Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #109"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

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

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

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that artist, song, or album):
1. AC/DC, "Rock And Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"  Back In Black
2. Tom Waits, "New Coat Of Paint"  The Heart Of Saturday Night
3. The Clash, "King Of The Road (outtake)"  DOA
4. Dinosaur Jr, "I Don't Think So"  Without A Sound
5. Johnny Hartman, "Charade"  I Just Dropped By To Say Hello
6. The Sound, "Jeopardy"  The BBC Recordings
7. Tori Amos, "Blood Roses"  Boys For Pele
8. REM, "Crush With Eyeliner"  Monster
9. Aretha Franklin, "Ain't No Way"  Lady Soul
10. Wirepony, "Untitled"  Tour EP One
11. Neil Young, "Don't Let It Bring You Down"  Live At Massey Hall, 1971
12. Steve Poltz, "Killin Myself (To Be With You)"  2011/03/27, Beachland Tavern
13. Leadbelly, "In The Pines"  Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
14. Minutemen, "Corona"  Double Nickels On The Dime
15. Dire Straits, "Sultans Of Swing (Original Demo Version)"
16. King Khan And The Shrines, "I Wanna Be A Girl"  The Supreme Genius Of King Khan And The Shrines

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #47"

It’s Monday, and that means another edition of “Something Old, Something New.” Share and enjoy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29: The Vaselines, "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam"

Artist: The Vaselines
Song: "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam"
Album: Dying For It (EP)
Year: 1988

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Though it is one of the most difficult and outright rare occurrences within the entire history of recorded music, when nothing more than the mention of a song title can bring to mind a very specific moment in history, it is clear that the song in question holds a place that defies description.  When this occurs, and it is due to the efforts of a band that did not write the song, one must delve deeper into the realities surrounding the recording to properly understand just how the song attained such a status.  While many cover songs have outshone their original versions, there are a number of cases where the original is superior, and yet due to the rather fickle nature of the world of music, it remains comparatively unknown.  This has rarely been more obvious than in the case of the Scottish quartet known as The Vaselines, as their rather unique musical approach garnered them the adoration of a somewhat unlikely music icon.  During the late 1980's, The Vaselines released a handful of EP's, highlighting their unique approach to the post-punk sound, as they gave far more concentration to melody and atmosphere than almost any other band at the time, and the group consistently create some of the most wonderfully sublime moods found anywhere.  While there is not a song in their catalog that is not worth hearing, there may be no better representation of the group as a whole than The Vaselines' 1988 song, "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam."

The fact that "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" is supposedly based around the childrens' hymn, "I'll Be A Sunbeam" is quickly apparent, as there is a rather large presence to the orchestration of the song.  Within the comparatively quiet tone, there is a great deal of energy and emotion, and it is the balance between these that makes the song so quickly captivating.  Much of this comes from the viola of Sophie Pragnell, as the inclusion of her instrument gives the song a somber drone that sways strangely with the rest of the band.  The way that the guitars from Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee create a rhythm all their own is in many ways the most clear precursor to the entire "alternative" sound that would explode a few years later.  It is also the way that bassist James Seenan and drummer Charlie Kelly bring a somewhat buried, rather dry sound to the song, and it is the placement of the drums within the overall mix that makes "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" sound completely unlike anything else being done at the time.  When one looks deeper into the music that The Vaselines create here, there are clear elements of everything from psychedelic to punk to the odd blend found in the works of groups like Joy Division and The Jesus And Mary Chain; yet at the same time, there is no question that their overall approach is completely unique.

Along with creating this rather distinctive sound, the vocals of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee pull the listener even deeper into the song.  For a majority of "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam," it is Kelly that handles the leads, and yet when McKee offers small harmonies, it adds a level of depth that is far beyond what is expected by the listener.  However, it is also the fact that Kelly takes such a straightforward, almost detached vocal approach that makes the track so intriguing, as while there is no question that he can sing quite well, he seems rather disinterested in it during the verses.  Truth be told, one can hear influences from this approach across a wide range of later bands, and yet few do it as naturally and authentically as one finds here.  However, while the singing on "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" cannot be overlooked, it is the absolutely stunning lyrics to the song that easily remain the most enduring aspect.  Though many artists have attempted to paint pictures of alienation from life and religion, there is something particularly moving about these words, and though short, there may not be another lyric with a similar power to the opening lines of, "...Jesus don't want me for a sunbeam, 'cause sunbeams are not made like me..."  On many levels, one can see these lines as the embodiment of disillusioned youth, and it is largely due to the blunt nature of the lyrics that the song has been able to endure over the years without losing any of its impact.

However, one would be remiss to ignore the fact that both the song and The Vaselines in general were not all that well known until the unexpected presence of their songs within the catalog of Nirvana.  Truth be told, Kurt Cobain often cited the Dying For It EP as one of this all-time favorite records, and both this song and "Molly's Lips" were often covered by the band at live shows.  Yet nothing could have prepared the world for the rendition of "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" that occurred during Nirvana's now-infamous "Unplugged In New York" performance in 1993, though both the television network and Geffen Records incorrectly titled the song, "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam."  Regardless of the error in titling, when Cobain mentioned the origins of the song, it led to a number of people seeking out the original, and in the process, The Vaselines were given a rather unexpected surge in popularity.  While the rendition Nirvana brought at that performance was certainly moving for a number of reasons, it was lifted almost verbatim from the original, and after experiencing the recording from The Vaselines, one can properly understand the pain and frustration that the song should evoke within the listener.  To this day, few songs have been able to so accurately capture these feelings, and that fact, combined with the moving orchestration that accompanies it, is what makes The Vaselines 1988 song, "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam," one of the most uniquely fantastic recordings in all of music history.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January 28: Leonard Cohen, "Songs Of Leonard Cohen"

Artist: Leonard Cohen
Album: Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Year: 1967
Label: Columbia

Perhaps due to the massive amount of changes as now-legendary artists that emerged within the period, many of the most important performers of the 1960's seem to take a back seat to those of lesser importance on a far too regular basis.  Though not to disparage any artist in particular, the reality is that there were a number of blues-based rock bands from the U.K. that were making extremely similar music, and in the United States, one can see a similar trend within the world of folk and the singer-songwriter style of performance.  Due to these realities, one must look to the performers outside of this trend to find those individuals that were truly essential to the development of music during that time, and in this, few can hold their own against the work and impact of Leonard Cohen.  On almost every level, Cohen completely defies the norms within music, whether it is due to his background, his overall sound or the way that his career progressed; and one can argue that it is because of this completely unique set of circumstances that his music has been able to endure far better than nearly any other performer from his era.  Having already established himself as one of the most well-respected writers and poets on the planet, in the late 1960's, Leonard Cohen began to again pursue his love of music, and his 1967 debut, Songs Of Leonard Cohen, stands as one of the most distinctive and outright groundbreaking records in history.

Musically, the entire Songs Of Leonard Cohen album is a sharp diversion from what was going on in other genres at the time, as it is musically closer to the folk sound, and yet there is an element within the music that remains completely unique.  It is the sparse, almost dark nature that comes through on these songs which places it so far from the "standard" folk sound, and one can argue that it is within the music of Leonard Cohen where the difference between "folk" and "singer-songwriter" styles of music can be properly experienced.  Rarely using anything more than his guitar for instrumentation, it is the energy with which he plays that makes each song so completely captivating.  In many ways, it is the economy with which he uses notes that becomes so stunning, as perhaps even more than the later punk rock movement, there is not a note on any of these songs that is not completely necessary to the overall sound.  The purposeful absence of drums not only ensures that the mood stays intact, but it allows the lone guitar to provide a somewhat chilling rhythm to the song, and each track has a sway that is unlike anything else in music history.  Furthermore, it is the fact that Cohen is able to find so much range and diversity within the rather simple musical arrangement which vaults this record into a category all its own.

