Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #61"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself.

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that band, song, or album):
1. The Black Crowes, "RemedyThe Southern Harmony And Musical Companion
2. Grizzly Bear, "Knife"  Yellow House
3. The Clash, "City Of The Dead"  Black Market Clash
4. The Zombies, "Time Of The Season"  Odessey And Oracle
5. Infectious Grooves, "Violent & Funky"  Groove Family Cyco
6. The Breeders, "Night Of Joy"  Mountain Battles
7. The Rolling Stones, "Tumbling Dice"  Exile On Main Street
8. Mac Lethal, "Calm Down Baby"  11:11
9. Björk, "So Broken"  Homogenic Live (Live Box Disc 3)
10. Velvet Underground, "I'm Waiting For The Man"  Norman Dolph Acetate
11. PM Dawn, "Reality Used To Be A Friend Of Mine"  Of the Heart, Of The Soul, And Of The Cross
12. Les Tambours De Brazza, "Mabenguele"  Ahaando Le Griot Rap Compete!
13. Madonna, "Survival"  Bedtime Stories
14. Primus, "Sathington Willoughby"  Frizzle Fry

Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27: The Buzzcocks, "Ever Fallen In Love?"

Artist: The Buzzcocks
Song: "Ever Fallen In Love?"
Album: Love Bites
Year: 1978

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Moreso than any other genre, that which "is" and "is not" punk rock is very easy to define.  This is even more obvious and clear-cut within the punk explosion of the late 1970's, and one can easily argue that things like excessive aggression, angst, and simplistic musical arrangements are most definitely traits that "are" punk rock.  The idea of love in nearly every way is certainly something that is usually not associated with this genre of music, and to even imply the idea of pop music alongside punk in many ways stands as the complete antithesis of the idea of punk itself.  However, there is one band that managed to write songs that have unquestionably pop-like sounds, as well as exploring the idea of love in many different ways, and this is one of the main reasons that The Buzzcocks remain such icons of music to this day.  Though the band has gone through a number of lineup changes over the decades, the pairing of Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle have been present for nearly the entire run of the band, and it was their string of releases in the late 1970's that stand as the finest work of the band.  It was this time period that saw The Buzzcocks release a number of (relatively) hit singles, and the apir of records they released in 1978 are absolutely punk rock masterpieces.  The fact that the group was so potent at that time makes it difficult to choose a "best" song, yet one can argue that The Buzzcocks' 1978 single, "Ever Fallen In Love?" both defines the bands' sound, as well as stands as one of the greatest moments in punk rock history.

In true punk rock spirit, "Ever Fallen In Love?" wastes no time with an introduction of any sort, as the opening moments of the song are already at full volume and full force, with the entire band seeming to already be in top gear at the first note.  Yet after a few moments of this chaotic noise, the true personality of The Buzzcocks becomes apparent, as the band moves into an unusually catchy melody that is backed by a bite and fury that is completely unique.  It is the fact that the band is able to deploy such a melody, yet retain the punk feeling that made them so distinctive, and it is also the main reason that The Buzzcocks were able to cross into fan-bases that no other punk band could access.  The dual guitar sound of Shelley and Diggle rarely sounded better, and there is a classic, at times almost surf-rock sound to their playing.  However, their sound "stays" punk in the fact that it is very stripped down and raw, along with having just enough of an edge to avoid a completely pop label.  The heavy bassline from Steve Garvey is equally impressive, and it is in this aspect of the music that the uneasy, almost nervous feel of the bands' music becomes most apparent.  Drummer John Maher furthers his mood, and he also plays with a speed and power that makes the punk rock roots undeniable.  It is the way in which each band member manages to inject an edge and aggression into an amazingly catchy and melodic arrangement that proved just how much range could be achieved under the umbrella of punk rock.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of "Ever Fallen In Love?" is the fact that one can easily argue that it is on this song that Pete Shelley has finally "found his groove," and the after-effects of the recently departed Howard Devoto are clearly out of the bands' sound.  Shelley further separates The Buzzcocks from their peers with the fact that he is actually singing for much of "Ever Fallen In Love?," and yet there is a bite to his sound that keeps him linked to many of the other punk singers of the era.  Both the tone and emotion within Shelley's voice are nothing short of perfect, and though the theme is one which he approached a number of times, there is a feeling of authenticity and proximity to the music found here that is far stronger than his other work.  Yet Shelley also manages to keep an overall feeling of rejection within his vocals, and this plays in brilliant contrast to the quick hitting, high-energy music over which he sings.  In a manner unlike anyone else who had previously explored the idea of unrequited love, Shelley boils the idea down to its most basic elements, and all can relate when he sings lines like, "...and if I start a commotion, I'll only end up losing you and that's worse..."  It is these simple, yet universal statements of frustration and defeated hope that help "Ever Fallen In Love?" to become absolutely unforgettable, and yet it is the way in which Pete Shelley presents them that also makes the song amazingly catchy and almost endearing.

Truth be told, "Ever Fallen In Love?" stands out from almost every other song of the late 1970's punk rock explosion not only for its arrangement and content, but also for the fact that since its release, it is one of the most widely covered songs in history.  With bands ranging from Elton John to Jeff Tweedy to The Noisettes, and the group Fine Young Cannibals cracked the top ten in the U.K. with their cover of the song in 1986.  Though the song is familiar to most people, very few are aware of the original version, and few would guess that its origin lies within the English punk scene of the late 1970's.  In many ways, this represents the true spirit of punk rock in a manner unlike any other song, as it works so perfectly against every preconceived notion, that one is truly original and impossible to copy.  The way in which The Buzzcocks perfected their approach of taking the classic, more melodic approach and fusing it together with the urgency and uneasy feel of punk rock sets them into a class all their own, and Pete Shelley's abilities as a lyricist were perhaps never better.  Quite literally, "Ever Fallen In Love?" is as perfect as music of any genre can get, as it blends high energy music with powerful lyrics to which all can relate, capped off by an honesty and authenticity within the music.  It is this combination of sounds and styles that forces one to wonder how The Buzzcocks were not one of the biggest bands in history, and their claim to such a title can easily be argued by using their absolutely phenomenal 1978 single, "Ever Fallen In Love?"

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26: The Turtles, "Happy Together"

Artist: The Turtles
Song: "Happy Together"
Album: Happy Together
Year: 1967

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Though it is often used in a negative, if not demeaning manner, one cannot write-off the idea of "bubblegum pop," as it has fueled the music industry for nearly its entire existence.  Furthermore, there are some of the most amazing songs in music history hidden underneath this classification, and if one closely inspects the style, there is far more diversity therein than one might think.  This was especially true throughout the 1960's, when a wide variety of sounds found there way into the so-called "bubblegum sound," and if can even be argued that it was within this radio-friendly approach that the psychedelic movement was first born.  Though many simply followed the format of "hit" songs, it was the bands that were able to blend new and old styles, whilst retaining the pop appeal, that remain among the greatest songs in history, and the bands in turn have become icons of music.  While there were a number of groups that helped music to progress via the "bubblegum sound," few did so in as impressive and timeless a manner as one finds in the music of The Turtles.  Even the name of the band alone brings to mind their sound, and it is this fact alone that proves their massive impact on the entire world of music.  Though the group went through a number of lineup changes, it was 1967 that found them at their musical peak, and it was this combination of musicians that yielded one of the greatest moments in music history: The Turtles 1967 classic single, "Happy Together."

While at first listen, the song may seem little more than an unassuming pop song, once one delves deeper into the music, there is far more to be found.  Taking the entire construct as a whole, there are so many different genres being blended together throughout "Happy Together," that it is easy to miss the innovations being forged.  The way in which The Turtles take a base of folk music, yet give it a more rock-style edge and mood is the most obvious difference, and the manner with which the chorus sections seem to soar away from the rest of the song is where "Happy Together" truly becomes an unforgettable moment in music history.  Though they are somewhat buried in the mix, the band finds a way to add in a horn section, and there is no question that it becomes one of the most essential aspects of the song, and this is another element that was simply not being used in such a manner within the arena of "bubblegum pop."  The way in which the clarinet seems to dance across the songs' final verse proves to be nothing short of musical genius, and the sound it creates in contrast to the guitars gives "Happy Together" a personality that has never been even remotely matched.  Yet even with all of these amazing sounds filling the song, it is drummer John Barbata that is clearly the key.  His almost military-style rhythm keeps the song in order, and it also lends a unique bounce, adding the final touch to one of the most unmistakably perfect songs ever recorded.

