Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29: Daily Guru, "Get Over Yourself, Haters!"

In today's video, I take a moment to address those people who cannot handle the way some of us enjoy our music. Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #113"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(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 artist, song, or band):
1. James Brown, "It's A New Day So Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn"  Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume 3
2. REM, "Revolution"  1995/07/29  Keynes, England
3. Allman Brothers Band, "Done Somebody Wrong"  At The Fillmore East
4. Gogol Bordello, "Wonderlust King (BBC Session)"  Live From Axis Mundi
5. Jerry Lee Lewis, "High School Confidential"  Live At The Star Club, Hamburg
6. The Cinematic Orchestra, "Breathe"  Live At The Royal Albert Hall
7. The Clash, "Police On My Back"  Live At Shea Stadium
8. Guns N' Roses, "Used To Love Her (live)"  Unplugged
9. Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie, "Hot House"  Diz n' Bird At Carnegie Hall
10. Janis Joplin, "Kozmic Blues"  Joplin In Concert
11. Tori Amos, "Icicle"  1996/04/11  MTV Unplugged
12. Fugazi, "Target"  Live Series: Volume 16
13. Del McCoury Band, "Beauty Of My Dreams"  2002/06/22  Bonnaroo Festival
14. Bobby Darin, "The Curtain Falls (live)"  The Legendary Bobby Darin

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #55"

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

Sunday, February 26, 2012

February 26: Ahmad Jamal, "Poinciana"

Artist: Ahmad Jamal
Song: "Poinciana"
Album: At The Pershing: But Not For Me

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They say that the key to being a great artist is knowing how to properly hide your sources and influences. If this is the case, then nearly every jazz giant has succeeded in this, as one of the most important figures in the development of the genre remains tragically underrepresented more than fifty years after some of his most significant recordings. As a major influence on everyone from Miles Davis to John Coltrane to Herbie Hancock, few artists have so singlehandedly influenced so many whilst staying relatively unknown outside of jazz circles. Pioneering the idea that the silence in jazz is just as important as the notes, there are truly few figures in the genre as visionary as pianist Ahmad Jamal. So significant was Jamal's influence, that during the recording of the song "Freddie Freeloader" on the Kind Of Blue record, Davis famous asked pianist Wynton Kelley to, "sound more like Ahmad Jamal." Such reverence and respect from his fellow musicians was not enough to gain him similar notoriety in the public eye, yet Jamal has released more than fifty records over the past five decades, and he continues to make new music to this day. While there are many fantastic albums from which to choose, few will argue that Ahmad Jamal's 1958 release, At The Pershing: But Not For Me, not only represents his finest music moment, but similarly stands as one of the greatest and most influential jazz recordings in music history; and there are few songs on the album more impressive than his take on the classic, "Poinciana."

Though Jamal himself is unquestionably the focus and most talented member on "Poinciana," his backing band proves to be both musically intelligent as well as skilled, and the combination stands as one of the finest jazz groupings in history. Having played alongside the likes of Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson, bassist Israel Crosby is perhaps best known for his 1935 recording with Gene Krupa that features what is widely considered to be the first bass solo ever on a studio recording. It was not until he became a part of the Ahmad Jamal Trio that Crosby truly began to shine, as it is clear that the chemistry between him and Jamal is like that of no other, and the bassline he creates on this track stands as one of the most uniquely wonderful ever recorded. Drummer Vernell Fournier has an equally impressive pedigree, having been one of the primary drummers for both Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie before joining up with Jamal and Crosby. Having backed the likes of Billy Eckstine and Nancy Wilson as a teenager, few artists have spent as much of their life playing at such a high level as Fournier. All of the talent of both Crosby and Fournier is featured in top form all across "Poinciana," as they almost skip across the track, and it is this pace and energy that quickly vault this take beyond any other rendition.

While it does take all three musicians for the composition to truly take flight, the fact of the matter is, as one would expect, the focus of "Poinciana" is all on Ahmad Jamal. Playing a bright and crisp style, one cannot say enough about Jamal's liberal use of silence in his piano playing. These moments of piano silence often create a "tension/release" type of mood, as well as accentuating both the rhythm section, as well as the notes that Jamal DOES play. The spots that are "left unplayed" further show Ahmad Jamal's understanding of the music, as well as his deep connection with the spirit of the song, as he is in many ways leaving the empty spaces where he "feels" they should be. His understanding of this idea of purposeful silence is perhaps no more apparent or stunning then one finds on thi extraordinary rendition of the classic song, "Poinciana," and there is little question that the version of the song found on At The Pershing: But Not For Me is "the" definitive recording, and the massive open spaces left by Jamal are absolutely something that must be experienced firsthand to be properly understood. Whether he is playing his fantastic progressions, or leaving silence which brings with it just as much impact, the influence of Ahmad Jamal's piano work on "Poinciana" is largely unrivaled and it created a true revolution within the jazz genre.

While a majority of the most important and influential jazz musicians are household names, there are a number of equally significant players whose names have been largely lost by time. Furthermore, it is often these slightly lesser known artists who were the "real" innovators and pushed the more popular names into the territory and sounds that would make them famous. Standing high atop this second list is the man who taught the world that the silence in jazz songs can be just as important as the played notes, piano genius Ahmad Jamal. Having recorded for more than fifty years, few jazz musicians have had as long and as distinguished a career, and one would be hard pressed to find any "jazz great" that did not cite Jamal's work as a significant influence on their own sound and style. Primarily known for the way in which he left "open spaces" in his music, when he does play, Jamal's piano work is equal to that of any of the other piano greats, and it is this fact that makes him an undeniable icon of jazz music. Though he has released countless amazing records, it was his work with his trio that yielded his most stunning and influential musical moments. Combining with the bass work of fellow jazz icon Israel Crosby and drumming prodigy Vernell Fournier, the three stand today as one of the most musically creative and pioneering groups to ever record. The true genius and musical superiority of this group is perfectly captured on Ahmad Jamal's landmark 1958 recording of the classic song, "Poinciana."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 25: The Dictators, "Go Girl Crazy!"

