Thursday, December 9, 2010

Best of 2010

What a year it's been at Audio-Didact. The blog went live in April. In June my good friend and emerging band mentor Fletcher kindly agreed to co-blog with me. We never dreamed that by the year's end we would have close to 700 visits from a dozen countries. It was Fletcher who came up with the terrific idea to make our final post of the year a "best of" posting by both of us. Enjoy! And please comment with your thoughts about the best music of 2010. Fletcher and I hope that this piece will truly be interactive with our readers, to whom we are grateful for making this blog possible. We wish all of you a wonderful holiday and look forward to enjoying new music with you in 2011.

Fletcher's Picks
It’s the end of the year as we know it (and I feel fine). It has been a great year for music and we are going to reveal some highlights for each of us.

First of all, it has been a wonderful year for this rookie blog. I thank Larry so much for inviting me to share some of my musical passions with all of you. I have been overwhelmed by the positive response and thank all of you for that support. I have really enjoyed writing it. I will say that many of my year's favorites are bands that I have written about. I always write about bands that I am passionate about, and it is good for me to see that at the end of the year, I am still in love with their music. Now, let’s get down to it.

Top Albums of the Year (alphabetical by band)
Delta Spirit, History from Below -- A great album from one of the best live bands on tour. Don’t miss this album, don’t miss this live show.
Goldspot, And the Elephant Is Dancing -- Every song on this album will get stuck in your head (in a positive way).
Jukebox the Ghost, Everything Under the Sun -- Piano pop at its best by this upcoming band.
Portugal the Man, American Ghetto -- A solid follow up to Satanic Satanist. Lots of intriguing sounds mixed with sonic sounds throughout.
Vampire Weekend, Contra -- A great album influenced by world music, it will pleasantly surprise you. Many hummable tunes. "Holiday" even used in a car commercial.

Top Songs of the Year (alphabetical by band)
Birds and Arrows, "Not Interested" -- Stunningly beautiful harmonies by this husband-wife team from North Carolina. Very soothing vocals in this song about life on the road.
Caleb Stine, "The Last Curtain Call" -- A man, with just his guitar, who will move you with his songs about the difficulties of living today. Truly a folksinger in the mode and spirit of Woody Guthrie. This one melts me every time I listen to it.
Delta Spirit, "Golden State" -- My favorite song on this album and a band that I can’t say enough good things about. Matt’s vocals are so passionate that you can hear his love for his home state.
Fools and Horses, "Follow" -- This radio friendly song comes from a band that has all the talent needed for a modern rock career. The soaring guitars and layered vocals of this song are the best on their new self-titled album, their finest yet. Lot of catchy hooks that deliver.
Goldspot, "One Year Anniversary" -- As I said before, every song on this album will get stuck in your head. I just love the way this song builds and the great chorus with the Beach Boy perfect harmonies.
Jukebox the Ghost, "Empire" -- From the opening to the end you get caught up in this song that wowed folks when they opened for Ben Folds and Guster this year. Another great chorus.
Port O’Brien, "My Will is Good" -- I had never heard of this band until I saw them open for Portugal the Man. This song blew me away. A fantastic opening and vocal. Wonderful backing instrumental track on this song. I really like the way this song is mixed.
Ra Ra Riot, "Boy"-- What can you say about a band that features chamber music with cellos and violins and combines it perfectly with indie rock? You get this band. This song has a killer bass line that drives it all the way through.
Victoria Vox, "Oh I Wonder" -- Uke need to make sure uke listen to this one. Victoria is an amazing singer-songwriter with a beautiful voice; she is also a ukulele player. My favorite song on this wonderful new album takes playing and listening to a ukulele to a new level.
Wye Oak, "My Neighbor" -- This duo creates beautiful sonic music that seems to have control and lose control at the same time. Jenn’s vocals and Andy’s drumming are both stunning as they take you on a musical journey with this song. I love this band's sound.