Much in the same manner as the music, the vocal work on "Happy Together" brings in a number of different influences, and while most are caught up in the lyrics, the singing itself is some of the finest in history.  Though many rightfully point to The Beach Boys as providing the greatest vocal harmonies ever recorded, one cannot overlook just how amazing the sound of The Turtles becomes on the bridge and chorus sections of the song, and it is this part of the song that pushes "Happy Together" far beyond the traditional composition of any genre.  Yet it is also the way in which the voice of Howard Kaylan provides such a stark contrast within the verses that makes the shared harmonies sound even more impressive, though there is also much to be said for Kaylan's solo work on the song.  While the song implies an almost forced sense of happiness, one cannot deny the seemingly dejected, almost desperate sound in Kaylan's voice, and this is where the true nature of "Happy Together" becomes clear.  Though many assume the song is one of "true love," after taking a closer look, the song is more accurately about someone trying to convince another that they WILL be happy with one another; implying that at the time of the song, the relationship is not going all that smoothly.  When one takes this reality into account, the first verse of the song reads in a completely different manner, and yet even with this new understanding of the song, the vocals still manage to press the idea that "all is well."

In the forty-plus years since "Happy Together" was first released, one would be hard pressed to find another song that has been covered more often or by as wide a range of artists.  Everyone from Flobots to Donny Osmond to The Leningrad Cowboys have put their touch on the song, and sampled pieces of "Happy Together" also appear all over hip-hop music, as well as in many of the computer-based pop songs of the past two decades.  Taking all of this into account, it is understandable that after the song knocked The Beatles out of the top spot on the charts in 1967, it has gone on to more than six million plays on radio, giving it one of the top spots in the "most played" radio songs of all time.  Even with all of this in mind, one simply cannot write the song off as just another "bubblegum pop" hit, as the songs' continued legendary status makes it far more than that, as well as the massive amount of sonic mastery that can be found within the music itself.  The way in which The Turtles blended together folk, country, and early psychedelia into a pop format places them into a group with very few other performers, and there is no arguing that the harmonies found on "Happy Together" rank among the greatest of all time.  Furthermore, the fact that within the first few notes, nearly anyone can identify the song, is a testament to just how timeless a work of art the band created, and all of this together solidifies the case for The Turtles 1967 single, "Happy Together," reigning as one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 25: Mother Superior, "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?"

Artist: Mother Superior
Song: "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?"
Album: Deep
Year: 1998

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If there is one thing that has been proven time and and time again within the world of music, it is the fact that music that sounds honest hand a product of hard work will almost always connect and rise above studio trickery and "label made" artists.  This tends to be most evident within the area of rock music, as bands that do not have the "real" deal are usually quite obvious and quickly dispatched as a joke in some way or another.  Then of course, there are the great bands that spend much of their career fighting to get to the "next level," and it is within these groups that some of the greatest rock songs of the past twenty years can be found.  Among such bands, there was one that brought together blues, soul, and hard rock in a stunning and unique way, and it is the reason why Mother Superior stands as one of the most amazing, yet relatively unknown bands of the 1990's.  Without question, there sound was hard hitting and musically superior in comparison to nearly all of their peers, and throughout their amazing 1998 album, Deep, one can feel a sense of urgency within their music.  Every song on the record has a heavy, soulful feel, and the sound the band creates would have fit in perfectly with the rock-metal sound that dominated much of the 1970's.  Due to the overall level of sound throughout the record, it is difficult to single out a song as their "best," yet one can quickly understand just why Mother Superior stand as such a fantastic band within their 1998 song, "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?"

Opening the album and setting the tone for the rest of the record, "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?" begins with a perfectly distorted guitar noise from Jim Wilson.  The way in which the sound pulses across the opening of the track, before sliding into a full-on rock-blues progression is nothing short of perfect, and there are few instances from the past twenty years where a "wah" pedal has been better used.  His solo later in the song is instant proof that he is without question one of the most talented and inspiring guitarists of his generation, and his playing gives "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?" am amazing amount of movement.  Bassist Marcus Blake is equally impressive, as he winds around his bandmates, injecting a heavy dose of funk into the song.  When Blake takes center-stage about halfway through the song, the source of the songs' groove becomes undeniable, and following the solo, one is far more tuned into his sound for the remainder of the song.  Rounding out the band in brilliant fashion is drummer Jason MacKenroth, and it is the power and pattern that he lends to the song that futher separates Mother Superior from their peers.  Bringing a sound that lives somewhere between blues and heavy metal, MacKenroth clearly has a wide range of influences on his sound, and it is quickly apparent in his playing.  It is the way in which the almost psychedelic guitar blends with the funk-driven bass and heavy drumming that makes "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?" so unique, and it is also all the proof one could want as to why Mother Superior stand as such an exceptionally talented band.

Along with his guitar work, Jim Wilson also handles vocal duties on "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?," and he manages to match the mood and sound of his guitar with his voice.  Wilson quickly shows an ability to sing with multiple inflections, as well as work all over the vocal spectrum, and this in many ways places him far apart from his blues-rock peers.  One can sense within his singing that he is letting the mood of the song guide his voice, and this unrestrained feel makes the song all the more captivating.  It is this energy within Wilson's singing that shows a deep connection to the words which he sings, and it is this proximity to the lyrics that gives "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?" an even more authentic feel, and also draws in every listener.  When one inspects exactly what Wilson is singing, it becomes understandable why this energy and mood are so clear, as the words sum up the feelings of every true music fanatic.  The title itself stands for "don't the music make you feel good?" and the way in which Wilson sings these words makes it quite obvious that it is far more than just a catchy title.  Perfectly capturing the feeling of music being a "savior" for so many, the lyrics are truly without fault, and the band manages to take a cliché idea and work it in a way which is nothing short of musical perfection.  Throughout the song, Wilson seems on the verge of a scream, and yet the fact that he never does manages to sound even better, and it is his straightforward, uninhibited performance that pushes "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?" above the rest of the songs on the album.

Looking at Deep as a whole, one cannot overlook the fact that one of the main differences between it and the bands' previous effort was the person "behind the boards" for the record.  Handling production duties for the album was none other than Henry Rollins, as he hand been a huge fan of Mother Superior.  Truth be told, the group would eventually become Rollins' backing band, and it is quickly evident on Deep just how well they all click on the same musical level.  It is perhaps due to Rollins' influence on the record that the songs have more bite and more of a "live" feel to them, and yet one can also make the case that the group had simply matured and honed their skills to the point where nothing short of an exceptional musical performance was possible.  Regardless of the reasoning, after hearing Deep, one cannot deny just how fantastic a record it is, and it is a large wonder why the album did not receive more of a push, as it represents everything that there is to love about honest rock and roll music.  The way in which the band is able to balance the sounds of blues, funk, and even heavy metal into a glorious rock force is far beyond that of nearly all of their musical peers, and throughout the album, the extraordinary talents of each of the band members has a time to shine.  Though each song on the album is fantastic, Mother Superior manages to sum up everything that makes their sound so captivating, along with making an anthem for those true music devotees within their phenomenal 1998 song, "D.T.M.M.Y.F.G.?"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24: Reflection Eternal, "Good Mourning"

Artist: Reflection Eternal
Song: "Good Mourning"
Album: Train Of Thought
Year: 2000

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Though there are a number of trends and tendencies within music that play important roles in the overall progression of sound and style, there may be no more significant a word than "balance."  Whether it is finding the "middle ground" between a number of instruments or understanding how to offset different influences, it is in the greatest songs in history where one finds the true masters of balance.  However, one can also see how this plays on a larger scale, with a variety of sounds needed to keep the dominant trend in check.  The importance of this idea was perhaps never more clear than when "gangsta rap" began to take an ugly turn into copycat songs in the latter half of the 1990's.  With countless emcees seemingly to want nothing more than a quick rise to the top by mimicking any popular sound, it was the authentic artists occupying the "underground" of hip-hop that would ultimately save the genre.  Among these champions of original thought and sound, there was perhaps none more important than Talib Kweli, and one can find him in top form with his short lived project, Reflection Eternal.  The duo's 2000 release, Train Of Thought, is an absolute hip-hop classic, providing some of the most exciting musical arrangements behind Kweli's mind-blowing rhymes.  With each song on the album standing today as "required listening" for all hip-hop fans, it is the scathing, yet smooth "Good Mourning" that epitomizes the brilliance that is Reflection Eternal.