Though one can argue that the music throughout Songs Of Leonard Cohen certainly provides an ample amount of mood, it is the way that Leonard Cohen's voice adds to this overall tone which makes it impossible to ever forget any of these recordings.  His strong, deep voice helps to capture and push forward the setting of being on along the river in Montreal, and his direct, clear singing helps to paint some of the finest musical pictures in history.  It is the almost sparse and open nature of his singing which adds to the overall allure of each song, and yet there is a slight diversity within his singing that enables the overall album to gain a great deal of depth.  However, few will argue that there is an aspect of the music of Leonard Cohen that is more engaging than his lyrics; and this is not very surprising due to the fact that at the time of this recording, he was already an internationally recognized poet of the highest regard.  Whether it is the somber, slightly haunting way that Cohen conveys "Suzanne," or the similarly moving "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye," it is the straightforward manner with which he sings that is the key to the impact of each song.  Yet while many of the songs may seem to suggest otherwise, the reality is that Cohen manages to speak about human relationships, yet never about love; and it is this small difference that shows his work in a completely different light, opening new avenues to countless artists that followed.

While Leonard Cohen has certainly been given credit for his presence within the music of the late 1960's, one can easily make the case that he is still seen as a "secondary" artist when compared to many of his peers.  This is outright wrong, as Cohen remains completely unique within the overall world of music, as no other artist has been able to create songs with a similar tone or emotion, leaving him in a category all his own.  Furthermore, the fact that each of his songs is still able to hold up without any caveats more than four decades later places him into the most elite musical company, and this fact also serves as a testament to the extraordinary accomplishment that is Songs Of Leonard Cohen.  Nearly every song on this album has been covered over the years, and it is within the range of artists that have created their own versions of his songs where one can fully understand just how significant his contributions remain.  From Roberta Flack to R.E.M. to Judy Collins to The Lemonheads, Cohen's music has touched nearly every style of music, and the band Sisters Of Mercy took their name from the song found on this record.  Yet it almost goes without saying that none of these later covers come even close to the tension and spirit found on the originals, and due to this, and the overall perfection found within, there is no other album in history quite like Leonard Cohen's brilliant 1967 debut, Songs Of Leonard Cohen.

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #46"

It’s Friday, and that means another dose of “Something Old, Something New” with The Daily Guru. Share and enjoy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 26: Alan Lomax

Within the modern era of music, the idea of a sound or artist being "lost" is almost unthinkable, as technology has made the processes of recording and preservation very simple and affordable to people across the globe.  However, both of these realities are relatively new when one looks at the entire history of recorded music, and during the first half of the last century, there were countless artists that will never be heard due to the limited range that music could travel.  In fact, during the early 1930's, the reality that entire genres appeared to be fading away moved the U.S. government to seek out ways to preserve their musical history.  This led to The Library of Congress taking a far more proactive role in "saving" the music of the country, and it was this that would lead to the first "field recordings" that have received widespread circulation.  Once the government purchased this then-state-of-the-art recorder, they sought out an individual to scour the countryside and document the amazing music that was being created, concentrating on the more roots-based music of the era.  To this end, The Library of Congress hired a man and his son to do the job, and over a four month period in 1932, the pair covered more than eighteen thousand miles, capturing recordings of some of the most important figures in music history.  It is due to his presence on this trip, as well as his continued quest to preserve music for generations to come that makes Alan Lomax one of the most important figures in all of music history.

During this first trip in documenting the music of America, Lomax focused on mostly folk and blues acts, and the latter of these led to many recordings and prisons across the Southern part of the country.  It was during one of these sessions that Lomax came across a prisoner named Huddie Ledbetter, and Lomax would soon head up a small team that would work for his release from prison so he could bring his songs to the masses.  Ledbetter remains today one of the biggest figures in the history of blues music, but during his journeys, Lomax also recorded the likes of Robert Pete Williams, Aunt Molly Jackson, and a young man who went by the name Muddy Waters.  The recordings that Lomax made were all placed into the Library of Congress, and in later years, they would be released in various forms, allowing the entire world to experience these moving, raw performances.  Yet Lomax made similar inroads within the world of folk music; as it was this style that presented the musical compliment to the sound of the blues.  Much as he did in the case of Ledbetter, Alan Lomax is also responsible for the first recordings of the man who may very well be the most important figure in all of music history: Woody Guthrie.  These early sessions remain today as some of the finest in the Guthrie catalog, and as these songs reached the rest of the country, it became the catalyst for massive cultural changes.

As the years progressed, Alan Lomax shifted his efforts to the world of jazz music and many other styles as they developed, and due to his presence and work over the years, one can easily make the case that the remains the most important historian and field-taper in the entire history of music.  In fact, in the late 1930's, Lomax began delivering his efforts via a different medium, as he played many of his recordings on a series of radio programs that would run over the next few years.  As his radio shows continued over the years, it would be his presence and sound that would lead to both the folk and blues revivals that occurred during the 1950's and 1960's, making his early recordings all the more valuable, as well as pointing the spotlight on many artists that had been believed to be "lost."  Yet Lomax also did a great deal of work within the same realm, but on an international level, as he was one of the key editors in the groundbreaking eighteen-volume Columbia World Library Of Folk And Primitive Music, which was released in the U.K. in the 1950's, taking advantage of a new technology: the LP record.  Even today, the Lomax recordings for The Library of Congress can still easily hold their own in terms of quality, and are far beyond anything else in terms of historical importance, and there is no arguing any other person in history as having an even remotely similar level of importance to the development and appreciation of music than Alan Lomax.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25: Daily Guru, "Ask The Guru #02"

Today brings another edition of "Ask The Guru." Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #108"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

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

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

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that artist, song or album):
1. Rolling Stones, "Satisfaction"  single
2. Guns N' Roses, "Welcome To The Jungle"  Appetite For Destruction
3. Al Green, "Tired Of Being AloneGets Next To You
4. Blondie, "Call MeCall Me EP
5. The Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop"  Ramones
6. Aerosmith, "Sweet Emotion"  Toys In The Attic
7. Ray Charles, "What'd I Say (Parts 1 & 2)Classic Rhythm And Blues
8. The Who, "My GenerationMy Generation
9. Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"  Hitsville USA
10. The Kinks, "You Really Got Me" single
11. The Clash, "London Calling"  London Calling
12. Snoop Dogg, "Gin And JuiceDoggystyle
13. The Doors, "Light My Fire"  The Doors
14. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "Runnin' Down A Dream"  Full Moon Fever
15. John Lee Hooker, "Boom Boom"  Very Best Of
16. Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Love"  Led Zeppelin II
17. Sam And Dave, "Hold On, I'm Coming"  single

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #45"

It’s Monday, and that means another edition of “Something Old, Something New.” Share and enjoy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22: Five Horse Johnson, "Mississippi King"

Artist: Five Horse Johnson
Song: "Mississippi King"
Album: The No. 6 Dance
Year: 2001

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Over the past three decades or so, there has been one statement within the world of music that seems to be one of the "go to" criticisms for people ranging from music critics to television anchors that wish to seem better informed.  The idea of "rock and roll is dead" comes up so often, that if one does not know better, it could lead to some small level of belief in this absolutely ludicrous statement.  While it can be states that rock music certainly has a great deal of competition within the musical mainstream, and that it has a much different overall tone than the sound of rock music in the late 1960's; there is no question that there are still a massive number of rock bands all across the world.  Yet there are also some bands that display a clear love for the tone and feel of the rock music of yesteryear, and few groups have perfected this as perfectly as Ohio-bred rockers, Five Horse Johnson.  Bringing a combination of the sleaze and smoke of groups like AC/DC and Aerosmith, and the rocking-sway similar to that of ZZ Top or Molly Hatchet, yet ensuring that it had just as much "modern appeal" as any other current rock band, Five Horse Johnson easily appeal to a massive range of music fans.  All of their various influences came together in absolutely fantastic balance on their 2001 release, The No. 6 Dance, and few songs better represent the bands' sound than their song from that album, the blistering track "Mississippi King."