Artist: The Dictators
Album: Go Girl Crazy!
Year: 1975
Label: Epic

Though even in modern times, they are still seen as rather far apart on the musical spectrum, when one considers the evolution and form of the styles, it is impossible to deny the strong connections between heavy metal and punk rock.  The linage of both genres can be traced back to the likes of The Stooges and The MC5 among other bands, and in many ways, the only difference is within the actual musical arrangements and form.  This reality is made more clear by the fact that throughout the 1970's, there were a number of bands that attempted to find the balance between these two musical styles, and few were more successful in this venture than when one explores the music of The Dictators.  Bringing together the heavy, almost pummeling sounds of heavy metal with a stripped down, almost sophomoric attitude, The Dictators did all they could to point out all the irony and hypocrisy within the rock world, and yet they rarely get the credit they deserve for their pioneering musical efforts.  While many bands copied their sound and attitude, there is simply no getting around the fact that the music which The Dictators created remains the pinnacle of the fusion of heavy metal and punk, and their records stand as an oft-overlooked classics of the 1970's.  Each track they recorded reinforces their distinctive sound, and one can quickly understand everything there is to know about The Dictators by experiencing their fantastic 1975 debut, Go Girl Crazy!

In every aspect, within the first moments of the albums' lead song, "The Next Big Thing," the entire personality of The Dictators becomes apparent, and while it suggests a rather comical nature, one cannot deny the powerful musical arrangement here, as well as throughout the entire album, that is led by the guitar of Ross "The Boss" Funicello.  As soon as the music drops in, everything from Black Sabbath to Blue Oyster Cult comes to mind, and the progression injects a superb amount of energy into every inch of the album.  The band pushes the overall sound to a point that it almost becomes cliché, but their ability to stop "just short" of that point proves the genius that lived behind their carefree persona.  The way in which Funicello locks in with the second guitar of Scott Kempner and bassist Andy Shernoff is true musical perfection, and the combined sound is one of the most imposing ever captured on tape, as the energy never relents anywhere on Go Girl Crazy!  Drummer Stu Boy Kingadds the ideal finishing touch each song, and it is within his performances that the unique sway to their songs is formed.  It is also the slightly-sludgy, yet constantly driving sound of The Dictators that quickly proves to be as good as heavy metal gets, and it is the clear control of their sound and energy that sets these songs apart from those of their peers.  Yet it is the fact that there is an edge and attitude within the music, and the odd timing of the songs, that makes them fit in perfectly with the still-forming punk sound, and one can easily argue that no other band straddled the line between the two sounds as perfectly as one finds on Go Girl Crazy!

Adding what is without question the ideal finishing touch to the bands' sound, there has never been another vocalist from any point in history quite like "Handsome" Dick Manitoba.  It is his distinctive ability to bring a gruff growl that is on par with any punk singer, while at the same time working the entire vocal scale as a singer that makes him so impressive, and the shared parts with Shernoff play equally as great.  The amount of swagger and testosterone that comes forth in the vocals is second to none, and the fact that they are able to do so without having to be overly loud or fast is again a testament to the control they have of the mood of their music.  There are even moments within the songs found on Go Girl Crazy! where one cannot help but compare the vocals to those found on The Stooges', "Gimme Danger," and the way in which the vocals lock in with the music matches this comparison quite well, even if they are a big sarcastic in this instance.  However, while the vocals are nothing short of fantastic, it is within the lyrics of these songs where the true personality of The Dictators is able to shine.  There is a sense of "rock grandeur" within the words, and yet it is also clear that the band is poking fun at their own, turning many of the tracks into some of the finest musical satires in all of music history.  Though some may see these songs as a "quest" for rock stardom, the fact that they can just as easily be read as one of excess and arrogance shows the almost hidden brilliance that made The Dictators so fantastic.

Bringing all of these elements together, the fact remains that Go Girl Crazy! is without question one of the most catchy and truly irresistible records ever recorded.  Regardless of ones musical preference, there is a draw to every song on the album that cannot be ignored, and it may live within the fact that one can truly feel the level of "fun" that the band had whilst recording the this release.  Whether it is the heavily sarcastic, yet clearly accurate opening tirade from Manitoba, pushing it to the line, "...this is just a hobby for me," or the vivid images of packed arenas, on many levels, Go Girl Crazy! is able to convey rock and roll stardom in a manner unlike any other album in history.  Yet it is also the fact that the music is powerful and captivating, and after hearing the album only once, one is left to wonder how such arrangements did not garner regular radio airplay at some point over the past decades.  In almost every facet, Go Girl Crazy! rings of the so-called "classic rock" sound, and aside from some of the lyrics, one would be hard pressed to separate these songs from many others that were released around the same time.  Yet it is this exact fact that enables The Dictators to be so distinctive when compared to their peers, and it is the way in which they blended the punk attitude into the heavy metal sound that remains such a uniquely exciting experience.  Though there were certainly a number of absolutely phenomenal bands from the era, few were even remotely equal to the talent and presence of The Dictators, and one can quickly understand their unique genius all across their extraordinary 1975 debut, Go Girl Crazy!

Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #54"

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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23: Hilly Kristal

Throughout the entire course of music history, there have been various people who have created the proper environment for certain aspects of musical developments to flourish.  In a number of cases, the most important moments and growths within the music industry are rather by accident, and yet one cannot deny their overall importance.  At the same time, it is often the evolution of an individual that can become the catalyst for an entire musical revolution, and this was certain the case in the life of Hilly Kristal, as one can make the argument that there was no other "non-musical" figure more important to the development of the punk rock sound.  As the founder and owner of the legendary CBGB's music club in the Bowery section of New York City, it was the notoriously inviting demeanor and open musical mind of Kristal that led to the rise of countless critical bands from The Ramones to Blondie to Patti Smith, and a wide range of others.  However, most are unaware that even before he opened CBGB's, Kristal had already been a part of some of the most legendary clubs in New York City, as well as having a rather short-lived musical career of his own.  Whether it was due to the space he provided, or the bands that happened to be playing in the area at the time, there is simply no overstating the importance of Hilly Kristal.

It has been well documented that Hilly Kristal's love for all forms of music began at a very early age, and he spent his years studying at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, PA before "formally" pursuing his career as a singer.  Performing with larger vocal groups (including one that performed at Carnegie Hall), as well as other configurations, Kristal released a few singles, one of which, 1962's "Man In Space," has garnered an almost cult-like following as the decades have passed.  After it became clear that performance would not be a "liveable" career choice, Kristal moved to New York City and began working on both the band and club management side of the business.  Along with overseeing a handful of bands over the years, Kristal spent a number of years managing the legendary Village Vanguard jazz club.  It was during this period that Kristal gained a love for quieter, often acoustic music, and in 1973, he opened his own club, calling it "CBGB's."  Though many different interpretations for the name have arisen over the years, the anagram actually stands for: "Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers," with the original intent of the club to be focused on those styles of bands.  Kristal used the word "gormandizer" as a reference to people who wanted to consume massive quantities of music, and this is exactly what he provided over the more than three decades that the club was in business.

The transition of CBGB's to the legendary club it is now known to be is largely attributed to when the band Television stopped by the club to ask for a gig.  Kristal was more than willing to let "just about anybody" play, and their appearance was soon followed by a large number of bands that have since achieved legendary status.  Though there were many other clubs in the city that were willing to book "punk" bands, such groups stayed largely loyal to CBGB's due to not only Kristal's personality, but the fact that he was well-known for treating the bands fairly in terms of shows and payment.  Furthermore, Kristal was notorious for booking bands even when he didn't "understand" their music, and this would become the breeding ground for countless musical innovations.  Through this, Kristal would become the managed for both The Dead Boys and The Shirts, and the CBGB's name would eventually expand to an international icon that is recognizable across the world to this day.  However, in 1993, the building that had housed the club for three decades was purchased by new owners, and a battle began to keep the club in place for more than a decade.  But in 2006, CBGB's finally lost its lease, and in October, a week of concerts marked the end of the club, with Patti Smith being the final act, joined by a number of guests throughout the show.  Less than a year later, Kristal passed away, and yet there is simply no arguing that a number of different musical styles would have never developed had it not been for the vision and personality of the great Hilly Kristal.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22: Daily Guru, "Ask The Guru #03"

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 21: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #112"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(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 artist, song, or album):
1. Pink Floyd, "Pigs On The Wing, Part 1"  Animals
2. Le Butcherettes, "Tonight"  Sin Sin Sin
3. Atmosphere, "The Waitress"  When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
4. Black Sabbath, "Killing Yourself To Live"  Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
5. Mark Lanegan Band, "Quiver Syndrome"  Blues Funeral
6. Soccer Team, "Mental Anguish Is Your Friend"  3 Song 7"
7. MC5, "Kick Out The JamsKick Out The Jams
8. Explosions In The Sky, "First Breath After Coma"  The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
9. NOFX, "Don't Call Me White"  Punk In Drublic
10. Babes In Toyland, "Swamp Pussy"  Spanking Machine
11. Phish, "Ginseng Sullivan"  1999/09/28 Pelham, AL
12. Motorhead, "Shoot You In The Back"  Ace Of Spades
13. Dax Riggs, "When I Was Bleedin'"  We Sing Of Only Blood Or Love
14. Soundgarden, "Outshined"  Badmotorfinger
15. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, "All In A Day"  Streetcore

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 20: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #53"

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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

February 19: The Slackers, "86 The Mayo"

Artist: The Slackers
Song: "86 The Mayo"
Album: Peculiar
Year: 2006

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One of the most exciting aspects of every form of music is the fact that there is always some band or musician who has it in their head to completely go against all preconceived notions of a genre, without sacrificing the musicality of the sound in question.  Whether it is a heavy metal band finding a way to make their sound within non-conventional instrumentation or arrangements, or a punk band using melodies and an upbeat spin, it is often within those who stand apart from the pack where the finest music can be found.  It is with this in mind that one can easily make the case that amongst the myriad of bands that emerged during the ska revival of the 1990's, few stand more impressive than The Slackers.  Even without mentioning their exceptional musical talents, one can see the band as having a maturity and understanding of the genre that is far beyond that of their peers, and as one follows their recorded catalog, it becomes nothing short of stunning to hear the way that they spin the ska style.  It is in their later albums where there is often a darker, far more serious sound than one might expect from the genre, and yet there is no question that these same songs are the bands' most impressive and rewarding.  This can be heard all throughout their 2006 release, Peculiar, and one can quickly understand everything that makes The Slackers so extraordinary within the albums' lead track, "86 The Mayo."