Best Musical Moments
Portugal the Man in Denver and Delta Spirit in Baltimore. Both of these were the best live shows for me during the year. I wrote about the Portugal show in an earlier blog. I just worked the Delta Spirit show when they came through here a few weeks ago -- it was the best show I have seen in three years. Both shows were magical nights and remind me why I love to see live music.
I have worked the merch table for many bands this year and appreciate all the good people I have met.

Looking Forward to in 2011
New Wye Oak and Cold War Kids albums. Can’t wait for either of them.

Larry's Picks
Top Albums of the Year (alphabetical by band)
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs -- A great album with overtones of a concept approach. Having grown up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., I found the album's autobiographical climax set in Houston's suburb of The Woodlands particularly moving.
Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society -- How can one not love the excitement of this young prodigy not fitting into her jazz box? She is moving towards something new, something beautiful, something profound.
Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, I Learned The Hard Way -- So retro they sound comparatively avant-garde. This band just plain improves with each album.
Spoon, Transference -- A welcome return to raw rhythmic energy. I found myself listening to this album daily for many weeks this year.
Vampire Weekend, Contra-- Like Fletcher, I fell in love with the music on this album. Incredibly complex world music flows from this quartet like cool flowing water.

Top Songs of the Year (alphabetical by band)
Bettye LaVette, "Love Reign" -- Ms. LaVette takes the Who's song from Quadrophenia and re-invents it as a R&B song. Although this live performance took place in 2008, the recording was released this year on Interpretations, The British Rock Songbook Album.
Buddy Guy, "74 Years Young" -- Buddy Guy, the living legend, starts off his autobiographical album Living Proof proudly proclaiming, "I'm 74 years young." Yes, he is, and he is still a master at singing and playing the blues.
The Damnwells, "She Goes Around" -- Catchy, rocking, and fun. This song is from their forthcoming album. You can receive a download of this song by supporting their new album or signing up for their mailing list here.
The Decemberists, "Down By The Water" -- Terrific Americana sounds and beautiful harmony. I can't wait for the album The King is Dead, scheduled to be released on January 18th, 2011.
Harper Blynn, "Lonliest Generation" -- Fletcher turned me on to this band and song, and I could not get enough of them for weeks. The delightfully comic video for this song is fun to watch as well.
Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings, "If You Call" -- Powerful longing, blues, emotion, tears, it's all there. Fasten your seat-belt and prepare to suffer with Sharon.
Vampire Weekend, "Cousins" -- Incredible energy, tight, lots of sounds, the driving snare drum -- I often find myself humming this song.

Best Musical Moments
Early in the year I saw John Scofield at Tipitinas in NOLA. He performed many of his amazing transformations of New Orleans-inspired gospel music with a quartet of gifted jazz and r&b musicians. Vampire Weekend put on a truly amazing and magical show in Houston. Alex Denzen from The Damnwells played an terrific hour set at the Houston's wonderful independent record store, Cactus Music. He played both new music and old favorites from the Damnwells.

Looking Forward to in 2011:
New Decemberists and Damnwells albums. I eagerly look forward to both.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This Band is All Heart- Heartless Bastards

A guitar chord is struck. You experience the reverb going through you. You feel like you are in a garage listening to a blues rock band. Then you hear the voice of Erika Wennerstrom and you feel like you can’t move. You are struck by the power and emotion of her voice. The pedal steel guitar (not your typical country western pedal steel) enters into the sonic fray. The band then kicks into high gear and you just listen in awe. You stand there amazed as the band takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride. They bring you up and down, slow and fast, soft and loud. They are led beautifully by Erika who is the principal songwriter of this band, The Heartless Bastards.

Formed in Cincinnati in 2003 they quickly grabbed the attention of Patrick Carney who is in The Black Keys. I imagine he was also struck by the raw power of the band along with the passion and energy of Erika’s vocals. They were signed to Fat Possum Records . Erika then moved to Austin, reformed the band with new members and headed out to conquer the scene. The band released two critically acclaimed albums. After the second album the band once again reformed anew and released The Mountain in 2009. The new members added a lot of new instrumentation, which helped Erika broaden her writing style. They have been touring for a year behind The Mountain.