The moment that "Mississippi King" begins, everything that makes Five Horse Johnson such an enjoyably unique band within the current world of music is completely apparent.  It is the grit and grind within the guitars of Brad Coffin and Phil Durr that instantly grab the listener, and there is no question that this sound would have fit just as perfectly in the era of their influences as it does in more modern times.  The way that the guitars seem to sway back and forth with a massive presence is nothing short of addictive, and on many levels, it is the almost "dirty" sound found here that is the very essence of the hard rock approach.  Even when they are trading short solos or adding perfectly placed fills, it is the guitars that drive the song, and there is no question that the chemistry within this band is far beyond that of a majority of their peers.  Underneath the fantastic dual-guitar sound, bassist Steve Smith injects a powerful groove into "Mississippi King," and the fact that an Ohio-based band is able to create such a heavily "Southern style" rock sound is a testament not only to their talents, but also to their understanding of how music itself works.  The bassline has far more range and appeal than almost any other from the current era of music, and the way that it locks in with the sound of drummer Eric Miller serves as a superb reminder as to what "real" rock and roll is all about.

Much in the same way that the music found all throughout the catalog of Five Horse Johnson manages to place a fresh spin on a classic sound, the vocals from Eric Oblander strike a similar balance.  Yet it is within his performance where one can hear a definite influence from the world of heavy metal, as the way that he delivers the vocals is something that steps beyond "just" a hard rock sound.  There is an almost fun-loving aggression within his voice, and it is the spirit with which he sings that vaults "Mississippi King" to a level beyond nearly all of their peers.  It is the fact that Oblander is able to bring a somewhat-sleazy sound to his singing, yet never become cliché or sound artificial that is the key to the appeal of his voice, and once one hears his singing, it is clear just how perfectly the entire band would have fit into the sound of the early 1970's rock movement.  Furthermore, the lyrics to "Mississippi King" are in many ways as quintessential rock and roll as one can find anywhere, and the suggestive, somewhat mischievous nature of the words match perfectly with both the music and singing.  It is the way that the song is able to so seamlessly blend seemingly cryptic allusions with a clear sexual subtext that pushes "Mississippi King" to further greatness, and the fact that throughout all of this, the links to the "Southern sound" are reinforced, shows just want a talented band lives within Five Horse Johnson.

With each passing year, the number of bands playing "real" rock and roll music dwindles, perhaps due to the fact that most record labels prefer more bland, polished sounds that they can sell to the uninspired masses.  Thankfully, across the world there are a number of groups that refuse to compromise their sound and personality, creating a consistently refreshing reminder of how rock and roll music should truly sound.  Among these bands, few are as good as Five Horse Johnson, as their mixture of a wide range of influences yield a brand of rock music that is able to remind the listener of the sounds of the early 1970's, whilst staying firmly rooted within the modern sound.  The dual-guitar sound that the band brings to "Mississippi King" gives it a presence that is somewhat imposing, and yet it is the high-octane, almost party-like swagger that also comes through in the song that makes it nothing short of an outright musical pleasure to experience.  In fact, one can argue that it is the sense of "fun" that one can feel in the music that is largely missing from a majority of modern acts, and this distinction can be found in every aspect of the song.  Furthermore, it is the fact that the band are able to deliver this feeling and overall musical quality on every one of their songs that sets them so far apart from most other bands in the current music scene, and there are few songs in recent history that can even remotely compare to the power and style found on Five Horse Johnson's magnificent 2001 track, "Mississippi King."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 21: The Adolescents, "Adolescents"

Artist: The Adolescents
Album: Adolescents
Year: 1981
Label: Frontier Records

Within the history of every musical style, there are a number of sub-genres that many argue formed from a wide range of instances.  One of the biggest issues one encounters in such arguments is in deciphering exactly "where" one style ends and another begins, as in many cases, the sounds are very similar.  Both of these statements are rarely more true than in the space where punk and hardcore music intersect, and yet it is in this place where some of the most exciting and important music in history resides.  Though one can easily argue that the roots of both punk and hardcore are firmly within East Coast bands, it was the spin on these sounds created by West Coast bands that pushed the sound forward, and there were few areas more important to this development than Southern California.  More directly, it was in the Los Angeles area, as well as the surrounding "beach towns" that served as the breeding ground for many of the most important and fierce bands in the genres' history, and among the best of these bands stands The Adolescents.  Though their most potent period of musical creation was exceptionally short lived, the band remains one of the greatest of the era, and their influence on later bands is absolutely immeasurable, and there are few records that are as outright powerful and enduring as one can experience within The Adolescents' legendary 1981 self-titled debut.

Throughout this record, one cannot get past the fact that each musical arrangement has an intriguing drive and tone, and yet there is a cleaner sound than on a majority of similar records.  It is the fact that both the music and vocals are so much clearer and have superior sonic quality that instantly makes Adolescents a better album, and yet the content is also far beyond almost all of their peers.  It is the way that so many of the songs seem to slowly creep in, creating an amazing level of tension, and the way that the band are able to sustain this tension, that makes this record easily withstand the test of time.  There is no question that in most cases, it is the bass playing of Steve Soto that is the key to the overall sound, as he is able to lead the band with slightly imposing, always brooding and powerful tone.  When one adds in the sound of guitarists Frank and Rikk Agnew, there is an almost overwhelming feel to the songs, and they also deliver a power that was the perfect sound for music fans looking for an alternative to the mainstream sound.  The guitars seem to ring out from every angle, in some ways seeming to provoke the listener, and it is the amount of movement these three are able to create within the music that makes these songs so superb.  Rounding out the band is drummer Casey Rover, and it is the high-energy, yet often mid-tempo style that he brings which completely separates the sound of The Adolescents from that of any other band of the era.

Serving as the ideal finishing touch to the overall sound of The Adolescents, singer Tony Cadena has what is without question one of the definitive voices of the entire punk and hardcore era.  Cadena has just enough snarl in his voice to engage those who seek such a sound in their singer, yet at the same time there is a clarity to his vocals that enabled him to reach a wider audience.  It is also the fact that one can easily sense the tension and frustration in every word that makes every song on Adolescents fit so perfectly alongside the music of those by whom they themselves were influenced.  Yet it is the content on songs like "Kids Of The Black Hole" that has enabled both the band and album to remain such an integral part of the development of both hardcore and punk rock, as even more than thirty years after its release, the subject matter is just as relevant within the punk rock culture.  It is the unapologetic realism that one finds in nearly every song on the album that largely defines much of the sound of the area from which the band came, as while other groups were taking on massive political issues, often times, The Adolescents simply reported the reality of the world in which they lived.  It is the aggressive defiance that one can hear within Cadena's voice on every song that is in many ways the quintessential punk sound, and yet it is the way with which he delivers each line that makes him a sound completely onto himself.