From the moment that "86 The Mayo" begins, it has a mood all its own, as while the roots of the ska sound are completely intact, there is also a tension that cannot be denied.  It is the fact that The Slackers are able to so perfectly execute this seemingly contrasting mood within the music that not only sets the song apart from others, but also shows how far they have come as a band.  At the forefront of the mix is the horn duo of Dave Hillyard and Glen Pine, and their ability to slide across the song gives it a sense of movement that is nothing short of superb.  Yet at the same time, there is a somber, soulful sound within their playing, and they add perfect sonic punctuation all across "86 The Mayo."  Along with this, guitarist Jay Nugent brings the classic "ska riff," and these combined sounds are an ideal tie to the roots of ska, and yet the band have clearly matured to a point where they can put far more sound and emotion into their music.  This is found largely within the rhythm section, as bassist Marcus Geard and drummer Ara Babajian dig a deep, yet unique groove into the song, and their somewhat dry sound gives the song even greater depth.  Yet it is the organ work from Vic Ruggiero that is perhaps the finest aspect of all of "86 The Mayo," as he gives the song a mood and sting that push it far beyond the limits of everything that had been done previously in the genre.  It is the fact that across the entire song, the music has an upbeat feel, and yet the song itself is rather stern which makes this not only a distinctive moment in the genres' history, but also proof of the endless depth of the style.

Along with his fantastic organ work, the vocals from Vic Ruggiero are equally as superb, and one can easily make the case that he is one of the finest vocalists that the genre has ever known.  There is a raw, authentic, and completely honest sound to every song he sings, and "86 The Mayo" represents one of the many instances in his career where his ability as a storyteller and poet are in perfect form.  Balancing the line between singing and speaking, there is a relaxed sound to Ruggiero's voice, and with every line, he pulls the listener in further and further.  At the same time, there is no arguing that "86 The Mayo" represents one of the best lyrics that he has ever penned, and one can read into them in a number of different ways.  Pulling everything from political commentary to religious allusions, Ruggiero brings an intellect and talent in word-play that is rarely heard anymore, and the words he sings enable the song to have absolutely limitless playback ability.  The call for help and the demand for change that one can hear in these words is echoed throughout the entire Peculiar album, and one cannot help but stand in frustrated awe of lines like, "...and if you think the times have been changin', well it's anywhere but here..."  It is the way that he presents each line in such a matter-of-fact way that makes it impossible to ignore his words, and the song easily cements Ruggiero's place as one of the most talented performers of his generation.

The fact of the matter is, any genre title or other classification is instantly limiting to not only what fans expect, but to what the musicians within that genre will attempt to do musically.  Within the world of ska music, there is rarely a song that has a strong, somber tone that is able to keep the more upbeat sound intact, and yet The Slackers prove this is possible all throughout their Peculiar album.  Whether it is the bouncing horns or the funky groove that permeates all across "86 The Mayo," it is truly irresistible, and this serves as proof as to the bands' years of experience in honing their sound and finding the smallest nuances within the music.  Along with this, The Slackers show that there can be tragic happiness in the musical sense, and few other bands have even attempted such a sound, let alone succeeded to this level.  Yet one can see this sound as not all that surprising, as looking back at the bands' entire catalog, one can argue that their previous records have been building up to this sound, and yet that makes the feat in itself no less impressive.  Throughout the album, the band brings some of their most frustrated and defiant lyrics to date, and yet they never lose their ability to deliver these words with anything less than intriguing and engaging results.  Though every song on the album is fantastic, few tracks better represent the unique musical mastery that is The Slackers than what one can hear on their 2006 song, "86 The Mayo"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18: A PSA From The Guru

What? A video on a weekend? This is a quick PSA to address a rather significant issue. Share and enjoy.

February 18: Flipper, "Generic"

Artist: Flipper
Album: Generic
Year: 1982
Label: Water Music

Largely due to the style and attitude that was buried within a majority of the mainstream music of the time, it is somewhat understandable why many critics claimed that the "spirit" of rock and roll was rather difficult to find throughout the 1980's.  While many bands decided to do little more than sing songs of excess and play rather showy music, the "guts" and attitude that defined much of what rock music had come to be was far more difficult to find.  However, it was most certainly alive and well, but it many cases it was hiding behind terms like "post-punk" and "hardcore."  In terms of both the attitude and energy which makes rock music so fantastic, few bands of the time period represented rock and roll better than Flipper, and yet they remain one of the most tragically overlooked bands in history.  Rising from the wild Los Angeles hardcore scene, Flipper were a band that seemed to make it their mission to follow no rules whatsoever with their music, and the resulting songs were largely chaotic, but there was a controlled genius to be found in every recording.  To this end, though it is completely unique in every way, one cannot deny the brilliance Flipper's 1982 debut, Generic, and the album manages to hit just as hard now as it did upon first release, as there has never been anything even remotely similar to the sound or power of the band.

