Jimmy Carl Black a number of times in the past. While this album was completed before Black's death last week, it seems Black may have told Larsen about his health as the album was pretty much in honor of the man Frank Zappa fans knew as being "the Indian of the group", in reference to The Mothers Of Invention. With The Jimmy Carl Black Story (Zonic/Hot Club), he makes an attempt to share that story while defining what his own music means as he says thanks to a trooper who would eventually depart on his afterlife journey.

Larsen has always shared his love of the kind of compositions Zappa made famous, and this album is a jazz album full of the abrupt changes, intense musicianship, and clever musical humor that made Zappa a true legend. Larsen's guitar work ride along the voyage and he rips it whenever possible without going overboard. Rob Waring's work on the marimba will definitely bring back memories of Ruth Underwood, in fact much of this album is a tribute to Zappa's early to mid-70's work, where jazz could mix in with classical, not afraid to mix it up with rock, blues, doo-wop, and whatever was of the moment. The common string running through it is Black's narrative, as he shares his life story from childhood to his now-current status as a martian (you'll have to listen to understand). It's a little lonely in space, but Black senses this is where he will end up being. Now that he has passed on, one tends to feel that loss more than ever. Larsen interprets that with the kind of music that sounds more like a celebration than a eulogy, and that's probably how Larsen and Black wanted it to be. The CD is packed with another CD featuring a full Jimmy Carl Black interview, and... perhaps it's a bit too soon but again no one but perhaps Black new of the situation, and it doesn't come as a surprise that this album was released now, as if other entities were speaking for everyone. Now, the memory of Jimmy Carl Black will live on. Rest in peace.

(The compact disc for The Jimmy Carl Black Story is available from CD Universe, and can also be digitally downloaded from eMusic.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Hot Club de Norvège is a jazz combo who play in a stripped down manner, with just two guitarists (Jon Larsen and Per Frydenlund), a bassist (Svein Aarbostad) and a violinist/harmonica player (Finn Hauge). They call their style of music "gypsy swing", and yes these guys do swing despite the fact that there's no drummer here. At time when there is a missing component in the group sound, we tend to listen a bit closer, or at least we think "no drums? Wow, I wonder how they compensate?" It's not about that, but what it is is about a great set of musicians who have been doing this for over 30 years years, and if you're a fan of the work of Stéphane Grappelli or even some of Al Di Meola's work, this is going to be a CD you may not get through in an hour, for you'll want to play each song about three times or more before playing the next track.

"Karius & Baktus" definitely would get the juke joint jumping, while the balladry of "Echo" could easily bring anyone to tears, especially as the violin of Hauge gently plays along with the dual guitar of Larsen and Frydenlund, as both guitarists communicate and compliment each other in song. It's elegant and romantic, and they know how to sweep the feet of anyone who listens to how great these gentleman play together, and the harmonica is a very nice touch. It's called Django Music for a reason, as it carries on the same spirit and virtuosity that Mr. Reinhardt once had, with some of the same European influences that gave his music its spark. A splendid piece of work.

(Django Music is available from CD Universe.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic If Bruce Springsteen had started out hanging out with Ben Folds, The Clash, and Eddie Vedder, it might have sounded like what the guys in The Frontier Brothers were able to do with Space Punk Starlet (self-released). Their brand of rock'n'roll is a rugged one, and now when someone does something in a slightly different manner, it might be considered punk or alternative and if that means it's a throwback to the trusted formulas what once was, so be it. There's a bit of that late 70's/early 80's punch to their music, and every now and then vocalist Marshall Galactic has a slight Wayne Coyne tinge to it. That is, if Coyne was heavily influenced by Springsteen. It sounds like an odd combo that wouldn't work, but this power trio has it takes to make that formula work.

"Get Up Go" sounds like the Tacoma band Seaweed while "Take It For Love" could be Sara Bareilles if she mutated with Mark Arm of Mudhoney. Galactic sings about being kicked in the face after being overwhelmed by beauty, all while encrusted with horn sections and great arrangements that make this band a must-see/must-hear entity for anyone who enjoys excellent power pop in all of its glory. Dare I say it would be something that Elton John or Todd Rundgren could get into? I could see them wearing Frontier Brothers tour T-shirts.