I will admit to totally being enamored by the songs and vocals of The Mountain. It was one of my top 5 albums of last year. Enjoy this version of the title track.

I have had the pleasure of seeing them live this past year and it was one of my favorite shows. If Erika’s voice doesn’t move you, then nothing will. She can flat out sing and deserves more praise with her great blues rock voice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Vampire Weekend's Hypnotic Rhythms

Earlier this year my wife, also a teacher, had a few first-year teachers at our house for a meeting.  When the Louis Armstrong CD she was playing finished, I decided to put on Vampire Weekend.  As the opening notes started playing, one of the young teachers exclaimed, "I LOVE Vampire Weekend!"

One of the earliest celebrated albums of 2010 has turned out to be one of my favorites.  Contra, by Vampire Weekend, creates an incredibly rich and rhythmic blend of sounds, rhythms, and lyrics.  Its many influences include current American, European, Asian, and African music.  Furthermore, Vampire Weekend music screams, "Dance." While enjoying VampireWeekend's music, I hear echoes of  Paul Simon's Graceland album one minute, pop Indian music the next, and at other times echoes of the Talking Heads.

Vampire Weekend's music is complex.  Frequently, it provides multiple competing yet amazingly complementary beats in harmonious coexistence. Listen to the second half of "Horchata," the opening song from Contra, to hear examples.  This rich sound is created by four musicians: Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Tomson  They describe their sound as "Upper West Side Soweto."

The group's members met in 2006 while finishing their studies at Columbia University; their first gigs were held at school literary societies and parties.  Parts of their first EPs were recorded in Columbia dorm rooms.  The title of the band comes from a movie that Koenig was working on while at Columbia.

Vampire Weekend's lyrics are best described as quirky, playful, and just plain fun.  Here is the first verse of "Cousins":

You found a sweater on the ocean floor
They're going to find it if you didn't close the door
You and the smart ones sit outside of their site
In a house on a street they wouldn't park on at night...

As you enjoy the the  video for "Cousins," make note of the delightful and unexpected ringing of bells at the end of the song!

Once you become acquainted with Vampire Weekend, you should catch them live to see how these four musicians put the numerous sounds in their albums into their music.  I saw them recently in Houston, the night before they performed at Austin City Limits.  When attending live shows I attempt to stand as close to the sound board so I can to hear the best sound mix possible.  However, at the Vampire Weekend show I found myself standing a good distance away from the sound board.  Regardless, the mix was great and Vampire Weekend put on a terrific show.  The more I listen to Vampire Weekend the more I discover in their music.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

No ghosts in this jukebox-Jukebox the Ghost

The call comes to the Jukebox the Ghost camp from the David Letterman show. They want to know if the band can play for the Late Show in less than 24 hours. The band has wrapped up production of their new CD and is scattered around the East Coast. However you don’t pass up this opportunity to perform and reach so many people on national television. They agree and all get to New York for the taping. They are excited to perform the single “Schizophrenia” from their about to be released CD Everything Under The Sun. They get to the studio early in the morning; do a few rehearsals, and then the final tape. When I asked them if they were nervous they said that it all happened so fast they didn’t get a chance to really think about it too much until after the final taping. The performance was great and really helped the CD sales a few days later when the CD was released.

The first time I heard the song “Hold It In” on WTMD radio I was hooked. It has the most infectious beat and rhythm of any song I have heard in years. Listening to this song should make you an immediate fan. I give fair warning in that you won’t be able to get it out of your head. It will be a great introduction to this amazing and fun band.