From the instant that the album begins, the wide range of influences on the band become abundantly clear, and while there is no question that Flipper simply smashed them all together, there is a strange genius within the sound.  The most dominant aspect of the music are the grinding basslines from Bruce Loose, and on many levels, in both his tone and approach, he captures the essence of the L.A. hardcore scene within his playing.  It is the almost lulling repetition of the bassline that gives "Sex Bomb" a bit of an unsettling, ominous feeling, and it is also where the song becomes firmly rooted in a sound that is rather akin to heavy metal.  Similar sounds and moods like this run throughout the entire album, and it becomes amazingly captivating.  This sound is complimented by the rather disorderly guitar from Ted Falconi, and though he is somewhat buried in most mixes of the album, he adds another level of crunchy chaos to the overall sonic assault that is Flipper.  Drummer Steve DePace gives one of the more controlled performances all across the record and yet on many levels, his rhythms are completely ignored by the rest of the band.  The other players seem to be going at their own pace, and the fact that it somehow works perfectly is the true genius behind Flipper.  These multiple rhythms play a bit of an odd game with one another, as there is no question that the song has a strong beat, and yet it is so untamable, that the song is impossible to nail in a specific time signature.  This makes many of the bands' songs impossible to dance or mosh or "anything" along to, and all one can to is stand back and appreciate the unmatched genius that is on display throughout Generic.

However, what may be the most superb musical aspect of the band is found on "Sex Bomb," as they incorporate the saxophone from "Bobby" and "Ward."  From the earlier moments of "just punctuation" to the brilliantly potent almost-solos they take later in the song, the fact that they fit so perfectly within the sound is a testament to just how far apart Flipper were from their peers.  There is no question that in this aspect, the band took a page from The Stooges, and it works just as perfectly, giving "Sex Bomb" an overall feeling and sound like nothing else in music history.  Perfectly complimenting this clear familiarity with the The Stooges, throughout the entire album, even at first listen, there is no question that the focus of the record is on the almost feral, maddening vocals from the great Will Shatter.  As he shouts his way through the records' seemingly random lyrics, there is an almost Beat-era rhythm within his delivery, and it is almost odd how he is able to say so much by doing nothing more than repeating the same phrase at times.  Again, the comparison to the vocal approach of Iggy Pop is hard to avoid, and yet Shatter makes the sound all his own, seeming to dig deeper and deeper into his deranged lunacy with each repetition of the phrase.  It is the fact there is such a strong sense of raw honesty within his vocals that makes them impossible to ignore, and while many other vocalists attempted the "in your face" style, none carried it out as perfectly as one finds on Generic.

In many ways moreso than any other band in history, it is truly impossible to place Flipper into any single musical genre.  This is largely due to the fact that on every song they recorded, the band seems to make a clear point to not obey any "rules" of music whatsoever, even their own.  While this certainly is the key reason that songs like "Sex Bomb" sound so chaotic at first, once one gives the song a "real" listening, the unique genius of the composition comes to light.  The way that the band was able to build a form around the seemingly disorderly music almost pushes it into a jazz arena, as there is certainly improvisation and playing off of one another present throughout this entire album.  Furthermore, the fact that they present songs that clock in at nearly eight minutes separates it quite far from the "normal" idea of punk or hardcore, and even sets it past the "normal" timing within rock songs.  Yet it is also the fact that throughout the entire album, Generic never loses any steam or power that proves the might and distinction of the entire band, as one would be hard pressed to find any other band in history that is even remotely on the same musical plane as Flipper.  As the album continues, the playing becomes sloppier and heavier, and this mirrors the way that one can hear Shatter's vocals become more and more disturbed as the record continues, and there are many moments where it almost seems to "fall apart" in absolutely amazing fashion.  It is this mesmerizing chaos and all out sonic warfare that makes Flipper's extraordinary 1982 album, Generic, such a pivotal and truly genius moment in music history.

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #52"

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16: Phil Spector

Throughout the course of music history, many a performer and "music industry type" have fallen far from grace.  However, the fact remains that while they themselves may have done acts that are unforgivable; one cannot overlook the musical and historical contributions that they made throughout their career.  It is with this in mind that one must ignore the past decade of reality when discussing the massive impact and importance that Phil Spector has had on the entire world of music as we know it.  Whether it was due to the wide range of seminal bands with which he worked, or the hugely important advancements he made in recording style and technology, there has simply never been another individual who has moved music forward in a similar manner.  Having handled production duties for everyone from The Ramones to John Lennon to Ike and Tina Turner to a long list of others, few producers can post as diverse a catalog, and yet at the same time one can argue that it is for his musical style that he will be best remembered.  Truth be told, one can easily make the case that without the creative vision of Phil Spector, the entire musical explosion of the 1960's may have never occurred.  Furthermore, his recording style is still widely used to this day, and one simply cannot deny the pivotal role that Phil Spector has played in the past century of recorded music.

While most are well aware of the recording technique which made Phil Spector famous, the truth of the matter is that before he became a "formal" producer, he was actually a chart-topping musician and writer.  In 1958, Spector wrote and produced a song for his then band, The Teddy Bears, called "To Know Him Is To Love Him," and the song went to the top spot on the Billboard charts, selling more than one million copies in the process.  Months later, the group broke up and Spector found himself working alongside the legendary writing team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  Along with the writing, Spector played guitar on a handful of studio sessions, and he can be found in the credits for various roles on songs like Ben E. King's, "Spanish Harlem," The Drifters, "On Broadway," and though most are unaware, it was Spector who produced the original version of "Twist And Shout" by The Top Notes.  Shortly after this period, Phil Spector decided to open his own recording label, and Philies Records was soon in business, churning out a handful of songs that remain "classic" to this day.  However, it was the actual sound that he began developing during this period that would become far more significant than and of the musicians whom he recorded, and as the 1960's got underway, Spector unleashed perhaps the most important recording innovation of the entire decade.