In nearly every aspect, Adolescents was able to rewrite what was possible within the hardcore and punk styles of music.  Whether it was their ability to retain musical intensity within a slightly slower cadence, or the fact that the songs on the album were sometimes nearly three times the length of the "standard" punk song, their contributions to the evolution of the genre cannot be overstated.  One can also make the case that The Adolescents were far more musical than nearly all of their peers and influences, and this is perhaps the reason that their extended instrumental sections are able to work within the punk ethos.  As the decades have passed, their entire self-titled debut record has become one of the most iconic records in the entire history of punk rock, and even after that time, the potency of the songs has not diminished in the least.  Every song still leaps from the record, instantly grabbing the listener, and with each song, one is quickly transported to dirty, slightly destroyed apartments or other social gathers.  Yet at the same time, the level of "family" that existed and continues to exist within the "true" punk scene can be felt within Cadena's vocals, and this is why the entire album has become an anthem within the community.  Though they remain slightly overlooked in comparison to some of their peers, there are few bands as important or musically powerful as one can hear within The Adolescents' brilliant 1981 self-titled debut album.

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 20: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #44"

It's Friday, and that means another dose of "Something Old, Something New" with The Daily Guru. Share and enjoy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19: Paul Rothchild

All across the long history of recorded music, one can rattle off lists of the "greatest" performers from a given era or style.  Though it may not seem that these groups and artists all have one thing in common, the reality is that in almost every case, their amazing talents were properly conveyed to the world due to the presence of excellence "behind the boards."  From engineer to producers to other individuals who helped to shape these sounds, they are often the most overlooked part of a given recording, and yet there is no question that they are beyond essential.  Many of the most highly revered producers in all of history hit their stride during the mid-to-late 1960's, as with music itself expanding in countless different directions, there was a freedom to "experiment" within the studio that had never before occurred.  Whether it was attempting to find ways to make the music "move," different recording techniques, or simply finding a way to capture the essence of a band within the studio environment, not only did top-notch production require an exceptional level of skill and knowledge, but it was also necessary for the individual in question to have a wide range of creativity.  Truth be told, due to the status that many of the albums from this era hold, the producers have become institutions onto themselves, and few are more distinguished or outright vital to the history or music than legendary producer, Paul Rothchild.

While he is certainly best known for his work within the realm of rock and roll during the tail-end of the 1960's, the fact of the matter is that Paul Rothchild began his recording career working with mostly folk acts.  Before he began on the recording-side of music, Rothchild was studying the art of classical conducting, but found himself drawn to the "new" sounds of the rising folk movement during the late 1950's and early 1960's.  After a few years, Rothchild became the "house" producer for Elektra Records, which was at the time almost exclusively working with  the folk realm.  Though most are unaware, during this period Rothchild worked with the likes of Tim Buckley, Tom Paxton and many other luminaries of the world of folk music.  However, as the label began to move with the times, looking more toward the rock acts, Rothchild quickly adapted, creating fantastic records for bands like Love and Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  It was during this time period that Rothchild quickly became one of the most in-demand producers on the planet, as there was a warmth and honesty within his recording that was somehow different from that of any of his peers.  During his career, Rothchild became the producer of choice for everyone from Janis Joplin to The Everly Brothers, and his name can be found on a number of the greatest albums ever recorded.

However, it would be his efforts with a new band that Elektra Records signed in 1967 that would become Rothchild's most well known and outright finest achievement.  Truth be told, the label had been having great difficulty in finding a producer that could bring the proper sound and presence out of this new band, and it would be Rothchild that would serve in at least partial producer capacity for each studio effort from the then-rising band, The Doors.  It was the way that Paul Rothchild was able to capture the dark intensity that came forth from this band which made him almost an instant legend, and due to the way that he helped the band achieve their musical vision, many refer to Rothchild as "the fifth Door."  In fact, there are numerous accounts of recording sessions for The Doors "falling apart," and only getting completed due to the efforts of Rothchild.  It was his ability not only as a producer, but in finding ways to properly blend together the different musical personalities of this band that enabled the world to experience their absolutely brilliant music; and one can easily make the argument that had it been any other producer, the albums likely would have never been completed.  Many later producers would "borrow" many of the approaches and techniques that were utilized throughout the wide range of albums which he produced, and there is simply no getting past the fact that when one considers the most import "non-musicians" in all of music history, few are more critical to the evolution of music than Paul Rothchild.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 18: "Guru Soapbox: Punk"

Today, I set the world straight on a subject that's bothered me for quite awhile. Tune in and get your learn on!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January 17: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #107"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

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

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

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that artist, song or album):
1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Are You Experienced?"  Are You Experienced?
2. DEVO, "Clockout"  Duty Now For The Future
3. King Krule, "Bleak Bake"  King Krule (EP)
4. Ween, "Piss Up A Rope"  12 Golden Country Greats
5. Cracker, "Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)Cracker
6. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, "Cool 'n' Out"  Global A Go-Go
7. The Evens, "Warble Factor"  2-song single
8. Dr. Dre, "Nuthin' But A "G" ThangThe Chronic
9. Dvorak, "Slavonic Dance No. 2"
10. Alice In Chains, "Angry Chair"  Dirt
11. Johnny Cash, "Country Boy"  Unchained
12. The Specials, "Doesn't Make It Alright"  The Specials
13. Morphine, "Super Sex"  Yes
14. 2nu, "This Is Ponderous"  This Is Ponderous
15. The Rugburns, "My Carphone's On The Pill"  Morning Wood

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #43"

It's Monday, and that means another edition of "Something Old, Something New." Share and enjoy.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15: Stubborn All-Stars, "Pick Yourself Up"

Artist: Stubborn All-Stars
Song: "Pick Yourself Up"
Album: Back With A New Batch
Year: 1997

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As is often the case when a non-rock genre finds its way into the mainstream, the "pure" representation of this "new" genre is often still far from the ears of the general public.  Though certain hybrid sounds, which combine this non-traditional element with rock music may gain some notoriety, it is rare that the "authentic" groups gain as much credit.  This has perhaps been no more true than when one considers the seemingly strange emergence of ska and reggae-styled music within the mainstream music during the mid-1990's.  Groups like No Doubt, Save Ferris, and Reel Big Fish were suddenly giving the general public the impression that "this" is how ska music sounded, though the reality is a far cry from their musical approaches.  Thankfully, there were a number of bands around the world that were staying true to the amazing mixture of sounds that becomes the reggae-ska bounce, and many of the best were a part of Stubborn Records.  Among this amazing stable of bands, there was perhaps none better than the aptly named and created Stubborn All-Stars, and in many ways, one can see them as a "super group" of New York based musicians.  Their 1997 record, Back With A New Batch, remains one of the most vibrant and enjoyable ever recorded, and one can find The Stubborn All-Stars at their best on the song, "Pick Yourself Up."

In many ways, the fact that The Stubborn All-Stars create such brilliant music should come as little surprise, as the group lives up to their name, containing some of the finest SKA musicians on the planet. King Django combines pieces of his former band, Skinnerbox, as well as a handful of other amazing musicians of the genre. Django's trombone, along with the trumpet of Rolf Langsjoen (Skinnerbox) and the saxophone of Dave Hillyard (The Slackers), gives The Stubborn All-Stars one of the most potent and bright horn sections in recent history.  From the moment that "Pick Yourself Up" begins, it is the horns which completely captivate the listener, and it is the powerful brightness to their sound that makes the song so addictive.  It is the deep groove found within the various horn lines which give the track an amazing amount of depth, and yet the track itself is driven by the fantastic rhythm that lies beneath this element.  Combining guitars from David Hahn (Skinnerbox/The Slackers) and "Agent J" (Agent 99), along with the rhythm section consisting of shared basswork from Victor Rice and Sheldon Gregg alongside drummer Eddie Ocampo, the group effort prove to be the key element in the fantastic sound of The Stubborn All-Stars.  It is the way that these light touches are able to exude so much positive energy that sets this song so far apart from other bands of the time, and yet "Pick Yourself Up" is as timeless a song as one can find anywhere.