Ben Thornewell (piano/vocals), Tommy Siegel(guitar/vocals), and Jesse Kristin(drums) formed the band in 2004 while they were all at George Washington University in D.C. Even though they all come from different musical backgrounds, they hit it off immediately with a sound they call “piano rock with indie pop”. After college they decided to see what they could do musically. They put out their first album “Let Live and Let Ghost” on their own in 2008. Jukebox has toured constantly and opened for many bands including Ben Folds, Guster, and Barenaked Ladies. They have gotten a lot of notice and recently signed with the label Yep Rock who just released the new CD of great tunes this month.
Here is their Letterman video of the single “Schizophrenia”

I have had the pleasure of working the merch table for many of their shows and getting to know them as people. They are all really kind and considerate guys who deserve everything they are getting. I couldn’t be happier for them and I hope that you will listen to them and support them as they come to your area.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Harper Blynn-Pop Goes With Harmonies

I walk through the backstage door and climb the 3 flights of stairs to the band's dressing rooms. I am excited to see and work merch for the band Harper Blynn again. I have worked for them two other times when they were known as Pete & J. I am greeted warmly and with excitement of old friends catching up again. Pete and Jason have always been very personable towards me and have always treated me like a band member. I get to catch up with one of my favorite people and a truly amazing drummer, Sarab Singh. I then meet their new bass player, Whynot (yes it is his name). My first question to them is why the name change? They said that the original name conjured up a couple of folk singers who traveled as a duo rather than as a full band and this makes sense to me. They show their humor and originality in that their new name is taken from Pete and J.'s last names, rather than their first names. It does give them a sense of a full band. However, I was most excited to hear their new music from the new CD The Loneliest Generation.

The band performed a month ago at the legendary Baltimore club The 8x10. This is my favorite club to see music in Baltimore. It is small (around 350), has a great sound system and visual sightlines, and a sprung floor so you are not standing on concrete all evening. I work a lot of shows here and enjoy the people I meet at this celebrated venue. While tonight's show features three bands, all of the music will be performed by Harper Blynn. They will perform a set of their own music and then will be the back up bands for both Cary Brothers and Greg Laswell. Cary is an indie rock singer-songwriter and Greg is more of a singer-songwriter. Both have had songs featured in both movies and TV shows. Playing these diverse styles should tell you a lot about Harper Blynn's amazing musicianship. They are chameleons when it comes to music and fit both of these other styles like a glove. Adding their incredible harmonies is a reason these bands all toured together. So I got to listen to Harper Blynn in all these different incarnations and they were successful at all three.

I like them best when they perform their own music. Pete and J. met on the first day of college and began performing officially in 2006. They were and continue to be based out of New York City. I am struck first by their amazing hooks and beautiful harmonies. Their harmonies remind me of Simon and Garfunkel and to be honest they look a bit like that duo. Their songs are more pop and rock oriented and when you add in the harmonies of the rest of the band, it can send chills up your spine. They write a lot of upbeat songs that are very catchy. Enjoy this live version of the title song "Loneliest Generation".

While I love this live video I encourage you to also check out their official video at this link "Loneliest Generation".
It is sweet, strange, and shows their great sense of humor. You have got to love the dancing!!! I hope you love and appreciate their songwriting and tight melodic harmonies as much as I do.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Rhythms of Spoon

An intense driving beat, punched syncopation, a playfulness with octaves, and intelligent lyrics come to mind when I think of Spoon.  For me, the Spoon gestalt translates into music that makes bodies move.

The band formed as a duo in Austin in 1994, with just Britt Daniel (guitarist and principle songwriter) and Jim Eno (drummer). (A more detailed history of the band, including the comings and goings of other band members can be found at Wikipedia.) I first heard Spoon on WTMD in 2005 when Gimmie Fiction, their 5th album, was released. I was immediately entranced with their sound. 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga featured increased instrumentation and production and thus an even fuller sound. Their 7th album, Transference, released in January of this year, delivers more raw and less polished music. I happen to prefer that Spoon has returned to less instrumentation, and Transference is one of my favorites thus far of 2010.