Released in an era that put a massive emphasis on almost annoyingly heavy bass, DJ Hi-Tek absolutely destroys nearly all of his peers with the composition he creates on "Good Mourning," and the mood the song carries makes it truly unforgettable.  Though the samples he uses are a bit difficult to pin down, once one realizes the sources of part of the song, the word balance arises again, and one cannot help but appreciate the fusion he presents.  The easier piece to pick out is the portion of Wu-Tang Clan's classic, "C.R.E.A.M.," and the other larger sample comes from Hugo Montenegro's "Dizzy."  The way in which Hi-Tek mixes these two pieces in with the stark, almost spaced-out mood is absolutely fantastic, and there are few songs of any genre that have been able to provide a similar feeling.  The way in which the keys lightly dance across the beat, providing an ideal contrast to the constant tone in the background manages to give "Good Mourning" an "old school" feel whilst retaining an unquestionably modern and hip feel.  Yet the title comes into play in the fact that one can feel a uniquely somber tone to the song, and isolating the music alone, there is a feeling that is almost that of a lament.  Requiring very little bass, Hi-Tek proves that regardless of trends, true musical craftsmanship will always have impact, and it is the brilliant arrangement he presents that helps to make "Good Mourning" such an unforgettable musical experience.

Standing as the ideal balance to the music, one can make the case that even more than a decade later, Talib Kweli's performance on "Good Mourning" still ranks as one of his finest musical moments.  Bringing a distinctive, clear, and unrelenting sound to the track, Kweli makes a conscious effort throughout the song to ensure that no word is lost, helping to deliver the maximum impact of his words.  Furthermore, unlike many of his peers, Kweli's vocals never seem forced or artificial, and the way in which his rhymes flow from him is a testament to the pure talent within, placing him into the most elite group of emcees in history.  Further distancing himself from his peers, one can easily sense that every word he says is as vital as the next, and there is a clear feeling of "teaching" occurring throughout the song, representing a critical aspect of hip-hop that seemed to be getting lost at the time.  On "Good Mourning," Kweli turns the pen on many of these emcees, bringing their talents and motives into question in brilliance fashion.  There is nothing subtle when he rhymes, "...some players is mad at us for just doing our music out of love, some underground heads is hating 'cause we have fun at clubs..."  Later in the song, Kweli destroys another group of emcees when he pulls the quote, "...just because no one can understand how you speak, don't necessaraily mean that what you be saying is deep..."  It is the way in which Talib Kweli unapologetically attacks the ignorance and inauthentic feel of much of hip-hop that makes "Good Mourning" so amazing, and yet it is almost tragic to consider that more than a decade later, a majority of the issues are still overly-present within the genre.

Though many emcees have taken shots at the mindless, ignorant trends that dominate much of commercially successful hip-hop, one can easily argue that Reflection Eternal's "Good Mourning" stands high atop the list for a number of reasons.  The way in which Talib Kweli's vocals seem to clash with the mellow, reflective sounds from DJ Hi-Tek enables the song of occupy a number of different places within hip-hop, giving the song a reach and appeal which few are able to attain.  Quickly proving to be one of the most poetic and yet aggressive emcees, Kweli is on fire from the moment that Train Of Thought begins, and he somehow manages to get better and better with each track.  As a pair, Kweli and Hi-Tek work the entire gamut of sounds and styles, and it is in this diversity in arrangement that the group showed their ability to one-up any who might try to test their talents.  Though this pairing would ultimately lead to the formation of the equally brilliant group, Black Star, the album easily stands on its own as one of the finest moments in all of hip-hop history.  The way in which Kweli spins his words is simultaneously beautiful and stunning, and he finishes off all of the "fake" rappers in the industry with the line, " was living for yourself so you could never be a martyr..."  Bringing words and images to hip-hop that were far beyond the norm of the time, along with fresh and original musical arrangements, Reflection Eternal breathed life into a tragically stale world of hip-hop, and everything that makes the group so revered can be experienced within their phenomenal 2000 song, "Good Mourning."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23: Leadbelly, "Goodnight Irene"

Artist: Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter
Song: "Goodnight Irene"
Album: multiple recordings
Year: various, first in 1934

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If one goes far back enough in the history of music, the wide lines of all genres eventually meet and narrow down to single individuals.  It is these elite few musicians who were the true pioneers of music, and without whom, one can argue, music would never have progressed.  The names of these giants of music history demand the utmost respect, and when one traces the lines of folk and blues, they lead to one voice, one man, and one name: Leadbelly.  Without question, Huddie Ledbetter remains one of the most influential figures in all of music history, and even nearly a century after his recordings, he is still referenced and covered in the modern music scene.  Furthermore, when it comes to the term "tragic beauty" within music, there is simply no other artist that better personifies this idea, and there were few artists that "lived" the blues more authentically than Leadbelly.  Whether it was the time he spent in jail or the fact that he passed away before ever getting to fully understand just how much impact he had on the world of music, there is a feeling of proximity within his singing that makes his songs some of the most moving and truly heartbreaking sounds to ever be recorded.  Though a number of his songs have become standards of recorded music, there is no song that has been re-recorded as many times, or another song that better represents everything that makes Leadbelly the icon that he is, than one can find in his legendary song, "Goodnight Irene."

In reality, there are a number of different recordings of Leadbelly singing "Goodnight Irene," and some of them also feature slight changes in the name.  Whether it is listed simply as "Irene" or "Irene, Goodnight," the lyrics and music stay nearly identical.  Perhaps the best known versions of the song was the take from when Leadbelly was in Angola State Prison, as well as the version he recorded shortly after his release.  On both of these takes, it was fellow legend, Alan Lomax who handled the recording, with the former becoming part of the Library Of Congress archival recordings.  The simplicity of Leadbelly's sound has a stark charm to it, and it is on "Goodnight Irene" where one can hear just how closely tied folk and blues were at their start.  In many ways, it is the sound found here where one can make the case that the blues are nothing more than a more somber, slightly more structured version of folk music.  Within the lone guitar of Leadbelly's recording, one is instantly transported back in time, and you can almost feel the prison walls via the solitary, cold echo from Leadbelly's playing.  The low, almost lulling strum of his guitar has a charm to it that must be experienced to be understood, and one would be hard pressed to find a more emotive instrumental performance than that which can be heard on Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene."

However, while his guitar playing is moving in a completely unique manner, it is his voice which be exemplifies the idea of "tragic beauty," and once one hears Leadbelly's sound on "Goodnight Irene," it cannot be forgotten.  At points on the song, it sounds like little more than a pained, distressed wailing, and it is in these moments where Leadbelly's singing seems to push into something beyond "just singing."  The sorrow within his voice never lets up, and one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the level of true sadness and despair that one can feel within his performance.  This tone is reinforced by the simple, yet powerful lyrics by Leadbelly, and it once again proves that straightforward, honest words will always have more impact than clever implications.  While there are a handful of verses that appear on some recordings of "Goodnight Irene" and not others, one cannot help but be moved when Leadbelly moans, "...I love Irene, God knows I do, I'll love her till the seas run dry... but if Irene should turn me down, I'd take the morphine and die..."  Truth be told, though many have tried, one can easily argue that it is Leadbelly's recording of "Goodnight Irene" that stands as the saddest song ever recorded, and it is without question the epitome of a song that must be experienced firsthand for the level of emotion to be properly appreciated.

Any way in which one attempts to argue the case, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests that Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter was the most influential musical artist of the past century.  Whether it is in the fact that his songs remain as poignant and uniquely beautiful all these decades later, or the way in which one can trace nearly every artist since back to his music, it is almost unfathomable to consider that he remains somewhat a "cult" figure in the overall history of music.  Within his unparalleled recorded catalog, there are few songs that better represent his sound or the true spirit of American music than one finds in "Goodnight Irene," and over the years, it has been covered hundreds of times, from artists ranging from Tom Waits to The Weavers to Frank Sinatra.  To have such a wide-ranged and long lasting impact in itself is a testament to the simple brilliance that one can find in nearly all of Leadbelly's recordings, and the fact that he was able to achieve such heights so long before decent recording equipment was available only adds to his legend.  Standing as one of the few early performers that was a direct link to the traditions and roots of folk music, one can argue that his songs straddle the line between folk and blues, therefore making him one of the few performers to which quite literally all music can be traced.  Though every one of his recordings is absolutely essential to the development of music, there is perhaps no other song in history that stands as important to the progression of popular music, nor a song that is as perfectly sorrowful as one can find in Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's iconic recording, "Goodnight Irene."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22: The Raconteurs, "Salute Your Solution"

Artist: The Raconteurs
Song: "Salute Your Solution"
Album: Consolers Of The Lonely
Year: 2008

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In a generation of music that is at best, consistently mediocre, it is difficult to find an individual or band that regularly bucks this trend, offering hope that "real" music has not faded into obscurity.  Perhaps due to the availability of enough technology to completely compensate for a lack of talent, bands that use raw talent and years of dedication have becoming increasingly rare.  Thankfully, there remain a few lone musicians that are dedicated to keeping such causes alive, and one can easily make the case that if the current generation needed a "spokesman" for this style of performance, it likely lives within the exceptional talents of Jack White.  For well over a decade, Jack White has been rewriting what is possible within the current music scene, though many rightfully argue that it was his best known band, The White Stripes, that restricted his talents the most.  In early 2006, White began to make his massive amount of musical talent known, when he gave his first release from his side project, The Raconteurs.  Taking the lo-fi sound from The White Stripes, yet finding a way to inject more blues and rock into it, the sound of The Raconteurs was impossible to ignore, and the bands' second release, 2008's Consolers Of The Lonely, easily stands as one of the finest albums of the entire decade.  Filled with tons of attitude and unforgettable hooks, everything that makes The Raconteurs such a brilliant musical force can be experienced in their phenomenal 2008 single, "Salute Your Solution."