Serving as a perfect mirror to the overall mood of the music, the vocals form King Django are inspiring and were clearly recorded in a studio environment that was exceptionally positive.  It is the fact that the singing works so seamlessly with the music that vaults "Pick Yourself Up" to a level beyond their peers, and you can easily feel how King Django was singing with the overall mood and spirit of the song, as opposed to a written-out cadence or rhythm.  Furthermore, due to the nature of his voice and the way he delivers the lines, it is difficult not to sing along with a track like "Pick Yourself Up," and this is reinforced by the superb lyrics contained within the song.  In many ways, this track represents one of the core elements of the ska sound, and that is the uplifting, almost prideful lyrical approach so many bands took over the years.  Throughout the song, King Django reminds the listener that all throughout life, there will be many obstacles, but if one perseveres through them, there is greatness and happiness on the other side.  However, it is within the lines, "...nobody's gonna give you no free ride...you've got to work real hard to have something of your own..." where one can find the core of the bands' message; encouraging the listener to take charge of their own life and the idea that "nothing beats honest, hard work."

Throughout the 1990's, a number of different genre titles were slapped on to popular music that, while perhaps not really what the genre was, gained the label simply because it was the "closest." While this may have made it easier for listeners to classify the style of music, the truth of the matter is that in many cases, this "new" sound was not representative of what the genre actually contained. During the middle of that decade, the term ska was being thrown around to nearly any band that incorporated horns into their music, but were not "retro-swing." Such laziness in genre identification did have one positive effect: the "true" bands of the genre became far more obvious. With their phenomenal music, amazing lyrics, and one of the most mesmerizing and overall enjoyable sounds in music history, The Stubborn All-Stars stood as the ideal example of how ska music should have been represented. Led by the brilliant vocals and writing of King Django, the group was comprised of many of the most talented and highly respected players in the ska/dub scene at the time, and "Pick Yourself Up" represents the group at their finest in nearly every respect.  From the absolutely dazzling musical arrangement and the overall mood that it conveys, to the inspiring and engaging lyrics, the song proves that staying true to a form and making "honest" music can rarely be topped, and there are few songs that can compare to the power and presence of The Stubborn All-Star's extraordinary 1997 track, "Pick Yourself Up."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January 14: Moby Grape, "Moby Grape"

Artist: Moby Grape
Album: Moby Grape
Year: 1967
Label: Columbia

While there are many cities around the world that have close and longstanding associations with certain styles of music, few are as synonymous as that of San Francisco, California and the psychedelic explosion of the late 1960's.  Though most people can rattle of a list of a number of bands that emerged from this scene, the reality is that in most cases, the quintessential "San Francisco psychedelic band" is left out of the conversation.  Perhaps due to the fact that they were seemingly plagued by bad luck in every sense of the word; or maybe because they did not fit the exact "image" of such a group, the band rarely receives the credit the deserve.  But even with these realities, the fact remains that there is no better a representation of the true essence of the psychedelic movement than what one can find in the music of Moby Grape.  Creating some of the most irresistible rock-based groove of their entire generation, the band showed very few flaws in terms of their music during the early years of their career; and one can easily argue that it was these first few years that was the finest for Moby Grape.  Bringing together elements of folk, jazz, r&b, and country all under the umbrella of a rock-based sound, there were few, if any other bands that could compare to their sound.  While there are no "bad" recordings from this time period, one can easily argue that to find the ultimate in "true" psychedelic rock, one need look no further than Moby Grape's brilliant 1967 self-titled debut.

Throughout Moby Grape, one can hear the bands' seemingly endless array of influences come though, as each song manages to be entirely musically unique, and yet fit together perfectly as a single cohesive musical work.  From slow, meandering passages deeply rooted in folk and soul to some of the earliest vestiges of what would be called "garage rock," the band shows just how much one can extract from the psychedelic sound, and it is this quest for diversity that set Moby Grape so far apart and above their peers.  In fact, there are many points on the album where one can argue that the band was well ahead of their time, most clearly during the places where they utilize a triple-guitar sound.  Most prominently during the song "Omaha," the way that the guitars of Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence come together is nothing short of sheer musical brilliance.  Furthermore, throughout many of the songs, it is the attitude that one can feel within the guitars that show a bit more grit and grind than was "normal" for the time, and this can be seen as one of the connections from the psychedelic sound to the later formation of the hard rock genre.  However, it is also the unforgettable melodies that run through nearly every song that make Moby Grape such a fantastic musical achievement, and it is this ability to retain some elements of popular music that were often overlooked in many of the psychedelic bands.

Yet it is also the fact that while the band does an amazing job of layering the sounds of their instruments, it is the way that their voices work just as perfectly in harmony that vaults Moby Grape to such a highly revered status.  While Skip Spence handles the leads on a majority of the songs, it is the almost unexpected way that his voice blends so seamlessly with the instrumentation that makes many of these songs nothing short of blissful.  But through almost every word that is sung on the album, there is a vibrancy and energy that pulls the listener further into each track.  The fact that Spence and most of the other vocalists show an endless vocal range gives the songs even more depth, and in many ways, the vocals on the album highlight everything there was to love about the psychedelic and "surf" style harmonies.  It is also due to these factors that there is an almost communal feel to many of the songs, and even after hearing these songs only a single time, it is difficult to not sing along with each and every song.  Yet the most intriguing aspect of Moby Grape may be the fact that they show a greater lyrical diversity than nearly any band in history, proving that one can construct massive allusions alongside economic wordplay and never seem lost or jumbled.  It is in the latter of these elements where one can draw a connection to the punk style that would develop a decade later, and combined with the traces of hard rock, one can see just how important a band lived within Moby Grape.

Whether it is due to the more assertive, somewhat distorted guitars or the more easy flowing and melodic pieces that are clearly drawn from the folk movement, few bands have displayed as much sonic diversity as one finds in Moby Grape's debut record.  It is the fact that there is a dazzling swing and shake provided by the rhythm section on so many songs, and there is simply no escaping the allure that explodes from each of Moby Grape's classic songs.  In fact, it is the more hard-driven sound that comes through on many of these songs that might make one think the band came from the more rock-based New York City scene, and yet there is no denying that their sound is rooted in the psychedelic sound.  Though they may not present the stereotypes of that genre in as clear a manner as some of their peers, the reality is that they brought a style of rock and roll that was completely unique at the time, and the impact of their music can still be felt to this day.  Over the years, countless bands have recorded their own covers of many Moby Grape songs, and yet it is the original versions that easily reign supreme more than four decades later.  From the almost shockingly original and certainly ahead-of-its-time musical arrangements to absolutely mesmerizing vocal performances, there are few records that can compare to Moby Grape's flawless 1967 self-titled debut.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 13: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #42"

It's Friday, and that means another dose of "Something Old, Something New" with The Daily Guru. Share and enjoy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January 12: The Funk Brothers

Throughout the course of music history, there have been countless artists and bands that have failed to receive the accolades they deserve for their contributions.  In an overwhelming majority of cases, such performers were simply "too ahead of their time" or were overshadowed by other artists, leading to their becoming a bit of a footnote in music history.  Yet there are a few artists that fall under neither of these categories, and each case is an unjust act onto itself.  However, above all other musical miscues and failure to acknowledge influence and efforts, there stands one reality that is a true travesty of music history: The Funk Brothers.  Though few are familiar with the name, there is not another band in history that can claim such a string of success, as well as creating the blueprint for almost every style of music that followed.  Truth be told, The Funk Brothers were a part of more than two hundred of the most memorable songs of all time, including more than eighty that reached the number one spot on the charts over the years.  Many of their melodies and hooks have become parts of international culture, and yet even with the worldwide recognition of their music, few are aware of the artists who created these amazing sounds.  The fact remains, if you pick up almost any "classic" song from the "golden age" of Motown Records, you can almost guarantee that the backing band is none other than the legendary Funk Brothers.