Enjoy a video of Spoon performing "The Mystery Zone," a terrific new song from Transference:

I was fortunate to catch Spoon during their tour for Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The high energy that one enjoys when listening to their albums is truly turned up to eleven when you hear them live.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Something Great Out of Wasilla

The house lights dim on stage. There are three huge backdrops hanging that look reminiscent of something out of an early 1970’s Fillmore East concert. The images in the dim light on stage are hard to make out clearly. The band then comes out. They are also shrouded in mystery and are hard to visually see. The lead singer and guitarist not only has a hat on, but a hoodie that covers his face. He will spend the rest of the evening facing his band more often than the audience. The stage is dark and the band plugs in. The music starts and the lights are pulsating on the huge backdrops. They change color, and every time the color changes, the images look like they have come to life and are moving. These images are looking at us, as well as the band. The music is also psychedelic and in rhythm with the light show. I am not at a show in the 1970’s but rather mesmerized by the band Portugal the Man in 2010.

The first time I listened to “People Say” I knew I was hooked. “Save me, I can’t be saved” sings John Baldwin Gourley as he opens the bands album The Satanic Satanist. It is a beautiful and chilling anti-war song with a chorus that remarks “May have lost a million men, but we have got a million more”. It was my top album from last year. It moved me personally, the way music is intended to move you. The moment I heard this album I knew I needed to see this band live.

I had my chance visiting a friend in Denver and we got to see Portugal the Man at the beautiful Bluebird Theatre which is one of my favorite places ever to see a show. I came out of the show not only more impressed with the band, but knew I needed to listen to more of Portugal the Man.

The band has its roots coming out of Wasilla, Alaska. It is obviously the best thing to come out of this small town. They now currently reside in Portland, Oregon and have recently signed (June 2010) on to Atlantic Records. They formed in 2004, released their first full length in 2006 and have risen these past few years to high critical acclaim. Alternative Press declared Censored Colors as one of 2008’s essential albums to have. The bands sound comes from many different influences ranging from neo-soul, R&B, avant-garde, 70’s rock and sampling. John Baldwin Gourley’s voice carries the lyrics through with his great phrasing.

The band just released a new CD this year American Ghetto. It continues the growth of Satanic Satanist and if you see it you should get it, for they only released 15,000 copies. I have the fortune of having one. The CD deals a lot with growing up in a small town with all the joys and frustrations that comes with it. The CD also expands to a world view that the band has grown into.

Here is a live video of "People Say" at their breakthrough performance at 2009 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. This performance created a lot of national buzz that probably led to their signing to a major label.

The band is not only talented but their CD's may have the best packaging in the music industry. The artwork for The Satanic Satanist is certainly worth the price of the CD without even liking the music. The packaging folds up, out, and up again. It is truly a work of art and adds to the quirkiness of the band. However, the music is excellent, so make sure to give Portugal the Man a serious listen.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

An All American Band: The Drive-By Truckers

A few years back, my friend and co-blogger Fletcher McNeill told me that an indie Southern Rock band, The Drive-By Truckers was coming to town. He asked me if I wanted to go see them perform live. Not the biggest fan of Southern Rock, except the original Allman Brothers Band, I nonetheless paid attention when I later heard a few tunes by DBT on the radio and was impressed. I then purchased their latest CD at the time, The Dirty South, and started listening to it more intently.

I was flabbergasted by the songwriting, especially for "Where the Devil Don't Stay," "It Sounded Like a Train," and "Carl Perkins' Cadillac." And the songs grew on me even more as I listened to them repeatedly. The Austin City Limits website says that DBT "surveys the modern South with a complex blend of realism-tempered pride and compassionate but uncompromising analysis," and I agree.

The ballad "Carl Perkins' Cadillac," written in the third person, tells the story of how Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, promised (and subsequently delivered) a Cadillac to the first artist who worked for him to achieve a gold record in sales. The song, in a flowing and reverent manner invokes the names of many of the founders of rock and roll -- Carl Perkins, Elvis, and Johnny Cash. Not coincidentally, DBT hails from the mini-musical mecca Muscle Shoals, Alabama, also the source of Sam Phillip's roots. The Muscle Shoals area continues to produce interesting new bands like DBT and Fiddleworms.