Referred to as the "wall of sound," Spector began the practice of bringing in a massive number of musicians into the studio, and "layering" each recorded track on top of one another.  By having so many musicians playing at once, there was a far larger presence to the overall song, and such a sound came through far better on AM Radio stations and jukeboxes, which were the primary musical outlets at the time.  Furthermore, using the "wall of sound" technique, the songs in question took on an entirely new mood, and there was a power within the songs that had never before been heard.  The key to making this sound work was the fact that in almost every case, after the initial recordings were complete, Spector would play the track back and rerecord it in an echo chamber.  Perhaps the most well-known examples of the "wall of sound" style are The Ronettes, "Be My Baby" and "Da Doo Ron Ron" by, The Crystals.  However, few will argue that if one seeks the ultimate perfection in this technical approach, it lies within Ike and Tina Turner's legendary take on "River Low, Mountain High."  At the same time, the "wall of sound" is used on almost every track on The Beatles' Let It Be record, and one can easily hear the commonality between these recordings.  To this day, the "wall of sound" technique is still widely used to give albums a unique sound, and there is simply no arguing that music was forever changed due to the vision and talents of Phil Spector.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 15: Daily Guru, "Guru Soapbox: Grammy Awards"

In today's video, I get on my soapbox and explain why the Grammy Awards are a pointless relic of the past. Share and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 14: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #111"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(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 artist, song, or album):
1. Patti Smith, "GloriaHorses
2. Rock Erickson And The Aliens, "I Think Of Demons"  The Evil One
3. Stone Temple Pilots, "Creep (Unplugged)"
4. Nina Simone, "I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl"  Nina Simone Sings The Blues
5. Warpaint, "Undertow"  Warpaint
6. Ahmad Jamal, "Moonlight In Vermont"  At The Pershing: But Not For Me
7. Wesley Willis, "Rock N Roll McDonaldsGreatest Hits
8. The Adverts, "Gary Gilmore's Eyes"  Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts
9. PJ Harvey, "Down By The WaterTo Bring You My Love
10. Chuck Berry, "Little Queenie"  Chuck Berry Is On Top
11. Air, "Cosmic Trip"  Le Voyage Dans La Lune
12. Thee Oh Sees, "Crushed Grass"  Carrion Crawler / The Dream
13. Mazzy Star, "Fade Into YouSo Tonight That I Might See
14. The Clash, "Clampdown"  London Calling
15. 2Pac, "I Ain't Mad At Cha"  All Eyez On Me

Monday, February 13, 2012

February 13: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #51"

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

Share and enjoy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 12: Taj Mahal, "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)"

Artist: Taj Mahal
Song: "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)"
Album: The Natch'l Blues
Year: 1968

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When one considers the genre of the blues, though there has certainly been a fair amount of variation in style over the years, one can argue that an overwhelming majority of artists find their "style," and stay within that realm.  This is not to say that a Chicago-style bluesman won't every have a more Delta-blues type song; but in most cases, the catalog of even the finest blues player is a rather narrow overall look at the world of blues.  However, this reality is rarely seen due to the fact that there are only a handful of performers in history who seem to have made it their job to bring all of the elements and styles of blues together as one, and it is this ability that makes the music of Taj Mahal some of the most enjoyable and diverse that one can find.  Truth be told, the sheer level of sonic diversity one finds across his catalog is far beyond that of nearly any other artist, regardless of genre.  Adding to this the fact that he has been recording for more than four decades, and it is almost impossible to find a single album to use as a "starting point" in his music, let alone pointing to a single song as being able to define his sound.  In fact, with the variety in styles and sounds that can be found in his recorded catalog, it is truly impossible to sum it up in a single track, and yet one can understand the overall tone and eclectic approach that Taj Mahal puts into his songs by hearing his iconic 1968 recording, "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)."

From the moment that "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)" begins, there is an energy and sound that almost instantly gives it a tone that falls more accurately into the world of pop music than that of blues.  However, due to the tone with which the musicians play, the blues-based roots are quite apparent, and yet the song retains a swing and mood that is completely unique.  A majority of the overall personality that one finds on "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)" comes from the playing of Taj Mahal, as his steel-bodied guitar gives the song a distinctive sound, and the sharp, emotive blows from his harmonica are second to none.  It is the groove that he quickly establishes which makes the song outright irresistible, and this is also due to the masterful way in which he is blending blues, r&b, soul, and even a bit of funk into a singular sound.  Adding to this is the perfectly balanced thump and groove of bassist Gary Moore, and the almost simplistic arrangement that dominates the verse section works wonderfully when it is contrasted to the solos and fills that come during the bridge and other sections of the song.  Though it is slightly buried in the mix, the organ part that underlies the music is being played by none other than Al Kooper, and this only adds to the overall tone that makes this one of the finest moments in blues history.

However, the allure behind "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)" is just as much coming from the vocals of Taj Mahal as it is from the combined musical sound on the track.  It is within his vocal performance where one can find the links to the more traditional sounds of the blues, as it is clear that many points on the song, he is giving himself completely to the groove and mood of the track, letting the music itself dictate both the pitch and intensity with which he sings.  At the same time, there is no denying that Taj Mahal's voice is anything less than superb, and in many ways, he shows a greater vocal range than a majority of his blues-based peers.  This factor allows "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)" to have a more distinctive sound, and at the same time, the rhythm with which he sings seems to be an element onto itself.  Though it is perhaps the most overlooked element of the song, once one gives it more attention, one can argue that the way he delivers many of the lines is actually an early sign of the rap style, as the concentration is far more on the pace of the words than the actual melody.  However, there is no question that the song is blues at its core, as the story Taj Mahal presents across the song is as timeless a tale as one can find.  Singing about how his love took a train ("the katy" is the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad) and left him behind, this is a theme that has been explored countless times, and it sounds as good as ever on this track.