Perhaps moreso than any other band in history, the membership of The Funk Brothers was absolutely massive, with more than fifty performers working under that name.  However, when one digs deeper into "who played on what," there are thirteen musicians who define the core of the band, and it is they who are the "true" Funk Brothers.  From Stevie Wonder to The Supremes to Edwin Starr to Marvin Gaye, these musicians proved time and time again that their ability to create irresistible grooves were far beyond not only their peers, but any band from any other point in history, and it is this reality which enables so many of their songs to remain just as fresh and exciting today as they were more than four decades ago.  Whether it was due to the dazzling, deep "walking" basslines of the legendary James Jameson or the groundbreaking drum work from William "Benny" Benjamin and Richard "Pistol" Allen, one would be hard pressed to find a finer and more creative rhythm section from any other point in history.  In fact, the way that the rhythm section worked and created together would inspire the style of pop music for more than two decades, and many elements of their form can still be heard to this day.  However, it was often the way that the band utilized a wide range of horn players to give their songs such punch as well as diversity, and one can easily understand why it was this combination of sound that completely rewrote "what" was necessary for superior pop and dance music.

Yet there was so much more to the music of The Funk Brothers than just their grooves and horns; and it was these additional elements that led to some of the greatest moments ever captured on tape.  Whether it is the iconic guitar lead on The Temptations' "My Girl" or the extraordinary piano refrain on The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)," one can list off countless ways that The Funk Brothers were able to expand their soundscapes with almost any instrument they could find.  However, it was when all of these elements came together perfectly, such as on Martha And The Vandellas' classic, "Nowhere To Run," where one can quickly understand just how unique and special a group of musicians existed within The Funk Brothers.  Furthermore, up until the point that the group emerged, most musicians of the type were simply "session players" and would be replaced on a whim.  But the staff of Motown Records understood that it was this combination of players and personalities that were giving an unmistakable and distinctive sound to their label, and other recording labels would soon follow with their own "regular" configurations.  But there is no question that none of these later groups could compare to the influence and outright style one finds in the massive catalog of the "house band" of Motown Records, and it is due to the content of their recordings that one can argue there was never a finer band than The Funk Brothers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11: Gabbing With The Guru: Dave & Ethan

In the premiere of Gabbing With The Guru, musicians and comedians Dave & Ethan stop by to chat and play a song live.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January 10: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #106"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

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

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

Tracklist (links are to MY review of that artist, song or album):
1. Metallica, "Hit The Lights"  Kill 'Em All
2. Smashing Pumpkins, "Love"  Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
3. The Clash, "Know Your Rights"  Combat Rock
4. Telefon Tel Aviv, "What Is Was Will Never Again"  Map Of What Is Effortless
5. Creation, "Making TimeMaking Time (single)
6. The Fall, "Taking Off"  Ersatz G.B.
7. Erykah Badu, "Otherside Of The Game"  Baduizm
8. Jerry Lee Lewis, "Lovesick Blues"  Classic Jerry Lee Lewis
9. The Ruts, "Something That I Said"  Peel Sessions
10. The Little Willies, "Lovesick Blues"  For The Good Times
11. Mozart, "Symphony #40, 1st Movement"
12. Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi, "Two Against One"  Rome
13. Run DMC, "You Be Illin'"  Raising Hell
14. Elmore James, "Dust My BroomThe Sky Is Crying

Monday, January 9, 2012

January 9: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #41"

It's Monday, and that means another edition of "Something Old, Something New." Share and enjoy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

January 8: The Faith, "You're X'd"

Artist: The Faith
Song: "You're X'd"
Album: The Faith/Void split EP
Year: 1982

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Though many music scholars and fans of the genre in question may wish to think it different, the reality is that much of the "thrash metal" movement was taken from a single hardcore band.  While there were certainly many other influences, primarily the darker and louder rock bands of the 1970's, it would not be until the early 1980's that the formula would begin to manifest itself in its more modern sense.  In the wake of the "punk explosion," many bands across the planet were finding different ways to work the ethos of that genre into different styles, and this is what created the unique hardcore sound that emerged at that time in Washington, D.C.  It would be that city which would produce many of the most important bands in the hardcore style, and one of the earliest, The Faith, would be one of the most short-lived, yet critically important to the development of multiple genres.  Formed in the wake of the first hiatus of Minor Threat, The Faith were in some ways an "all star" lineup of members of groups that had recently disbanded, and yet the music the quartet created is unquestionably unique.  There is a fire and energy in every song that the band plays, and yet it is the way that the guitars are played and mixed on their early tracks where one can find the clear blueprint for the "trash metal" sound.  Due to the sonic quality, as well as the overall tone and intent behind the song, there are few recordings that better define the brilliant sound of The Faith than their 1982 track, "You're X'd."

The moment that "You're X'd" begins, there is a presence on the song that is unlike anything else from their era or genre.  It is the way that the opening crush of guitar almost has more in common with Black Sabbath than any of their hardcore peers that makes it clear how distinctive an approach The Faith took on every song.  Guitarist Michael Hampton is in the spotlight for nearly the entire song, and there is a tone to his playing that is a sonic fusion that had rarely sounded as outright perfect.  Throughout the song, Hampton manages to retain the urgency and angst of the hardcore movement whilst injecting a grind and grit that made it impossible to mistake his sound for that of anyone else.  It is the speed and aggression with which he plays that would become a major part of the "thrash metal" movement, and once one hears this song, the connection cannot be denied.  However, the rest of the band plays with equal power and skill, and yet most overlook the fantastic basswork of Chris Bald.  It is within his playing where much of the tension on "You're X'd" resides, and one can easily imagine his bass whipping an audience into a complete frenzy.  It is the way that he locks in with drummer Ivor Hanson that gives the song as imposing a presence as it has, and Hanson's playing is an unrelenting pummeling that is as "hardcore perfection" as one can find anywhere.

Yet it is the vocals of Alec MacKaye that serve as the ideal finishing touch to the overall sound of The Faith, and his work on "You're X'd" is some of his best in every sense of the word.  Much like many of his contemporaries, it is the combination of frustration and urgency within his shouting that makes him such a captivating performer, and yet there is a venom in every word that sets him far apart.  In many ways, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly "what" it is that sets MacKaye so far part from others, but the reality remains that the proximity that one can detect to the lyrics, as well as the almost righteous feeling one gets from his performance refuses to be ignored.  It is also within the vocal work of Alec MacKaye where one can find some of the earliest "push back" at the growing "straight edge" movement; and many of the lyrical sentiments found in "You're X'd" still hold true to this day across many different genres.  Though it (the movement) had only been "in existence" for a year or two at best, the reality is that "posers" and those not completely committed or understanding of what it was about had already flooded into the scene.  MacKaye holds nothing back, calling out those who, "...you drink, you fuck behind my back...," and it becomes instantly clear that not only does he feel the lifestyle in question is correct, but those who are not completely committed should not claim differently.