The moment that "Salute Your Solution" begins, not only can the presence of the band be felt, but one can easily argue that the heavy opening riff would have easily fit in during the "golden age" of hard rock.  The lead guitar riff, played by Brendan Benson and Jack White, seems to pulse across the song, giving it a looming, yet strangely welcoming feel.  The riff has so much personality that one can also make the case that it was this sound that instantly gave (and continues to give) a refreshing reminder that "real" rock music is not an idea of the past.  With bassist Jack Lawrence adding a fantastic thump underneath the guitars, "Salute Your Solution" quickly encompasses everything that is necessary for an all out rock anthem, and it is much the reason that once heard, the song is impossible to forget.  During the verses of the song, Lawrence's bass seems almost at odds with the vocals, as the two seem to push the others' energy level higher and higher.  Adding in the final piece to the sonic assault, drummer Patrick Keeler works the cymbals into a frenzy, helping to keep the overall mood of the song right on the edge of chaos, and it is this feeling that makes "Salute Your Solution" a truly exciting musical experience.  When the song moves into its "break down" section, the deep groove that The Raconteurs have created becomes quickly apparent, and it is the bands' ability to switch tempos so seamlessly, along with creating the amazing mood on the song that makes "Salute Your Solution" such a superb musical achievement.

Along with sharing guitar parts on the song, Jack White and Brendan Benson also combine their talents for the vocals on "Salute Your Solution."  While White's unmistakable voice had been heard many times before, there is an energy and excitement found here that is somehow different from all of his previous work.  It is perhaps the fact that he is completely free of restrictions on "Salute Your Solution" that brought out this sound, yet regardless of what the cause may have been, his vocal work here is without question one of the finest moments of his career.  The way in which his voice blends in unique perfection with that of Benson is one of the keys to the overall sound of The Raconteurs, and the second vocal sound adds another fantastic layer to the complete sonic picture.  Yet along with the perfectly placed music and vocals, one cannot overlook the exceptional lyrical work by the White-Benson team.  Much in the same spirit as the music and vocals, the lyrics hold nothing back, and "Salute Your Solution" contains some of the most hard hitting, unforgiving lyrics of the entire decade.  Though there are a number of fantastic lyrical moments on the song, one cannot help but smirk at lines like, "...and I got what I got all despite you, and I get what I get just to spite you..."  If there was ever a universally true lyric, this is certainly it, and this final part is what helps "Salute Your Solution" to become an absolutely classic piece of music history.

After hearing "Salute Your Solution," as well as the rest of the Consolers Of The Lonely album, one can quickly and easily understand why the argument was made that The White Stripes heavily restricted the talents of Jack White.  While that band certain has their place, and The Raconteurs certainly may have never happened without their previous existence, it is no surprise that in the end, The Raconteurs seem to be the band that has "survived."  The combination of all of the exceptionally talented musicians in the band, along with a clear sense of musical freedom makes for the ideal combination of sound and attitude, and the group stands as a reminder that there is still hope for "real" rock music, even in an era of overly-artificial songs.  Furthermore, along with the hard rock attitude of "Salute Your Solution," it somehow manages to retain an undeniable pop appeal, and the song was able to cross over into a number of different audiences.  There is even a strange feeling of defiance within the entire album, as if the band is almost daring others to follow their path of organic musical creation.  This is reinforced by the albums' cover, where the group are depicted as "old timey" minstrels, and this can be seen as a not-so-subtle nod that they take pride in reviving the "real" rock sound.  Regardless of their intent or reasoning, there is simply no getting past the fact that at the end of the day, The Raconteurs stand as perhaps the finest hard rock act of the current music scene, and they can be heard in top form on their magnificent 2008 single, "Salute Your Solution."

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #60"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself.

Tracklist (all links below are to MY review of that band, song, or album) :
1. The Blasters, "Dark Night"  From Dusk Till Dawn Soundtrack
2. David Byrne, "Glass, Concrete, and Stone"  Grown Backwards
3. The Clash, "Four Horsemen"  London Calling
4. Portishead, "It Could Be Sweet"  Dummy
5. Queen, "Stone Cold Crazy"  Sheer Heart Attack
6. Tom Petty, "Turn This Car Around"  Highway Companion
7. Desmond Dekker And The Aces, "Bongo Cal"  Trojan Rocksteady Box Set
8. The Buzzcocks, "Fiction Romance"  Another Music In A Different Kitchen
9. The Rondelles, "Magazine"  Fiction Romance, Fast Machines
10. Television, "Marquee MoonMarquee Moon
11. The Doors, "Gloria"  In Concert
12. Smashing Pumpkins, "Lily (My One And Only)"  Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
13. Masshysteri, "Liv Och Död"  Vár Del Av Stan
14. The Germs, "What We Do Is Secret"  G.I.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 20: Mötley Crüe, "Dr. Feelgood"

Artist: Mötley Crüe
Song: "Dr. Feelgood"
Album: Dr. Feelgood
Year: 1989

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While an overwhelming majority of the so-called "hair metal" bands were laughable, if not embarrassing, there were a few bright spots that made a case for the overall significance of the movement.  It was the way in which the bands of this style pushed the idea of self-indulgence to the limit, whilst also striving for an image that seemed to starkly contrast the idea of machismo and being tough that often makes the songs of this time period difficult to take seriously.  However, the small number of bands that were able to somehow play with enough power and talent to overshadow these themes remain legends to this day, and one cannot deny the overall importance of one of Los Angeles, California's most notorious bands, Mötley Crüe.  Certainly making a strong case as the "Kings" of over-indulgence, the band were able to combine the dark, almost disturbing presence that one can link all the way back to Alice Cooper, with a metal-based blues that has its roots in groups like Motörhead and The New York Dolls.  Yet after looking at the entire "hair metal" movement as a whole, the one aspect that sets Mötley Crüe so far apart from their peers is simply the level of talent within the band, and their overall superiority can be heard best in their monumental 1989 album, Dr. Feelgood.  Filled with high energy songs that work across the stylistic spectrum, the band made no apologies for the decadence within their music, and though the may not be artistically mind-blowing, the songs remain some of the most unforgettable of the decade.  Though the album boasts a number of hit singles, few better define the band than one can find within Mötley Crüe's dark classic, "Dr. Feelgood."

The moment that "Dr. Feelgood" begins, it sets itself apart from the rest of the "hair metal" sound, as it is clearly going to be a far more rough and dark song, largely contrasting the overly fun feel that other such bands presented on a regular basis.  The crushing guitar riff from Mick Mars is without question one of the finest of his career, and it is songs such as this that one again prove the power of simplicity within a musical arrangement.  The addition of the bass of Nikki Sixx enables the riff to sound even larger and more intimidating, and the combination of the two gives "Dr. Feelgood" a presence and pulse that is unlike anything else from the era.  However, there is little question that the true power of the song comes from the amazingly aggressive drum work of the great Tommy Lee, and as the song progresses, one is left to wonder how his kit stayed together due to the force with which he plays.  The drumming is far more forward in the mix than with most songs, but it in no way compromises the sound of the song, and enables "Dr. Feelgood" to appear as more unsettling, if not angry than other songs.  Later in the song, Mars takes a few different solos, and they manage to retain the overall mood of the song, never succumbing to the self-indulgent trends of the genre from which they came.  It is this clear separation from their peers that stands as the main reason Mötley Crüe remain in position that they do to this day, and it was songs like "Dr. Feelgood" that helped to make this distinction most clear.