Truth be told, it did not take long for "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)" to achieve a rather cult-like status, as it is without question one of the finest pieces that Taj Mahal ever wrote.  Over the decades, artists ranging from Albert King to Bonnie Raitt to Phish have recorded their own takes on the song, and yet none come close to the overall sonic power and allure of the original.  Yet the song became even more well known when it was used in the film The Blue Brothers, and it was well documented that the song was a personal favorite of one of the films' stars, John Belushi.  However, even without these later accolades and tributes, the song itself easily stands on its own as a brilliant moment in music history, as few other recordings have presented as enjoyable and perfectly balanced a mixture of so many different musical styles.  It is the way that the deep groove manages to increase the overall emotion of the song, and at the same time, the higher level of energy never undermines the core elements upon which the blues were built.  These ideas largely reflect the overall musical approach that Taj Mahal was experimenting with all across The Natch'l Blues, as he attempted to present the blues in yet another way, which he continues to do to this day.  Standing as a truly unique and absolutely essential piece of the development of modern music, there are few songs that are as outright enjoyable and musically diverse as what one can experience on Taj Mahal's magnificent 1968 song, "She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February 11: Blue Scholars, "Blue Scholars"

Artist: Blue Scholars
Album: Blue Scholars
Year: 2004
Label: independently released

As the 2000's began, it was nothing short of outright depressing to see the overly-predictable and largely uninspiring world that the hip-hop genre had become.  Dominated by songs and artists that seemed far more concerned with placing as much bass as possible on a track, and adding over it a smattering of meaningless lyrics that were often nothing short of offensive to listeners in terms of how low quality the rhymes were.  With the rise of digital downloads, this trend seemed to be set to get even worse, as the idea of making a complete album was being dumped in favor of creating just one single, and for a majority of true hip-hop fans, the mainstream sound had little to offer.  Thankfully, at any point in history where the dominant sound has become so lost in itself, there has been an underground movement that has served as a vital space for amazing artistry and for the true form of the style to thrive.  In the case of this era of hip-hop, some of the most promising sounds were coming from a rather unexpected place: Seattle, Washington.  Having been known as the "hotbed" for the "grunge" movement a decade earlier, the city was boasting some of the most vibrant and fresh hip-hop sounds in years, and at at the front of this movement were a duo going by the name Blue Scholars, and their 2004 self-titled debut remains easily one of the finest records that has come from the world of hip-hop in recent memory.

Perhaps the main element that sets Blue Scholars so far beyond their peers is the fact that there is such a wide range of musical diversity to be found in their songs.  While the album has a very cohesive feel throughout, each song has its own distinctive personality, and this is due to phenomenal vision and talents of one half of the group, producer and DJ Sabzi.  Whether he is bringing beautiful guitar progressions or some of the hardest hitting beats one can find anywhere, it is the balance Sabzi finds on each of these arrangements that serves as a reminder to the "music" part of the term, "hip-hop music."  At the same time, while the orchestrations are both unique and completely compelling, Sabzi sacrifices none of the core elements of the hip-hop style, and each of these tracks can easily hit just as hard as the rather copycat sounds that one will find in "top forty" hip-hop songs.  Furthermore, he shows a range in ability beyond nearly any other producer in history when he brings the mood down to a far more intimate feel at the center of the album.  It is the fact that even in these more refined, melodic moments, the overall mood and flow of the album is never lost that one can truly appreciate the exceptional talents of Sabzi, and few records from any point in hip-hop history have shown such consistent quality as one finds on every moment of the music across Blue Scholars.

Working perfectly in every musical arrangement and mood, Blue Scholars emcee Geologic quickly makes his case as one of the most original and outright talented rappers of his entire generation.  At every turn, his voice has a power and presence that cannot be ignored, and he also manages to have a pull within his words that draw the listener in deeper and deeper.  There is not a moment on Blue Scholars where his vocals seem in the least bit forced or unnatural, and it is the way that these rhymes flow so effortlessly that cements his place as an exceptional emcee.  While there is no getting past his fantastic tone, one can easily make the case that the true draw of the talents of Geologic lies within his absolutely phenomenal writing skills.  Much like the range in the sounds over which he raps, Geologic is able to present a wide range in themes and feelings within his rhymes, and this diversity in subject matter becomes the ideal finishing touch on an extraordinary record.  Whether he is reminiscing about his days growing up, extolling the virtues of the Pacific Northwest, or making some of the hardest hitting social critiques that have been heard in years, each rhyme is superb, and hip-hop music rarely sounds better than the words of Geologic.  It is the fact that he is able to hit so hard with his words, yet never take a sound that is overly-aggressive that proves his talents as an emcee, and there is no question that he carries the torch for the true spirit and purpose of the genre.

Though most are unaware, there are actually two different releases that one can find of Blue Scholars, and the track list varies slightly between them.  The original release of the record was in 2004, distributed independently and containing eleven tracks.  This version was only available in the Seattle area, but after a great demand, the record was given a national release, but variations were made.  First off, the album cover was changed from the "blue notebook" that was found on the original release.  Secondly, three songs were added onto the end of the album, and the opening track was slightly altered.  While the second release is far more common to find, regardless of which one hears, the overall quality and impact of the record is much the same.  The fact that the album has yet to be picked up by a label is turning out to seem like a rather purposeful effort by the group.  This is due to the fact that their most recent releases have been funded by internet-based campaigns, and one can also assume that due to their exceptional talents, any label seeking the best that true hip-hop music has to offer would be doing all they could to acquire publishing rights to the duo's sound.  Filled with some of the most diverse and beautiful musical arrangements that the hip-hop world has ever heard, along with equally captivating and impressive rhyming, the 2004 self-titled release from Blue Scholars remains one of the finest albums in years; and serves as a reminder as to the quality one should demand within the hip-hop genre.