From the guitars to the rhythm section to the vocals, there is not an aspect of "You're X'd" that is anything other than completely captivating; and it is the overall urgency with which The Faith deploy every element of their music that make it impossible to deny any of their importance.  One can see "You're X'd" as one of the first "warning calls" to those in any movement that were not completely committed to certain ideals, and it remains one of the most unapologetic songs every recorded.  To this day, the song retains every bit of its impact, and even after hearing the track countless times, it is still just as powerful and invigorating.  In so many ways, "You're X'd" represents everything it meant to be a hardcore band at the time, as not only is there a blazing, almost chaotic musical and vocal arrangement, but with the song clocking in at just over one minute, there is not a moment wasted in any sense of the term.  Yet the fact remains that it is the way The Faith constructed songs like "You're X'd" that would open entirely new ways to approach the hardcore sound; and one cannot deny the strong link between the band and the growth of the "trash metal" style.  However, even had this sound not developed as it did, the music of The Faith would have been just as powerful and important, and they rarely sounded better than on their 1982 recording, "You're X'd."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

January 7: Dexter Gordon, "Go"

Artist: Dexter Gordon
Album: Go!
Year: 1962
Label: Blue Note

See My Video Review Of The Album HERE

For an artist to "reinvent" themselves is without question one of the most rare and truly unpredictable feats that can be accomplished.  As trends and styles change, an overwhelming majority of artists slip away from being relevant, and are only followed by the most devoted of fans.  However, every once in awhile, and artist is somehow able to find success a second time, and the way in which this is achieved is so random and rare, that it is impossible to make any sort of general statement on "how" this is achieved.  Yet even with this "reinvention" being such an anomaly, there is in fact one artist who accomplished this feat not once, but three times.  Standing as one of the most important figures in the entire history of jazz music, one can almost follow the rise and fall of jazz trends through the unparalleled recordings of the one and only Dexter Gordon.  From his early days, backing everyone from Nat King Cole to Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie, to his later years, in which he was one of the more controversial performers due to his personal life, there were simply no other tenor saxophone players of the "bop era" that played as beautifully or as brilliantly as the man they called "Long Tall Dexter."  While his early recordings are unquestionably fantastic, there are few studio recordings that are as truly flawless, or carry the same power and feel as Dexter Gordon's monumental 1962 recording, Go!

When it comes down to it, Go! is all about mood, and few albums from any genre have been able to be as lively and outright appealing as one can experience on each of the albums' songs.  Even when they are playing a somewhat slower or more soulful tune, it is the vitality within the quartet that becomes one of the keys to the overall greatness of the album.  Much of this tone lives with the brilliant rhythm section of drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Butch Warren.  Both of these players are onto themselves absolute jazz legends, and as a team they are without question one of the most impressive jazz pairings in history.  Higgins has a dynamic flair that is far beyond almost any of his contemporaries, and it is the combinations, fills and overall style that he deploys on each song that in many ways stand as the defining sound of jazz drumming.  In the case of Warren's bass-work, it goes a bit unnoticed as the original mix of Go! has him slightly too far back in the overall sound.  However, on the 1999 re-release, this problem is corrected, and one can fully appreciate the deep-grooving mastery that he brings to each of the songs.  It is the way that these two lock in with the sound of pianist Sonny Clark that makes Go! so spectacular, and there is no question that Clark's interplay with Gordon is one of the most impressive in music history.  Clark brings a far harder and more aggressive approach to his playing than most of his peers, and yet it is the way that each musician clearly understands "their place" on every song that enables the overall product to become so mesmerizing.

However, while the trio behind him are without question one of the finest ever assembled, it is the performance of Dexter Gordon on tenor saxophone throughout the entire album that vaults Go! to legendary status.  Whether he is swiftly bouncing across the track on "Cheese Cake" or delivering some of the most stunning and soulful lines and themes on "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry," it is the contrast between these the two songs that shows the unmatched talent and range which Gordon possesses.  The way in which Gordon rephrases and winds around the core riffs on every composition is nothing short of sensational, and in many ways, one need to only hear the album once to fully understand why Dexter Gordon remains such an important figure in the history of jazz music.  These varying alterations and improvisations highlight Gordon's notorious ability to hold his own with any jazz player, and his creativity and sheer emotion are also highlighted on every second of the album.  Furthermore, it is the fact that Gordon leaves enough space for the rest of his band to shine that shows that he fully understood that jazz was a "team effort," and it is the way that one can hear the musicians passing the lead around, and clearing enjoying the session, that pushes Go! to the most revered status, and one can easily make the case that this album represents the finest moment in the entire career of Dexter Gordon.

While each of the four players is absolutely at the top of their talents, one can still argue that the most intriguing aspect of all of Go! is the amazing mood which is created by the quartet.  Truth be told, each song has an absolutely stunning live feel, and there are times when it seems almost inconceivable that this is a studio session.  It is this reality which countless jazz musicians attempted to achieve, and yet once one hears it done "properly," the imitators are put into a clear perspective.  This serves as a testament to the extraordinary talent and chemistry between the four musicians, and it is one of the main reasons that the album remains in such vaulted status all these decades later.  Though one can easily understand that this mood is largely due to the players involved, one cannot overlook the fact that the record was produced by Blue Note Records founder, Alfred Lion, and this surely played some role in the albums' unparalleled mood.  There is an upbeat freedom that runs throughout all of Go!, and even for those who are not familiar with a great deal of jazz music, the record follows clear enough lines that it can be enjoyed by music fans from all generations and preferences.  This final fact is a testament not only to the players involved, but the actual compositions they selected for the recording, and in every aspect, there has simply never been another album on par with Dexter Gordon's brilliant 1962 release, Go!

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 6: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #40"

It's Friday, and that means another dose of "Something Old, Something New" with The Daily Guru. Share and enjoy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 5: Alan Freed

Though there are many people throughout all of music history that can lay claim to various "firsts" and groundbreaking accomplishments, in almost every case, the "right" to call themselves the first in that area can be debated by a number of other individuals.  In reality, it rarely matters who was first, it is the fact that the event itself occurred that sent subsequent ripples across the world of music.  However, there are a few moments that are so vital to the progression of the art of music that they stand as historical points onto themselves, and there is no question that one of these came courtesy of a man named Albert James Freed.  While most know him as Alan Freed, or perhaps by his longtime radio nickname, "Moondog," it is he who is largely responsible for one of the biggest shifts in mass musical consumption, and it is work as a disc jockey that has made him a legend within the world of music.  It was also the location of Freed's seminal moment that earned Cleveland, Ohio the nickname of "The Rock And Roll City," and it is now home to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum.  Standing as perhaps the most important figure in the entire history of the r&b and rock movements, it was in fact Alan Freed who first used the term "rock and roll" on his radio program in the early 1950's, and the world would forever be changed.

This massive change within the world of music came about shortly after Freed moved from Akron, Ohio to Cleveland, were after a number of jobs, he secured a spot on the radio station WJW.  However, most historians agree that it was NOT Freed who came up with the term, nor was it solely his idea to play rhythm and blues records on his radio program.  Freed had a friendship with a man named Leo Mintz, who at the time ran one of the largest record stores in all of Cleveland, Rendezvous Records.  It was during the final years of the 1940's and the early 1950's that Mintz began selling rhythm and blues records in his store; and at the beginning of 1951, the number of such albums that he was selling to "white kids" was impossible to ignore.  It was due to this reality that Mintz encouraged Freed to play some of these albums on the air, and this turned into reality on July 11 of that year.  As an "on-air personality," Freed was far more forceful and energetic than nearly all of his peers, and this fit well with the tone of the music, and quickly garnered him a large following of young people.  In fact, Freed's shows became so in demand that taped episodes were soon being aired in New York City, and the music industry as a whole began to focus promotions in Cleveland, quickly making it one of the hotbeds for up and coming musicians.