In a similar way to the musical arrangement and sound from the band, singer Vince Neil also uses "Dr. Feelgood" to prove why he was not to be grouped along with the other "hair metal" frontmen.  The growl he brings to the verses on "Dr. Feelgood" add in a perfect amount of mood, and it is within his performance that the overall attitude of the song comes through best.  Though on other songs, Neil had shown his ability to work the entire vocal scale, on this track, he stays within a very strict area, and it works perfectly, and it is perhaps this aspect that makes this a song that once heard, cannot be forgotten.  Furthermore, the subject within "Dr. Feelgood" had been sightly alluded to by other bands, but Mötley Crüe takes the dark, dangerous lifestyle head-on, and it is these two moods that pushed the song into legendary status.  The song follows the story of a "second hand hood" who gets deeply involved in drug dealing, and one can easily argue that bands such as Mötley Crüe likely had more than enough interaction with such people.  The way in which Neil personifies this personality via both the lyrics as well as the attitude within his voice is nothing short of perfect, and yet the song shows its darker edge in the fact that there is never a moment on the song where the band presents the lifestyle as "bad" or "wrong."  Furthermore, the song never feels cliché or overdone, and the fact that Vince Neil was able to find such perfect balance within both the lyrics and singing is a testament to why "Dr. Feelgood" was "the" song that separated Mötley Crüe from nearly all of their peers.

It is songs like "Dr. Feelgood" that show the close tie that the genre had to "real" heavy metal, and yet a majority of other bands seemed to try and leave these roots in the past.  In the case of Mötley Crüe, one can argue that they not only knew the influences of their music, but attempted to show them off whenever possible.  In the case of "Dr. Feelgood," one can even argue a slight presence of blues within the song, and yet the unapologetic, dangerous attitude that the band presents in many ways pushes them into a category all their own.  Even more than twenty years after it was first released, "Dr. Feelgood" still manages to somehow keep itself separated from the rest of the "hair metal" bands, and this is largely due to the overall level of talent within the band, as well as the darker, more in-your-face feel to the song.  The guitar work from Mars and Sixx is still just as powerful as ever, and one can argue that it still carries more impact and presence than nearly anything being recorded in the current music scene.  Furthermore, one cannot say enough about the drumming of Tommy Lee, and it is performances like one finds here that enabled him to rise to the legendary status that he retains to this day.  Capped off by Vince Neil's perfect performance, it does not take long to understand why Mötley Crüe stand apart from nearly all of their peers, and everything that made them such legendary figured of hard rock and heavy metal can be experienced in their unforgettable 1989 hit, "Dr. Feelgood."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19: Goldfrapp, "Lovely Head"

Artist: Goldfrapp
Song: "Lovely Head"
Album: Felt Mountain
Year: 2000

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Though it rarely makes it anywhere near the so-called "mainstream" public, when an artist finds a way to mix in truly artful sounds and styles into their music, the results often completely defy description.  While it is certainly open to interpretation as to "how much" of the art-side of things are necessary to make it "more than just music," there are a few artists where the way in which they create their music is so far beyond "just music" that it cannot be denied.  It is this exact idea that can be heard in the vast, magnificent musical landscapes and vocal sounds of the unparalleled English duo, Goldfrapp, and more than a decade into their career, their sound still knows no equal.  The pairing of producer and multi-instrumentalist Will Gregory with the Earth-shaking, captivating voice of Allison Goldfrapp has proven to be one of the most innovative and almost magical pairings in history, and one can argue that the two were at their finest when they created their 2000 masterpiece of a debut, Felt Mountain.  Deploying far reaching, complex musical arrangements, alongside the soaring voice of Goldfrapp herself, the record stands as one of the most uniquely brilliant efforts of the entire decade, and the album manages to rise above a description of ambient or electronica.  Every song on Felt Mountain is a stunning musical journey, yet it is the groups' first single, 2000's "Lovely Head" that provides the ideal summary of everything that makes Goldfrapp such a phenomenal talent.

It is songs such as "Lovely Head" that make it difficult to understand why most electronic-based artists are written off by the mass media has having a lesser talent than those that play physical instruments.  Within moments of hearing this song, it is clear that Will Greogry and Allison Goldfrapp's abilities to create unforgettable, completely enthralling sonic landscapes is second to none, and this mood persists throughout the entire album.  The way in which the pair mix together a wide range of sound effects into the overall arrangement is truly beautiful, and it is within "Lovely Head" that one can experience the unique way in which the duo create songs that work just as perfectly in a science-fiction film as they do as the soundtrack to an evening at home.  The music has an exceptionally seductive swing to it, and the way in which the keyboards lightly dance behind the vocals before rising in volume to almost play a duet to the vocals is perhaps the most alluring aspect of the song.  Yet one can hear elements of everything from soul to blues within the arrangement, and it is this diverse blending of sounds that enables "Lovely Head" to rise far beyond "just electornica."  Furthermore, there is an intensity within the music that works against the fundamentals of most "ambient" songs, and yet one cannot deny the similar nature that is shared.  It is the way in which the song is able to fit into so many categories, yet simultaneously none at all that makes "Lovely Head" so alluring, and it is this fact that proves just how much talent lives within the team of Gregory and Goldfrapp.

However, while one cannot overlook just how amazingly perfect the musical arrangement is on "Lovely Head," there is simply nothing that can overshadow the sensational vocal talents of Allison Goldfrapp.  Without question possessing one of the most powerfully and unique voices of her generation, it is songs like "Lovely Head" that make it obvious that she knows no limits in any sense of the word, as her performance is nothing short of stunning.  Whether it is the deep, slinky sounds that she brings to the verses or the unrestrained, magnificent way in which her voice soars across the bridge, one cannot help but be awed by the combination of beauty and raw power within her singing.  Furthermore, Goldfrapp brings an almost overwhelming amount of emotion to each line that she sings, and it is this raw honesty that helps to further mesmerize the listener.  Adding to the unique charm of "Lovely Head," the lyrics are, much like the vocals, intimate in their own way, and they become the ideal final touch to the song.  Though it can be interpreted in a few different ways, there is an undeniable sense of beautiful innocence and deep affection that can be felt when Goldfrapp opens the song with the lines, " starts in my belly, then up to my heart, into my mouth I can't keep it shut..."  Yet even with these sentiments and her amazing voice, there is an odd sense of coldness or disconnect one can feel within Goldfrapp's singing, and it is this juxtaposition that enables "Lovely Head" to become an act of musical genius that is completely beyond description.

Taking all of these ideas into account, there is one final aspect of "Lovely Head" that in many ways sums up the talents of the duo, and this can be found within one of the sounds that is often perceived as something which it is not.  While most assume that the unique tone and progression that follows Goldfrapp's singing on the verses is that of a theremin, it is in fact, her own voice, being sent through a variety of voice modulators.  The fact that Gregory and she have found a way to turn a single sound into something so wonderfully different is a testament not only to their talents "behind the boards," but also to the high level of creativity that lives within both of them.  In its entirety, Felt Mountain is a musical journey unlike any other in music history, as it brings to mind so many different styles and moods, yet the groups' unique personality is never lost.  Whether they are creating a heart-racing, almost overwhelming musical work, or a soft, delicate composition, the pairing of Will Gregory and Allison Goldfrapp clearly know no limits, and this amazing amount of musical diversity is perhaps the key reason why each of their records is so fantastic.  However, even with this rare level of consistency, one can argue that it is their first album that stands as their finest work, as the pair delve deep into each song, creating moods that truly swallow the listener, creating entire worlds all around them.  The way in which Allison Goldfrapp's voice soars across the track, working in perfect compliment to the complex, enchanting sounds is absolutely unlike anything else in music history, and it is much the reason that one cannot find any sort of equal to Goldfrapp's brilliant 2000 single, "Lovely Head."

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18: Supertramp, "The Logical Song"

Artist: Supertramp
Song: "The Logical Song"
Album: Breakfast In America
Year: 1979

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Though it is often difficult to see the difference, often times, the brilliance of a song can be overshadowed by a pop sensibility, or even by the time period in which the song is released.  That is to say, when one releases a song that fits in perfectly with the era, it can be written off as a product of that time, and the importance the song has to the overall history can be missed.  It is due to this reason that among a number of bands, the music being made as the 1970's came to a close was in general eclipsed by the death of disco and the explosion of the punk sound.  However, it was the transitional music of this time period that provided some of the most unique and timeless songs in history, and few groups personified this idea as perfectly as Supertramp.  Though they had already been making their own blend of rock, jazz, and dance music for the better part of a decade, there was nothing that could have prepared the world for the release of their monumental 1979 album, Breakfast In America.  The album itself is a clear separation from nearly all of their previous work, as the songs are all far more pop-oriented than before, and yet their unique approach to the musical arrangements remains in intact, providing for some of the most distinctive sounds in music history.  Though each track has its own personality, there is no question that one can find Supertramp in their finest moment within the unmistakable 1979 single, "The Logical Song."