(Space Punk Starlet is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by Two years ago I reviewed her album Generation Hawai'i and felt that the growth of vocalist Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom could be felt in the songs that made up her sixth album. The confidence had been there from the beginning, as she slowly made the transition from a jazz singer to someone who wanted to explore and share her Hawaiian side. Her debut album, Native Child, was released 13 years ago and at the time it seemed people weren't sure what to make of her. Someone doing jazzy covers of Hawaiian standards? Nonetheless, she continued on releasing a string of albums that kept her in the public eye, giving her numerous awards, and finding a growing fanbase in Japan. It might come as a shock to know that 'Aumakua is an album split with one half being sung in Hawaiian, the other half in English. It may also be a surprise to see that this album is being distributed by Concord, the jazz label that resurrected Stax as a label of modern artists like Angie Stone. Hanaiali'i's musical career has had its share of controversies, and this will no doubt lead to a few whispered discussions as to why she made her new album this way. This is her doing what she wants to do, the way she wants to do it, thus becoming Hanaiali'i's tradition.

First, her English songs. The album begins with a reconstruction of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" (the recordings of which are now owned by Concord), and she turns it into a sweet ballad. The arrangement by Matt Catingub might help it crossover to getting airplay on NPR, AOR, and perhaps a few television shows and films. If it's one way to have her and her voice be heard by a wider audience, this cover will definitely do the job. Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home" gets treated with the kind of beauty only Hanaiali'i can do, and one will have to look at the liner notes to remember that this is indeed a Newman cover (perhaps more female vocalist should cover her songs in this manner). "When You Wish Upon A Star" is a standard that never gets old, and here she brings out the innocence many of us remember when we may have first heard it, be it a Disney cartoon or a Gene Simmons solo album. Another pop standard (Hawaiians love a good pop song) brought into the 21st century is "Blue Moon", which some may remember as a cherished doo-wop song, is almost made into a melancholy song of loss and wonderment. The album closes with "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning", and while one tends to enjoy the wonders of the evening, it is a joy to see the sun rise and wonder what lies ahead in the coming day.

Now, her Hawaiian songs. The title of the album 'Aumakua is meant to represent a guardian or something that represents you and your family, be it rain, sharks, turtles, a mountain valley, or something generally found in nature. When you are given a Hawaiian name, it is well researched so that the name itself doesn't bring the new child bad luck, and often times it leads back to what is considered the 'aumakua. Naming the album 'Aumakua can lead to a number of interpretations, whether it's the music within representing her as an artist, or Hanaiali'i exploring what 'aumakua means to the people of Hawai'i. It is in many ways her spiritual journey, one she has touched on throughout her career but not this extensively. As she started her album with "Have You Ever Seen The Rain", she like many view the rains as a blessing, which she sings about in "Ka Ua 'Ula". One of the best songs on the album, and perhaps one of the best in her career, is "Manu O Ku", which features the playing and arrangment of Sean Na'auao and Hanaiali'i singing with authority as she speaks to the many people who have ridden on the Hokule'a, a boat where the only means of navigation are the tides in the ocean and the stars in the sky (perhaps not a coincidence that the song is followed by "When You Wish Upon A Star"). The way "Manu O Ku" sings will definitely bring chicken skin to any one who holds true to traditional Hawaiian music, and the confidence and slight sassiness in her voice will bring to mind the mid to late 70's work of Melveen Leed, whose music and voice continues to be an influence on many Hawaiian singers both male and female. "He Mana 'O Au" is a Hawaiian interpretation of Kui Lee's "I'll Remember You", generally performed in English so hearing it in Hawaiian is somewhat of a rarity. It is one of those songs, no matter how much time has passed, will bring to mind the last few minutes at the Honolulu International Airport before boarding a plane. "Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha", featuring the Matt Catingug Orchestra Of Hawai'i, sounds like the arrangements the Sunday Manoa had on their 1973 album 3, complete with the same kind of reverb and production techniques that made songs like "Pupuhinuhinu" and "A Hawaiian Lullaby" instant classics. "Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha" will definitely become an instant classic for her.

At first I was indifferent to the half Hawaiian/half English approach, but Hanaiali'i has rarely complied to what people expect to hear from her. What she has ended up with is an album that is a continuation of the strength of Hawaiian music and culture, one that honorably looks back at what came before, and with courage looks at the future with hope. 'Aumakua represents the strength and courage we tend to look for during troubled times, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that this album has been released at this moment in time. A true artist in a time when artistry has become a lost art.