Yet Freed is also responsible for another important "first," and this occurred on the evening of March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland Arena.  The event was called "The Moondog Coronation Ball," and it featured a bill of five different "rock style" acts, and many point to this as the very first rock concert.  In fact, the event was sold well over capacity of the arena, and it was shut down early by police, which would become a common occurrence at large-scale rock concerts over the following years.  To this day, the event is still held yearly in Cleveland, paying tribute to the original in terms of the spirit of the event.  Yet even though it was ended early, the impact of The Ball was undeniable, and Freed soon found himself being given far more airtime at the radio station, and within a few short years, he found himself broadcasting from New York City, as well as international locations.  In many ways, it was the excitement and energy that Freed brought to his broadcasts that set him far beyond his contemporaries, and his insistence on bringing the "new" sound of rock and roll to the masses would shape the entire world of music for decades, and in many ways is still relevant to this day.  Whether it was due to his usage of the term, the style of music he played or the fact that he put on the "first" rock concert, there are few individuals in history that have had as longstanding and outright groundbreaking an impact on music as a whole as one finds in Alan Freed.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

January 4: Daily Guru, "Get Over Yourself, Rock Snob!"

In today's video, I take on the world of rock music over the past thirty years. Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 3: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #105"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

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

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

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that artist, song or album):
1. Grinderman, "Kitchenette"  Grinderman 2
2. Goldfrapp, "Strict Machine"  Black Cherry
3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "Money Becomes King"  The Last DJ
4. Descendents, "Bikeage"  Milo Goes To College
5. Parliament, "P Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)"  Mothership Connection
6. The Damned, "Love Song"  Machine Gun Etiquette
7. 311, "Champange"  From Chaos
8. Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightnin'"  Howlin' Wolf
9. Manu Chao, "Luna Y Sol"  Clandestino
10. Esthero, "Indigo Boy"  Breath From Another
11. Nirvana, "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle"  In Utero
12. Sublime, "Paddle Out"  Sublime
13. Fats Waller, "I Ain't Got Nobody"  Ain't Misbehavin': 25 Greatest Hits
14. The Clash, "Capitol Radio"  Live In Chicago
15. Van Halen, "Beautiful Girls"  Van Halen II

Monday, January 2, 2012

January 2: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #39"

It's Monday, and time for the first edition of "Something Old, Something New" of the new year! Share and enjoy!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Daily Guru 2012 Preview & Contest Details

Big changes are coming to the channel in 2012…here's what's happening…also, contest details!

January 1: Blood, Sweat And Tears, "Spinning Wheel"

Artist: Blood, Sweat And Tears
Song: "Spinning Wheel"
Album: Blood, Sweat And Tears
Year: 1968

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Looking back at the entire history of recorded music, one can make the argument that an overwhelming majority of bands take a similar path throughout their careers.  In most cases, after spending years perfecting their sound, the group catches a "lucky break" and finds larger success.  It is usually this stage of the bands' progression which is not only the longest, but the most fruitful in terms of musical output and creativity.  Though there are some groups that take years to "prove" themselves on the larger stage, there are a few bands that seemed to take the opposite approach, hitting their apex the moment they "got big," and then took a swift turn downwards.  While there is no question that they stand as one of the most musically creative and outright talented bands in history, there may be no other group that was as quickly disappointing as Blood, Sweat And Tears.  Their first album was nothing short of a masterpiece; as the band found a brand new space at the intersection of psychedelic, jazz, pop, rock, and a number of other genres.  This was followed by a self-titled release later that same year, and it seemed that the band had a limitless amount of musical potential, as the songs on this record were in many ways more complete and outright stunning than those on their debut.  It is with this in mind that one can point to Blood, Sweat And Tears' fantastic 1968 single, "Spinning Wheel" to quickly learn why they stand as one of the most brilliant bands in music history.

While "Spinning Wheel" fits perfectly into the overall catalog of Blood, Sweat And Tears, there is no questioning the fact that within the opening notes, the music sounds a bit different than the songs off of their previous album.  This is not a "bad" thing in any way, and it is likely due to a few small changes within the overall lineup of the band.  Yet within seconds of the song beginning, the mood is set into place, and it is difficult to not be completely caught up in the tone of "Spinning Wheel."  It is the way that the hard-hitting horns contrast the overall groove of the song, and it is musical juxtapositions such as this that keep the song sounding fresh even after more than four decades.  Unlike almost any other recording from the era, it is the way that the piano progression from Dick Halligan becomes the cadence of the song, as well as the way that it creates a poly-rhythm with drummer Bobby Colomby.  Bassist Jim Fielder manages to find a pace and a riff between these two, and as this third tempo comes to life, one can quickly understand just how far beyond their peers Blood, Sweat And Tears were in terms of musical ability and creativity.  Yet it is the brass section and the way they play throughout all of "Spinning Wheel" that is the true musical highlight, and the fact that the song features some rather unexpected, yet superb solo sections makes it impossible to place "Spinning Wheel" into any single musical grouping.

However, the most obvious change in the sound of Blood, Sweat And Tears from their first album is the fact that this record features David Clayton-Thomas handling almost all of the lead vocals.  There is a spirit and vibrancy to every line which he sings, and it is this energy which enabled such a change in overall sound to work perfectly in the overall scope of the band.  The slight grit in his voice lends a bit of soul to "Spinning Wheel," and it is the way that his voice seems to be mixed at the same volume as the instruments that give the song a blending that is wonderfully unique.  As he sings, Clayton-Thomas' voice seems to swirl around the track, and in many ways this is as ideal a "psychedelic sound" as one can find anywhere, yet there is an unquestionable rock edge to his approach.  But it is also the somewhat cryptic lyrics to the song that make this a quintessential piece of the late 1960's counter-culture, as the spinning element of his voice makes the words all the more powerful.  Though one can certainly interpret the song as a look at life in general and the realities therein, it is phrases like, "...just let it shine within your mind, and show you the colours that are real..." and the multiple references to the "painted pony" that give the song a vivid and almost wild feel that were nothing short of perfect for the period during which the song was first released.

Truth be told, perhaps due to the amazing sounds of their first album, one can argue that Blood, Sweat And Tears was a very highly anticipated release, and it easily lived up to that hype.  In fact, "Spinning Wheel" would be nominated for a trio of Grammy Awards, taking home the honors for "Best Instrumental Arrangement" for that year.  Once one hears the song, it is quite obvious why it was given such accolades, and the influence of this song can be found in a wide array of bands that followed.  It is the way that "Spinning Wheel" has an almost classical structure, moving between very distinct segments, and allowing each musician on the track of have ample time at the front of the mix.  The way that the horns work across the mix, as a solo instrument, a punctuating point, as well as the backing chords to the mix is absolutely unlike any other recording in history, and this may be the most lasting impact of Blood, Sweat And Tears.  Furthermore, the fact that the horns work so perfectly within a more rock-styled arrangement would lead to similar attempts from bands across the planet, and yet there is an almost smoky and jazzy feel here that remains completely unique.  Also, it is the almost playful sound of the traditional Austrian song, "O Du Lieber Augustin" that closes the song which makes Blood, Sweat And Tears 1968 song, "Spinning Wheel" one of the most uniquely unforgettable moments of all time.