While within a modern context, the sound may seem slightly dated, when one takes a step back from "The Logical Song," there is almost no way to describe the sounds at play.  As the song opens, the combination of organ and castanet instantly gives the song a sound and mood like nothing else in history, and it is within this aspect of the music that one can quickly understand why it is almost impossible to categorize this band.  The way in which Roger Hodgson gets such a unique sound out of his Wurlitzer organ places the song in a  group all its own, and the castanets from Bob Siebenberg presents a brilliant contrast.  As layers are added by more keyboards from Rick Davies and bassist Dougie Thomson, "The Logical Song" begins to take on a sound that is not quite disco, yet danceable; whilst simultaneously being able to hold its own within those that played so-called "arena rock."  This odd ability to work within both styles at once is a truly unique quality, and it is the key to making it impossible to even remotely place Supertramp into any single style of music.  However, while the band does play with fantastic energy, there is no getting past the highlight of the song: the saxophone solos from John Helliwell.  During the two "breakdown" segments, he burns across the track, pushing the mood and impact to an unprecedented level, and it is in his playing that one can derive sounds of jazz and soul, to combine with the already complex arrangement that defines "The Logical Song."

Yet while the music on "The Logical Song" is beyond a term like "one of a kind," the vocals and lyrics from Roger Hodgson are also worthy of being placed into a category all their own.  Whether it is due to the sound of his voice, or the almost odd nature in how he sings, there are few vocalists as distinctive, and it is this aspect that makes "The Logical Song" truly unforgettable.  Mostly working in the upper vocal registers, his style is one of the few that defies any sort of description and must be experienced firsthand to be properly understood.  Yet it is within his singing that the uniquely danceable sound of "The Logical Song" becomes most apparent, as the rhythm in his delivery is akin to the disco sound, yet simultaneously completely uncommon.  Furthermore, Hodgson deploys one of his finest lyrics on "The Logical Song," and one can argue that it knows few peers, if any, when it comes to songs concerning the disillusionment that comes with age.  As the song progresses, the protagonist can be heard from his idealistic childhood, and then slowly seeing the realities of life, and the strangely tragic nature of the song is slightly veiled behind the soaring musical arrangement and vocals.  Though each line in the song is fantastic, and has a universal feel to it, few are as tragically beautiful as when Hodgson sings, "...but at night, when all the world's asleep, the questions run so deep, for such a simple man..."  In both what he sings as well as how he sings it, "The Logical Song" is finished off in grand fashion by the phenomenal vocal performance given by Roger Hodgson.

Truth be told, upon its release, "The Logical Song" found commercial success, yet quickly gained a rather negative reputation.  Perhaps due to the completely indescribable sound of Hodgson's voice, perhaps due to the frustration some may have found in trying to categorize the song, or even perhaps due to the rather somber nature of the lyrics, it is amazing to consider that the song went to the top of the charts, even with this negative hype surrounding.  This in many ways is the final piece one needs in understanding just what an amazingly unique song lives within "The Logical Song," and it is powered by the fact that there is simply no way to define the type of music which the band is playing.  Combining synthesizers, horns, and various percussion in a manner which has never been duplicated, "The Logical Song" can fit into a number of different genres, while at the same time standing completely on its own.  There is an almost nervous, unsettling mood to the song that also stands as unique, and it is perhaps due to the fact that the song is so original in every way that it has retained such a following over the decades.  It seems that every few years, a cover of the song is released, and yet none of them even come close to the original recording.  Succeeding in proving that there is room in pop music for endless artistic creativity, there has simply never been another song that even comes close to the overall magnificence that one can experience within Supertramp's unforgettable 1979 single, "The Logical Song."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 17: The Germs, "Lexicon Devil"

Artist: The Germs
Song: "Lexicon Devil"
Album: G.I.
Year: 1979

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Within the world of punk rock, it is almost always the simplistic musical form that gives the song its identity, and yet one can make the case than when any aspect of the music works against this idea, it is often in these situations that the true "punk classics" can be found.  While the all-out attack and attitude of punk must be present, over the decades it has been proven that everything from extended solos to non-traditional instrumentation can be properly worked into the punk rock formula.  However, as the 1970's came to a close, punk was on display in its most pure and basic form, and few groups embodied the true anarchic spirit of the style in a similar way to the music one finds in the short lived, but unquestionably legendary band, The Germs.  Representing the almost cliché idea of "live fast, die young" in a manner which remains unmatched, the groups' only LP released when they were still together, 1979's G.I., remains one of the greatest punk albums in history, and few records depict the entire L.A. punk scene as perfectly.  Clearly holding absolutely nothing back, G.I. is unsettling in a completely unique manner, and yet there is an order within the seemingly chaotic sound that is the key to the brilliance that "is" The Germs.  With every track on the album standing as a punk classic, few songs better capture everything that makes The Germs so legendary than one can experience in their unparalleled 1979 song, "Lexicon Devil."

In the true spirit of punk rock, "Lexicon Devil" wastes absolutely no time, quickly setting the mood and pace, as the song opens with a grinding guitar riff from the great Pat Smear.  His sound doubles, building the intensity, and though it only lasts a number of seconds before the rest of the band joins in, the enevry he creates within that span enables the song to have a unique perosnality before the lyrics even begin.  After this piece, the superb rhythm section of bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Don Bolles join, and the combined sound of these three is truly unrivaled.  Never letting the energy or tempo up for even a moment, the bass whips around the song, taking a far more forward place in the mix than nearly anything else being recorded at the time.  This sound helps the song to gain a unique sense of intensity and it also gives "Lexicon Devil" an attack unlike anything else in punk history.  Bolles' drumming is equally impressive, as few songs represent the idea of a performer attempting to destroy their kit as one finds here.  Much like the guitar playing, there is a nervous, almost manic feel to Bolles' playing, and it is this aspect that gives the song much of its personality.  The way in which the trio build and release the tension throughout the song is a testament to their talents, and looking back on their previous EP efforts, this recording of "Lexicon Devil" perfectly displays just how much they have grown as musicians.

However, while one cannot overlook the phenomenal musical arrangement on "Lexicon Devil," there is little question that the focus of the entire song is on the vocal work of the late, great Darby Crash.  Without question, Crash personified the "live fast, die young" idea, as well as the almost vicious, yet cathartic style of punk rock.  Though his recorded career was tragically short, on the G.I. version of "Lexicon Devil," one can hear how his delivery has matured from a chaotic groaning into a pointed, focused ranting attack.  Yet there is something uniquely intriguing, if not mesmerizing within Crash's voice, and one simply cannot ignore his performance.  It is in this fact that one can delve deeper into the lyrics of the song, and in this, one can find the true genius of Darby Crash, as there was no other vocalist that attempted to squeeze and many words into a punk song as one can find on "Lexicon Devil."  The pace at which he sings is almost dizzying, and yet one can feel that each word had a massive amount of importance, and was not to be overlooked.  Standing as a rant against the world as a whole, few lyrics hit as hard as when Crash delivers the lines, "...I'll get silver guns to drip old blood, let's give this established joke a shove, we're gonna wreak havoc on the rancid mill, I'm serachin' for something even if I'm killed..."  There is never a question of the authenticity in Crash's vocals, and it is this fact, combined with his intensity, that makes "Lexicon Devil" such a stunning recording.