('Aumakua is available from CD Universe.)

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. Hard copy is preferred over digital files, and will get reviewed a lot faster than a digital files due to the amount of e-mails I receive. Next week or so I will have reviews of new music by Beyonce, Aaron Novik, Herb Ohta Jr. & Daniel Ho, Tia Carrere & Daniel Ho, Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, Kurupt, Danny Green, The Leonisa Ardizzone Quintet, Lole, and Pequeno Pionero, and no doubt many more.

  • Also remember that by the end of the year, this column will be moved to my website over @ You will find this column there as well, but by January first all future installments will be there and only there. This Blogspot page will remain for archiving purposes.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #224.
  • Friday, November 7, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #222

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #222. I am John Book and this has been one incredible week. Barack Obama is now our President-Elect, and today he didn't mind poking the finger at himself when so many others were doing the same. He called himself "mutt" during his first press conference since being elected this past Tuesday. So to my fellow mutts out there, I salute you. With all of the new young voters, hopefully this will make many of you continue to be politically aware and active in the next four years.

    Before I begin, I should say that if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there's a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.

    Also, each review features links to the artist's home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn't have most of these titles.

    Now that I have my own website, this column will no longer be updated here @ Blogger. You can head to and you'll be able to read this column there as well, and future editions until the end of the year. All columns that were posted here at Blogger/Blogspot will remain her for archival purposes until if and when I change my mind.

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    Haji Rana Pinya is known to some simply as Haj, and he is one part of the hip-hop collective known as Dumhi. Based out of Philadelphia, he has managed to create some incredible music with his group, who take on the traditions of the music and take it on a green, smoke-filled adventure. Haj is also branching out with a number of other projects, including the recent Fermented Spirits project with MicheleQJ, Demystification, and a great album he released under his own name, Yoga At Home Vol. 1 which features Sadat X, Von Pea, Che Grand, and Reef The Lost Cause. In a short time he has been able to execute these songs while slowly gaining a faithful audience, and as he looks towards doing more projects with Dumhi and other artists, it's only a matter of time before we see Haj doing things on an international level. Here is my interview with him, done on a binary level somewhere in cyberspace:

    The Run-Off Groove: What are you listening to right now on your iPod or listening device of choice?
    Haj: I just left Best Buy actually. I copped Heltah Skeltah and Jake One. Looking forward to hearing both. I've mostly been listening to the new Oasis record recently. Also a bunch of new Reef the Lost Cauze material.

    Let's go back a bit. How did you get started in production?
    In about 2000 I bought an acoustic guitar. I was always very much into music but I guess I was into beer, girls, and weed a bit more. So I breezed through high school, then shot through college... then joined the world of Corp America and then realized that I was completely miserable and needed something more in my life. As soon as I could play two chords on that guitar I started writing my own songs and as soon as that happened, I knew I needed drums. A cheap drum machine was next and then some software and then so on and so forth. Buying that acoustic (guitar) was the best decision I have ever made with my life.

    Was there one particular artist that made you say "I want to be able to do what they're doing"?
    No, not (just) one. I have always been amazed by the connection between musician and instrument. The way a musician can channel emotions through his instrument and transmit those emotions to a listener: I think it is one of the few true forms of magic that exists in our world. I want to be able to do that. Of course, the music I have released isn't exactly along those lines (ha ha). But that is prolly what initially drew me to music. As far as the sample based music: I would say I am mostly inspired by Prince Paul, MF DOOM, Madlib, RZA... it would be a long list.

    As with anything hip-hop related, it has to be asked: did you have aspirations to become a rapper?
    (Laughter) Nah, I know my limits. Aside from a few drunken freestyle sessions... nah. Rappers do have all the fun though.

    What lead to the creation of Dumhi?
    When I first started making beats I was working with a DJ friend of mine named Roger Riddle. We started calling the beats we were making around that time "Pickled Beats". As I started to build up a stash of my own beats, I knew I needed some kind of moniker or brand name or something to put out a project under. Dumhi seemed as good of a name as any.