Back in 2004, attending that DBT live show with Fletcher, left me, in a word, amazed. The Truckers performed for several hours, going through a large chunk of their repertoire. Since then, despite personnel changes, they continue to put out quality albums. Still, I must confess that The Dirty South continues to be my favorite.

Enjoy "Never Gonna Change" from The Dirty South!

On a side note, DBT served as the backup band for Bettye Lavette's 2007 break-out album, The Scene of the Crime, which I mentioned in a previous blog.

Caught up in the Delta Spirit

I first had the privilege of seeing Delta Spirit live as they opened for Dr. Dog a few years ago. When I go to see live music, I always want to catch the opening acts, for you never know what to expect. Usually I am not too excited and sometimes even disappointed, but every now and then I come away understanding why you should catch opening bands live. I loved and had worked the merch tables for Dr. Dog before and was excited to see them again. I was at a small club that held around 200 people, and the room was abuzz about Dr. Dog. Then this one guy (not from Dr. Dog) came onstage banging a trashcan. At this point we were not sure who he was or if he was just some random person who walked onstage (which in Baltimore, may not be unusual). Then someone else came out and started banging a marching band bass drum that was on the stage floor. A third person came onstage and started banging the drum also. A fourth person came on with a folding chair and started banging it. It all led up to this amazing percussive rhythm, then guitar and piano, and all of a sudden the whole room was engulfed in this band's spiritual energy. The song was "Trashcan." The band delivered every song with equal passion the whole night, and the room was caught up in Delta Spirit. I have been a big fan ever since.

Delta Spirit formed in Southern California in 2005 when 2 members found Matt Vasquez singing on a bench at 2:00 in the morning. He wanted a band, and they needed a singer. Matt’s unique voice and their use of nontraditional instruments create almost an old-time revival feeling in their amazing live shows. You cannot help but be caught up in their spirit. Part R&B, part Americana, plus a little bit of punk sprinkled with some folk-rock, and soul and you get the sound of this band.

Delta Spirit put out its first full-length album Ode to Sunshine by themselves, recording in a cabin in the mountains outside of San Diego. The album had a lot of positive buzz, and they were picked up by Rounder Records, who put out basically the same album on its own label. They then went out with bands like the Cold War Kids and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Like me, lots of people have fallen in love with their live shows.

Delta Spirit has just put out a new album titled History from Below. The title was inspired by historian Howard Zinn. The subject matter of the lyrics are impactful and don’t shy away from a real look at the state of the world today. The band has made great strides forward in songwriting, instrumentation, and vocals. At points their harmonies are both beautiful and haunting. The album features rockers to ballads to even some psychedelic sounds. Enjoy this new video of their single "Bushwick Blues."

I encourage you to seriously listen to this band. I believe you won’t be disappointed. Above everything, please see Delta Spirit live if you are so fortunate to have them playing in your area. These are road-tested warriors who don’t disappoint.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Hello everybody. My name is Fletcher McNeill and like Larry I am a teacher in my 50’s. I have known Larry for quite a while and was very happy when he decided to do this blog. I am thrilled when he asked me to do some postings which I will be doing at least once a month. I am very passionate about current music to the point where I volunteer at WTMD radio in Baltimore, which is a non commercial station that focuses on a lot of new bands. They really are “Radio for music people”. Check them out on their stream at WTMD. I also work merchandise tables for a lot of national bands that come through Baltimore. This way I get to hear and meet a lot of rising indie bands, many of them who I will write about.

I am starting out with a band that you need to listen to, Goldspot.