Truth be told, there are actually two "formal" recordings of "Lexicon Devil" within the catalog of The Germs, the first appearing on the 1978 EP of the same name.  This early version features a slightly different lineup, and the "bite" found on the later recording is clearly not present.  Though the recording dates were only months apart, one can hear a massive difference within the bands' sound, and it is this fact that leaves one to wonder "what could have been" had the band not imploded shortly after the release of G.I., with Crash taking his own life a few months later.  Thankfully, G.I. remains a breathtaking document of the absolutely unrivaled level of musical intensity that The Germs were able to create, and nearly every punk band that followed after them borrowed from their sound in some way.  In comparison, few bands were able to create music that was as confrontational, yet musically unique as one finds in the songs of The Germs, and Pat Smear would go on to play guitar with the likes of Nirvana and Foo Fighters among others.  Though this makes it more obvious, it helps to show just how closely linked the punk and hardcore sounds were with the so-called "grunge" bands, and one cannot ignore the catchy, yet intimidating riffs put forth on nearly every Germs song.  Bringing a sound and approach that was brilliantly unique at the time, there has simply never been another band quite like The Germs, and one can quickly understand why they remain such icons by hearing their peerless 1979 song, "Lexicon Devil."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16: Erykah Badu, "On & On"

Artist: Erykah Badu
Song: "On & On"
Album: Baduizm
Year: 1997

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In an era when music was quickly becoming overly artificial, the few artists that had “real” talent and made a point of making music their own way became all the more precious.  To bring a fresh, uncompromising sound was strangely a revolutionary idea, and this is much the reason for the decline of record sales as the 1990’s came to a close.  It is perhaps due to these musically grim circumstances that the achievements of some artists have been overplayed, and yet there is at least one performer that proved that even in an overly-digital age, the “old school” sounds could not only thrive, but overshadow the more modern music.  Among the handful of artists who personified this idea, there is none more accomplished or outright stunning than one finds within the music of Erykah Badu.  Bringing together elements of soul, funk, r&b, and hip-hop, her organic, emotional sound is able to reach fans of every style, and this is much the reason she remains such a highly respected artist across the globe.  Though her later records are not to be missed, it is her 1997 debut, Baduizm, that stands as her finest work, and the pure sonic bliss that can be found throughout the record makes it understandable why she found worldwide success so quickly.  Perfectly fusing together head bobbing beats with her absolutely beautiful voice, it is impossible not to be completely captivated by the entire record, and everything that makes her so wonderfully unique can be experienced within Erykah Badu’s monumental 1997 single, “On & On.”

The instant that “On & On” begins, it is instantly clear just how many styles and influences are going to be intermixed on the track, as the bouncing beat is as good as a hip-hop fan could want, and yet there is a smooth, almost sultry nod that gives the song a far wider appeal.  The way in which the jazzy, smoky piano plays against the knocking beat transports the listener into a dim nightclub, and yet the production team was able to create this mood without overdoing it.  On the bridge section, the looped sound effect somehow manages to fit perfectly, and it is in this aspect where one can see the ideal blending of old and new styles.  This, in many ways, defines everything that Erykah Badu seems to strive to achieve, finding balance in every sense of the word, and it is her unique approach found on “On & On” that eventually garnered a Grammy Award.  The way in which the various sounds soar across the track, yet the mellow, almost reflective mood is never lost, and it enables the song to become one of the finest "chill out" tracks ever recorded.  Yet at the same time, the arrangement almost seems sparse at places, allowing for the focus to remain on Badu's voice.  It was due to this distinctive combination of sounds and styles that the phrase "neo soul" was coined, and there are few better examples of its meaning than one finds on "On & On."

While the music on "On & On" is nothing short of captivating, it is the voice of Erykah Badu that leaves one completely stunned, and there has never been another performer that even came remotely close to the sound and style within her vocal delivery.  Whether she is singing a deeper, more reflective style, or letting her voice soar in an unrestrained manner, Badu is never anything short of perfect throughout the song, and one cannot help but compare her sound to the greatest soul and jazz singers from decades earlier.  Yet there is a sorrow and grit to the voice of Erykah Badu that separates her from all her peers, and itis in her singing that one can make a close tie to the blues.  Taken as a whole, few artists from any style of any era have been able to inject as much emotion into their music as one can experience on "On & On," and even those not familiar with jazz or soul cannot help but be completely drawn into the song.  This is largely due to the fact that along with her phenomenal vocal performance, the lyrics to the song are just as alluring, and they can be interpreted on a number of different levels.  Whether one is looking for brilliantly phrased, hip-hop style visuals, or smooth, introspective blues and jazz lyrics, there is something for everyone within the words to "On & On," and yet few lines are as memorable as when Badu sings, " rush into destruction 'cause you don't have nothing left, the Mothership can't save you so your ass is gon' get left..."

Without question, Erykah Badu remains one of the most impossible to define artists in all of music history.  Somewhat hip-hop, somewhat jazz, somewhat blues, she is perhaps the most truly unique performer of her generation.  The way in which she seamlessly blends together all of her influences into something that is a perfect balance of all these elements shows her understanding of musical structure, as well as her commitment to her own sound.  Bringing a musical arrangement that fuses together the best of blues, jazz, and soul, all inter-twined with a beat that fit perfectly within the hip-hop sound of the time, Badu served as a reminder that there was nothing better than truly unique and personal music.  This is perhaps the key to her sound, as one can clearly hear a proximity to every song, and there is also a sense of enjoyment that one can detect within Badu's singing.  The way in which she works all over the vocal spectrum in terms of style and note was beyond refreshing at the time, and more than a decade since its first release, her 1997 debut record still knows very few peers.  Though there had been a handful of artists who had already experimented with what would be termed "neo soul," it was Badu that truly put the sound on the map and gave it its finest definition.  Combining a wide range of influences with what stands as one of the most distinguished and truly beautiful voices in all of music history, one must experience firsthand the stunning sound on Erykah Badu's 1997 single, "On & On" to properly understand why she remains such a highly revered figured within the current music scene.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February 15: Junior Wells, "Snatch It Back And Hold It"

Artist: Junior Wells
Song: "Snatch It Back And Hold It"
Album: Hoodoo Man Blues
Year: 1965

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Across a number of genres, one can argue that “attitude is everything,” though it’s importance is not often fully realized, as most “attitude driven” sounds all fall into a similar style.  Yet when one is able to see a stark contrast within a single genre of music, one can fully appreciate the swagger than an artist brings to their sound.  When one thinks of terms like “swagger” and “attitude,” there is perhaps no better representation than one finds within blues legend, Junior Wells.  Completely personifying the idea of the “dangerous dude,” his stage presence was legendary, and this persona comes through clearly on his earliest, and finest records.  Having first learned from fellow legend, Little Junior Parker, Wells honed his talents within the Chicago blues scene of the 1950’s.  Quickly developing his down, distinctive sound, Wells truly revolutionized the place of the harmonica within blues music, and along with Little Walter, he stands as the most important blues artist to ever pick up the instrument.  Bringing a tone and mood to his compositions that highlighted the seedier, darker, if not more dangerous side of the blues, even today, Wells’ songs quickly transport the listener to a run-down bar in the middle of the city.  Without question, Wells can be heard in his finest form on his iconic 1965 classic, Hoodoo Man Blues, and it stands as one of the few records that succeeded in bringing the overall mood of a nightclub into the studio environment.  With every track on the album being an absolute classic, one can quickly understand just why Junior Wells is held in such high regard by hearing his masterful 1965 song, “Snatch It Back And Hold It.”

As “Snatch It Back And Hold It” begins, it may not even appear to most as a blues song; as in both its tempo and arrangement, it is certainly non-traditional.  The song is strangely upbeat, perhaps leaning more towards a soul sound than blues, and yet whatever one labels it, the instant groove cannot be denied.  The light, almost stuttered guitar quickly takes center stage, and this is of little surprise, as the performer was none other than Buddy Guy, being billed as “Friendly Chap” due to issues with his own recording contract.  Drummer Bill Warren reinforces this unique skip that the song possesses, as his playing is an amazing contrast of a light approach that packs a solid punch.  One can almost equate his performance to a jazz approach, and yet much like the guitar, it manages to somehow find its way into a blues sound.  However, while both Guy and Warren were already well known for their talents, perhaps the most significant presence on “Snatch It Back And Hold It” is that of bassist Jack Myers.  In the years that followed, Myers would be come one of Guy’s “go to” bass players, and it is this song that was his first known appearance on record.  The way in which the trio come together as the backing band is nothing short of stunning, as they all manage to find the balance between volume and mood, and the swing that they bring to the song makes “Snatch It Back And Hold It” one of the most unique blues tracks ever recorded.

However, while his backing band is nothing short of phenomenal, as soon as he enters the picture, there is no question that this is Junior Wells’ band.  Whether it is his singing or his harmonica, his presence overpowers the other players, and the amount of emotion he is able to convey is truly uncanny.  Even without any prior knowledge of Wells, the persona that he created for himself is instantly clear, as his voice has a seductive, yet slightly seedy, if not unpredictable tone.  Combined with his gritty growl and soaring vocals at some points, Wells’ singing is absolutely captivating, and listeners cannot help but be completely drawn into his sound on “Snatch It Back And Hold It.”  Strangely, one can see his swagger as perhaps going a bit overboard, as one can interpret the line, "...I'm not doing too bad baby, you know I ain't got no brand new bag..." as a bit of a shot at James Brown, who released that single earlier in 1965.  Yet one can also interpret this as him giving a not to the blues roots and perhaps arguing that he is simply moving the classic style forward.  Regardless of which way one reads his lyrics, perhaps the only thing that is more powerful than Junior Wells’ presence as a singer is his performance here on the harmonica.  Without question, it is moments such as this that quickly vaulted him to the status he retains to this day, as one can point to his work on “Snatch It Back And Hold It” as the transition of the instrument from blues into use in a more rock-based environment.