    People might ask the guys in Tanya Morgan "who is Tanya?" In your case, what exactly is a "Dumhi"?
    Depends on who you ask I guess. At its most simple form, Dumhi is a state of mind. Smoke and listen to (or better yet make) some music. I wanted to have everyone who was interested involved in my early projects. In fact 2005's Vote Dumhi was initially going to be a compilation of various MC's laying vocals on my beats. The first two MC's who came over to record wound up staying all weekend and recording over nearly half of the project. Two more projects would also be put together with those same MC's doing the bulk of the rhyming. So to many people, ShamelessPlug, MashComp, and myself are Dumhi. To me.. everyone who has ever contributed to a Dumhi project (from the creation to the enjoyment) is Dumhi.

    I hope that doesn't sound coy.

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    Nah, not at all, kind of a revolving door situation where it's always open to anyone and everyone. Outside of that, you are also doing a number of other projects. When putting together something, do you have to go into it with a different mind state than you would with a Dumhi project?
    I don't think so. What I really try to do is to get a bunch of beats together and slowly let them sort of find each other until I have a general flow or theme or sound of some sort. Then listening to that I sort of get an idea of what voices and styles I'd ideally like to have on that beat. Maybe topics or themes for the vocals. Then I switch into a project manager role as much as anything. But all of the projects really have started with a bunch of beats which I have tried to lace together to make some kind of 20-50 minute statement with.

    Let's talk about your means of producing. What is your gear set up?

    Primary DAWS - Sonar & Ableton Live
    Technique 1200s
    Bunch of instruments I do not really know how to play
    Bunch of records

    I basically run things into the computer and manipulate them from there.

    Is there a "secret" weapon that you always make sure to use with each project?
    I don't think so. I do love sampling Billie Holiday tho.

    Do you plan on expanding your set-up within the next year or two?
    I actually just bought a new PC and a new audio interface. This will hopefully let me run more mics into my box and let me experiment more with recording real instruments. I am also going to upgrade to the newer version of Ableton soon and I also hope to get a nice keyboard in 2009.

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    One recent project I really enjoyed was the Fermented Spirits project you did with MicheleQJ. I believe you had said this one had taken a few years to finalize, how did it come about?
    I believe Mike had heard some of 2004's The Pickled Beats Prhaject Nothigns Perfect and hit me up about jamming with a band he was just joining. The band didn't work out too much but it gave us time to kick some ideas around for a project. One day he came over with a couple keyboards and I started playing some Brazilian jazz music. We went through that stack of records and made about four good beats that weekend. Then four more the following weekend. Before long we had about 15 and the project started forming. It just took us another three-plus years to finish it (laughter).

    Did it receive a good response?
    Not really. We got a good handful of compliments on it but it sort of fell by the wayside. It is so hard for indie artists to make any kind of splash and we were pushing music which was mostly four years old so... I dunno. I dont consider it a failure in any sense but I def wouldnt call it a GOOD response.

    Now how about Dumhi? You guys have done a small batch of albums, performed a number of shows, each of you are doing your own thing for maximum coverage, what is the next phase for the group?
    I honestly don't know. There are no immediate plans for another Dumhi record (at least not with Dumhi = Haj, Mash, Plug, Flud & Brown). I do have contributions from all of them for my next project and they all have beats of mine for their projects. Like you said though, everyone is doing their own thing right now. We all still talk pretty regularly and we still make music together. Just have to see what 2009 holds.

    I want to get into your new project, Yoga At Home. What made you decide to release this as the first installment of a series of EP's, rather than offer it as one or two full length albums?
    Just trying something different. Like I is not easy for indie artists to get heard so I thought instead of trying to get 1 full length album out a year (which is still a pretty good pace) why not try to get three short projects out a year? Keep the music coming. Cut down on filler. People are gonna download it anyway, listen once and then either delete it or bury it on a hard drive... maybe with this short album they will listen twice.

    The EP of course offers you a chance to share your productions, and for this one you were able to get people such as Che Grand, Soulbrotha, Doap Nixon, Random, Trek Life, Jermiside, Reef The Lost Cauze, and the almighty Von Pea. When you selected these guys, what were you looking for from them, specifically?
    I just have a ton of respect for them. I am fans of their art.. admire their passion and work ethic... and most of them are friends of mine which makes it that much more special. As with anything.. I reached out to some folks specifically for certain tracks.. other just landed where they landed and it worked out. I honestly still geek out when I think about the folks who contributed to Yoga.