Born in the States, grew up listening to Bollywood soundtracks, spent time in New Delhi, and influenced by the West Coast indie rock movement, Siddharta Khosla is paving a way for himself and his unique sound. He has referred to his band as Indi-rock. Goldspot was formed in Los Angeles 5 years ago. They put out their first album “Tally of the Yes Men” and released a few singles “Friday and “Rewind” from that album that did very well in England and India. Goldspot has just released their new album titled “And the Elephant is Dancing”. Every song is solid and memorable. Siddharta delivers his lyrics with a great warmth and believability. Each tune is melodic, memorable and catchy. Every song is the type that will get into your head and you will be humming it all day. Not a weak or filler song on the album. They use amazing instrumentation with everything ranging from guitars (both American and traditional Indian) to harmoniums. You will hear Siddharta’s influences that range from Kishore Kumar to the Beach Boy’s. The new album has this great wall of sound captured in the studio. What is great about the band is that they can produce the rich sound live. Enjoy this recent live performance of “Call Center Girl” at KCRW radio from their new album and I encourage you to get involved with this amazing band that deserves your ears. You won’t be sorry.

Siddharta is spending this summer getting ready for his upcoming marriage. We all wish him our best and look forward to touring the album in the Fall to a venue near you.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wilco (how I learned to love listening to new music again)

In 2001 a friend of mine, Fletcher McNeill approached me about listening to some new music. He was extremely excited about a band named Wilco whose new album was due out soon.

Fletcher let me borrow some of their older albums. I was immediately impressed with "Misunderstood, "the opening song on Being There, Wilco's second album. The song is a reminiscence about the neighborhood where the singer grew up, and it begins softly but with a sense of the power that will later fully emerge. The song, which starts as a ballad, ends with Jeff Tweedy, Wilco's lead singer, screaming, "I want to thank you all for nothing, I want to thank you all for nothing at all." The rest of the album wonderful mix of songs by a creative young band showing off their versatility. Wilco plays in most any style of music, from country to classic rock and roll to cutting edge indie rock.

Several albums later, Wilco's 4th album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, remains my favorite. The tonal colors are rich, and the songs vary broadly in their styles, from the dark opening song "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" to the humorous "Heavy Metal Drummer." Here is the beautiful ballad, "Jesus, Etc."

Fletcher introduced me to Wilco just before they hit the big time. They have since gone on to win critical acclaim, including 2 grammy awards, including best alternative music album for their 5th album, A Ghost is Born.

I'm enormously pleased that my friend Fletcher has graciously accepted my invitation to co-author this blog with me. Fletcher has a keen ear for new and emerging bands ,and I am excitedly looking forward to his posts.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Peaking at 64

In the spring of 2008, I attended a Houston cultural festival, called iFest (i for International) to see a performance by guitar blues legend Buddy Guy (who was terrific). However, the warm-up act, a one-hit wonder R&B singer named Bettye LaVette, also blew me away. Her phrasing, the way she conveys emotion, is amazing. It turns out that I was not alone in my assessment and that LaVette was just hitting her stride. The past couple years have been very good for Ms. LaVette. Since that show, she has gone on to:

- Win a BMA (Blues Music Award) for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer
- Perform a show-stopping version of "A Change is Gonna to Come" as a duet with Jon Bon Jovi at the Obama Inauguration Concert

Bettye LaVette, who turned 64 this year, is getting more attention now than she did for most of her career. She recorded her first song in 1962, when she was 16, and has been working as an entertainer ever since. That song, "My Man - He's a Lovin' Man" became a Top Ten R&B Hit. Her next hit, 1965's "Let Me Down Easy," led to a tour with The James Brown Revue.

Watching this video of her performing The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me" at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors, you can see clearly why she is suddenly receiving the attention she deserves:

When I saw her perform, she mostly performed work from her 2007 album, The Scene of the Crime, telling powerful stories and transforming country songs. On that album she is backed up by the alt-country band, The Drive-By Truckers, a group I will feature in a future blog posting. A special treat is the one song she wrote, her autobiographical "Before the Money Came".

On her website, Ms. LaVette is promoting her new album, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which will be released on May 24th. This summer she will be touring with Robert Plant. A line from a review in this week's New York York Times proclaims, " Ms. LaVette, 64, now rivals Aretha Franklin as her generation’s most vital soul singer."