Simply put, there is not another recording in the entire history of music that even comes close to the overall impact of Junior Wells' "Snatch It Back And Hold It."  Whether it is due to the brilliant swagger in his singing, his stunning harmonica performance, or the superb playing of the legendary members of his backing band, there is not a note or feeling out of place anywhere on the song.  This can be seen as true throughout the entire Hoodoo Man Blues record, yet "Snatch It Back And Hold It" is clearly the strongest offering on the album.  This transition from blues into rock fit perfectly with the era, as so many genres were merging and while many felt this was ruining the "purity" of genres, it was albums like Hoodoo Man Blues that pushed music forward.  One cannot deny that one of the main reasons the album was so important was due to the "hands off" approach from producer and label owner Bob Koester, as he encouraged Wells to put no limits on his creativity.  After hearing only a few moments of "Snatch It Back And Hold It," it is clear that this idea worked perfectly, as one can hear many different sounds fusing together to form something that wasn't quite blues, nor jazz, nor rock; it was simply Junior Wells.  Truth be told, though many artists have attempted to capture a similar mood in their music, none were able to bring the feeling of a dim nightclub into the studio as perfectly as Junior Wells, and few songs convey this mood, along with a magnificent musical performance as one finds in his classic 1965 song, "Snatch It Back And Hold It."

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 14: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #59"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself.

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that band, song or album) :
1. Marvin Gaye w/Tammi Terrell, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"  Hitsville USA Box Set
2. Soccer Team, "Caviity Called Home"  "Volunteered" Civility & Professionalism
3. The 101'ers, "Keys To Your Heart"  Keys To Your Heart (7")
4. Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie, "Salt Peanuts"  Diz 'N Bird At Carnegie Hall
5. State Of Alert, "Girl Problems"  Dischord 1981: The Year In Seven Inches
6. Black Flag, "Police Story"  Damaged
7. Rollins Band, "Tearing"  The End Of Silence
8. William Shatner w/ Henry Rollins, "I Can't Get Behind ThatHas Been
9. The Cramps, "I'm Cramped"  Songs The Lord Taught Us
10. The Black Keys, "Stack Shot Billy"  Rubber Factory
11. Johnny Cash w/Nick Cave, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"  American IV: The Man Comes Around
12. Fats Waller, "Everybody Loves My Baby"  Ain't Misbehavin'
13. Bo Diddley, "Who Do You Love?"  Bo Diddley
14. The Mark Of Cain, "LMA"  Ill At Ease
15. Beck, "Bottle Of BluesMutations
16. Duke Ellington w/Louis Armstrong, "Solitude"  Duke Ellington & Louis Armstrong
17. Minor Threat, "Out Of Step"  Dischord 1981: The Year In Seven Inches

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February 13: Rollins Band, "Low Self Opinion"

Artist: Rollins Band
Song: "Low Self Opinion"
Album: The End Of Silence
Year: 1992

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Intensity is one of the most unique aspects in all of music, because while many believe they have it, few possess intensity in its most pure form.  Once one experiences raw, uninhibited intensity, those who do not measure up become quickly apparent, and the sound put forth by the true masters never loses its impact.  With this in mind, such an emotion often needs ample time to marinate and evolve into its most undiluted form, and one can track this occurrence through the career of Henry Rollins.  From his early days within the Washington, DC hardcore scene, to his rise as the frontman of Black Flag, one can hear the shift from wild angst and anger into a concentrated, fierce sound, and it is no surprise that after Black Flag called it quits, Rollins wasted no time in assembling a new group around him.  Appropriately dubbed Rollins Band, the group is the logical next step from the heavier sounds that one can hear in the waning days of Black Flag.  After releasing a handful of EP’s and LP’s and a few lineup changes, the group found their groove and the sheer force and brilliance that is Rollins Band can be heard on their exceptional 1992 release, The End Of Silence.  Bringing a sound that balances the majesty of metal, the ferocity of hardcore, and the intensity of punk all in a single sound, the album crossed into a number of different fan-bases, and in turn, the group garnered one of the most diverse followings of the era.  Though each song on the album is nothing short of deadly in its content, few songs from any point in Rollins’ career can compete with the energy and sound that one can experience within Rollins Band’s 1992 single, “Low Self Opinion.”

The essential key to the sound of Rollins Band is without question the screaming guitar work of Chris Haskett.  Providing a bite to the music that helps to become far more melodic than “just punk,” Haskett proves that there is a place for both soloing as well as attention to detail within the punk and hardcore styles of music.  It is this purposeful move to focus more on the overall musicality that sets Rollins Band aside from the rest of their peers, and countless bands took this formula in the years that followed.  Along with Haskett, “Low Self Opinion” provides a dark, yet heavy groove, courtesy of bassist Andrew Weiss.  It is this aspect that pushes the song along, and there are many points where the bass seems to take on an intimidating, almost stalking personality.  Roudning out the band was drummer Sim Cain, and the chemistry between his playing and that of Haskett is truly uncanny.  In a similar manner to the sound of the guitar, Cain is able to give the drumming a fierce, almost violent feel, yet it is a far cry from the “normal” sound of such playing.  The fact that he is able to convey such a mood in this way makes all other attempts seem overdone, and again, one cannot ignore the perfect balance between spirit and sound that can be experienced on “Low Self Opinion.”  Perhaps the most unique faced of “Low Self Opinion” is the way in which the musicians all come together with a single sound, and yet they each have a clear space on the song all to their own.  The attack of the band never relents, and this is much the reason the song remains such a classic of the alternative/hardcore scene.

However, even considering just how brilliant the musicians-strong are on “Low Self Opinion,” there is no getting past the fact that the soul of the song comes from Henry Rollins.  Unquestionably one of the most unique voices in the entire history of music, in both his vocal sound and approach, Rollins knows no equal.  The gruff, gritty, yet highly emotional delivery that he brings to every song brings together the best of so many of his predecessors, and one can easily argue that it was Rollins’ vocal style that influenced an entire generation of later performers.  Much like the music on “Low Self Opinion,” Rollins’ vocal track also has a distinct separation from the rest of the song, yet his incendiary, relentless vocal attack is almost unsettling.  It is this ability to deliver with such power and consistency that defined Rollins’ entire career as a frontman, and yet it was rarely as focused or compelling as one finds on “Low Self Opinion.”  Along with his delivery that simply cannot be ignored, Rollins is also one of the most insightful and blunt lyricists one can find, and it is on songs such as this that one can fully experience his  critical, yet uniquely introspective writing.  As was the case even back to his earliest recordings, Rollins often focuses on bettering oneself and refusing to settle for mediocrity.  When he delivers lines like, “…get yourself a break from self rejection, try some introspection, and you just might find…it’s not so bad and anyway, at the end of the day, all you have is yourself and your mind…” it is clear that the intent of his words go far beyond that of nearly any other punk or hardcore performer in history..  Combining his perfectly unsubtle lyrics with an unmistakable delivery style, one need look no further than “Low Self Opinion” to fully understand why Henry Rollins stands as such a highly revered figured in the overall history of recorded music.

Though many other bands were louder, and some were able to convey more anger and angst, there were very few group that were able to balance these ideals with superb musical performance in the same manner as one finds in the music of Rollins Band.  It is this balance that makes it difficult to label the bands’ sound, as they are not quite hardcore or punk, and perhaps the only fitting way to describe their music is to use the name of the band itself.  The name “Rollins Band” alone evokes a certain mood and tone, and it is in this fact that one can understand how the perceived intensity of other bands fails to measure up to the tone and mood found within nearly anything boasting Rollins’ name.  Furthermore, it was The End Of Silence that proved Rollins’ amazing abilities as both a vocalists and lyricist, and it was this record that stands as his finest post-Black Flag moment.  Though much of the intensity from that band can be heard within “Low Self Opinion,” the larger concentration on creating a more complex musical work only helps to raise that feeling, and one can see this as the culmination of all of Rollins’ previous work.  Having surrounded himself with a group of exceptionally talented musicians, one can sense how focused the entire band was at attempting to deliver the most destructive, yet musically sound product possible.  The group accomplishes this goal in grand fashion, and there is not another song in history that boasts a punch or tone that comes even remotely close to the musical perfection found on Rollins Band’s exceptional 1992 single, “Low Self Opinion.”