    One of my favorite tracks is the one with Sadat X, "The Yoga At Home Theme Song". I wished Sadat would have offered another verse, but what he said in the song to me seemed perfect not only for what you've done in your music, but it seems to be a move to put hip-hop back to a more humble state. How did you hook up with him?
    Mash Comp knows everyone. I was talking to him about some of the folks I was recruiting for this project and he said that he knows Sadat's people and shot an e-mail out.. I got an e-mail a couple days later, started passing files back and forth and boom. It's amazing really. Brand Nubian stayed in my car stereo growing up. He is a legend, and I asked him to pen a song about Yoga and involve weed smoking (laughter).. It really has been a great ride.

    When you are putting together a project like this, do you ever go through the process of elimination, in terms of wanting to make sure your work is as tight as it can be without going overboard or wanting to add more to a song that may sound sparse?
    Yeah I guess so. When I am working on projects I really listen to my own music a LOT. I dunno if that sounds like arrogance or ego or whatever but its really not.

    When I'm in the middle of a project, I do that as well.
    I just am constantly burning CD's and listening in the car.

    Playing with sequencing one beat into another. Stretching beats and adding to some, taking away from others. Basically working and listening constantly. That becomes my quality control. If something doesn't excite me after 800 listens it prolly wont make the cut (laughter).

    This is the first of a series of EP's, what should people expect with the next installment?
    Well... my plans constantly change but right now... a new Dumhi Ep called Flowers is in the works. Its looking like it will be anywhere from 5-10 songs long and so far has features from Flud, Signifire, John Blake, Sabrina Cuie, and ShamelessPlug. All of those names might be familiar to folks who have followed the Dumhi projects at all. I am hoping to have this ready by January.

    I am also close to having an EP finished with Mash and Vex. Some old songs, some new songs. This will prolly be a bit of an informal project that will hopefully be floating around the internet before the end of the year.

    Then who knows? Hopefully Yoga at Home v.2 next summer.

    I've noticed more hip-hop producers, or producers who define themselves as hip-hop, doing things that aren't exactly the norm, such as making music that may sound more like rock, or new wave, or whatever. While sampling from rock source is nothing new, there seems to be a specific move to cater to a certain sound or perhaps a demographic. Have you noticed this and if so, where is this coming from?
    Not sure.

    Do you think the diversity in a producer's cannon is a healthy one?
    Eh. Ionno. Jimmy Rollins is versatile and Ryan Howard isn't so much but they were both MVPs. Meanwhile.. Steve Jeltz sucked in basically all aspects of the game so...

    For myself I do take pride in doing some different things. I want to be able to work in different styles and still have pieces of me shine through the music. For me it's healthy. But ultimately the people it moves and the people it doesn't move will decide all that.

    In 2010, are there things that you hope to be able to accomplish with your work, is there a list of people you'd like to collaborate with?
    I just want to keep improving. Id like to get better on instruments and incorporate more playing and layering over the sampling. Want to be able to better develop themes and concepts with my projects and convey those to the listener without being blatant about it. My ultimate collab is still to do a DOOMhi album. Maybe that can happen.

    Got to get that going.
    Who knows? I do have a list but I don't want to jinx anything (laughter).

    Hip-hop is dead, hip-hop is alive, hip-hop is here. There seems to be a lot of debate and arguments over this music and the community that creates it, what is it about hip-hop that makes people so devoted to the cause?
    I dunno. Its really kind of crazy. I go back and forth from being obsessed to flat disgusted by it all. I always go back though.

    If you went somewhere and somehow came across Raekwon's Killer tape, what would you do with it?
    Pop it in and pour a little out for Shameek from 212.

  • To listen to the works of Haji Rana Pinya, click over to his MySpace or check out the Dumhi MySpace page, where you are able to take a listen to past and present work.

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove, which means the next installment will be jam packed with reviews. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. Hard copy is preferred over digital files, and will get reviewed a lot faster than a digital files due to the amount of e-mails I receive.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #223.
  • Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove will be moving by the end of the year

    A few weeks ago I reserved a domain, and by the end of the year The Run-Off Groove will be moved over to This column at Blogspot, however, will remain so that those of you who have linked to reviews on your websites will be able to keep them there without a reroute.

    I will be posting the column for the rest of the year here and at If you haven't been to my new website yet, it will feature this column plus DVD reviews, music news, and whatever I feel like talking about outside of the limits of music discussion. It will also cover my work as Crut, so if you're unfamiliar with my music, head to my MySpace and take a listen. I'll have a new album out early next year, and would love to have your support.

    Stay tuned.