Monday, May 10, 2010

A movie, a romance, and a band

In 2007, 37-year-old Glen Hansard and 19-year-old Marketa Irglová , both singer-songwriter indie musicians, agreed to star in a film. The film, Once, was both written and directed by John Carney. In the film the characters played by Glen and Marketa fall in love while creating music together. For me, the best part of the movie is how it captures the joys of musical collaboration. The film, which was filmed for $160,00 and shot in a month, went on to win critical acclaim and an Oscar for best song, "Falling Slowly." That song is used as the background music for the trailer of the film. And while the film was being shot, Glen and Marketa fell in love (I'm not making this up0.

Fast forward to 2010. While their romance is over, their song-writing collaboration continues. Hansard's and Irglova's band is called The Swell Season. Their new album, Strict Joy, deals with their break-up. The music is on this album is painfully powerful and beautiful. The Swell Season continues to put on wonderful live shows.

Below, you can see a clip from the fim Once, featuring the song "When Your Mind's Made Up":

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Born from the magical mystery tour

The made for TV movie of Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour briefly features The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, a group I very much enjoyed when I was a teenager, performing the song "Death Cab for Cutie" (credit for that title, correctly or not, has sometimes been attributed to Ringo).

Fast forward about 30 years as a new band named Death Cab for Cutie forms in the early 1990s at the University of Washington. Stylistically, one can hear influences from The Beatles and other groups from the late 1960s through mid-1970s.

All of the songs for DCFC's 2008 release Narrow Stairs were written by Ben Gibbard in the same cabin where Jack Kerouac wrote Big Sur. The songs are thoughtfully poignant and heartfelt. Many of the songs, while dark, are hauntingly beautiful. A sample follows:

How I wish you could see the potential
The potential of you and me
It's like a book elegantly bound
But in a language you can't read just yet
from I Will Posses Your Heart, Narrow Stairs

The video to the song quoted above follows. While it runs for over 8 minutes I find the time to be well spent. Listen to the long crescendo as the song builds -- this goes on for the first four minutes and forty seconds -- paying careful attention to how the band slowly adds different instrumental sounds and tonal colors to the build-up.

Since Narrow Stairs, DCFC has released an EP (a short album) of songs that were not included on Narrow Stairs. I'm looking forward to their next release to see what they come up with next.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hello, it's me...

Okay, so I’m a 51-year-old man with two grown children who enjoys keeping up with modern popular music. This blog is intended for people like me who wish to grow musically but have roots in an earlier era. It’s sub-title is loosely derived from “Songs to Aging Children Come” a Joni Mitchell song that didn’t make the top ten but was made popular in the soundtrack for the film Alice’s Restaurant (1967). It was later adapted as the title for an oldies radio show that ran on the mostly classical NPR radio station WETA 90.9 FM for many years in Washington, D.C., where I grew up.

But this blog is NOT a celebration of oldies, much as I love them. I will be writing and inviting discussions about about contemporary popular music. I was recently approached by a friend who wanted to learn more about post-1970s music. As I have aged, I've noticed that many friends continue to listen solely to the music we grew up with. Great as that music was, I want to introduce them to new artists who are doing interesting and creative work.

So, let’s get started.

If you are like me, you like the honest, rhythmic melodies of old R & B. I’m referring to the sound you would expect to hear from early James Brown or various artists on Stax Records (remind me to tell you about my visit to the Stax museum in Memphis). Well, that tight funky sound is back. Check out Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I’ve been following them for a while, and they keep getting better and better. Sharon Jones has a wonderfully soulful voice that conveys her understanding of R&B as well as gospel, which is the sound she hails from. Her timing and vocal control define the band. She also knows how to put on a terrific live show. Her Dap Kings lay down the type of groove her voice expects and deserves. They also have served as the backup band for Amy Winehouse, the tattooed, troubled, troubadour of recent critical acclaim and infamous news stories.

Sample Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in action in a music video of their sassy anthem, "100 Days, 100 Nights."

Also, check out their brand new album, I Learned the Hard Way, so cool it's currently being featured at Starbuck's. As Melena Ryzik writes in her April 23 ,2010, column for the New York Times, "Sharon Jones is, as the saying goes, the real deal."