Friday, February 10, 2012

February 10: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #50"

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

Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 9: Sam Phillips

Throughout the course of music history, there are a handful of figures who were not musicians, but without whom, the entire art of music would never have developed as it has.  Though some of these are songwriters, engineers, and other such personalities, there is one man who occupied many roles in the production side, but it was his business in general that remains one of the most vital entities of popular music.  In some ways, it is impossible to not only separate his name from the business, but also the names of some of the most famous and important figures in music history.  Though he had already been doing a great deal of recording, as well as a longtime job as a DJ, there are few pairings of words in music history that demand as much respect as Sun Records and their owner, Sam Phillips.  The list of artists who made their name as part of the Sun Records family is largely a list of the most well known figures of the rockabilly movement, as everyone from Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash to Jerry Lee Lewis to Carl Perkins to Roy Orbison all cut their finest recordings for the label.  Yet along with this, the studio was home to what is now know as "The Million Dollar Quartet;" which was an impromptu "jam session" featuring Presley, Cash, Lewis, and Perkins that occurred on December 4, 1956.  Due to his constant quest to combine musical styles, as well as the sheer fact that his studio was home to so many historical moments, music history would simply never have run this course without Sam Phillips.

Truth be told, even before the "explosion" of artists at Sun Records, Phillips had established himself as a pivotal figure in the music scene.  Throughout the 1940's, Phillips was a radio DJ for a station in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and due to the station having an "open format" in terms of programming, he was exposed to a wide range of different musical sounds.  After nearly a decade in radio, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and opened the now-famous Memphis Recording Street on Union Avenue; and the building still stands as it did then.  Due to this love for music and knowledge of recording techniques from his previous job, Phillips allowed countless amateurs to use his studio to record demos, and though most are unaware, artists like B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Junior Parker, and many other legends all made recordings for Phillips.  In turn, Phillips would "shop" these recordings to larger record labels, building the seed money to open what would eventually become Sun Records.  But perhaps the most important turning point for both Phillips and music in general occurred in March of 1951 when he recorded a group named Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats performing a song called "Rocket 88."  The group, which was led by a young man named Ike Turner, and this song are widely regarded as the "first" rock and roll recording.

It was Sam Phillips constant attempt to completely ignore the racial issues surrounding the rock and roll sound, in order to find the best talent in the country.  The fact that he was attempting this in what was then the still heavily segregated "South" of the United States was not only a move of artistic integrity, but it was also a rather courageous pursuit.  At the same time, though it may seem odd now, the reality is that the rockabilly artists Phillips was recording were not making very good sales figures, and Sun Records struggled greatly just to stay in business.  Even when Presley arrived, he was recording mostly ballads, and Phillips knew that these would not find great commercial success.  In fact, while the sessions were done at the Sun facility, it was not until Phillips sold Presley's contract to RCA that "Blue Suede Shoes" became a hit; though Phillips was able to benefit financially from this due to contract terms.  Furthermore, it is well known that RCA experimented with countless different attempts to recreate the Sun Studios "sound" after signing Presley, and yet they never achieved the correct tone.  However, many artists a long list of artists would keep Sun Records open and functioning, aside from a single ten-year period, and to this day, musicians can still record in this legendary spot in the evening hours.  Yet while it was the performers he recorded that may have reshaped culture as a whole, there is no question that without the efforts of Sam Phillips, rock and roll music likely would have never progressed in the manner it has for more than half a century.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

February 8: Daily Guru, "Gabbing With The Guru: Guru Dad"

In today's edition of "Gabbing With The Guru," MY DAD stops by to talk about going to Woodstock, music, and other awesome stuff! Share and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

February 7: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #110"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(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 (links are to MY review of that artist, song, or album):
1. Alice Cooper, "Be My Lover"  Killer
2. Cave, "WUJ"  Neverendless
3. The Slackers, "Propaganda"  Peculiar
4. A Tribe Called Quest, "Check The Rhime"  The Low End Theory
5. The Clash, "Complete Control"  Complete Control '45
6. Julian Lynch, "Terra"  Terra
7. Beastie Boys, "Nonstop Disco Powerpack"  Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
8. Bruce Springsteen, "Atlantic City"  Nebraska
9. The Gun Club, "Preaching The Blues"  Fire Of Love
10. The Jesus And Mary Chain, "Cut Dead"  Psychocandy
11. The Rondelles, "He's Outta Sight"  Fiction Romance, Fast Machines
12. X-Ray Spex, "Obsessed With You"  Germ Free Adolescents
13. Sham 69, "Borstal BreakoutTell Us The Truth
14. Minor Threat, "I Don't Wanna Hear It"  Dischord 1981: The Year In Seven Inches
15. Prince, "Baby I'm A Star"  Purple Rain

Monday, February 6, 2012

February 6: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #49"

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

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February 5: Lucero, "Nights Like These"

Artist: Lucero
Song: "Nights Like These"
Album: Tennessee
Year: 2002

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Many argued that as the 2000’s began, musical quality and creativity had been all but lost due to modern recording technologies, as well as the clear effort by labels to seek out “marketable” artists as opposed to musicians with actual talent.  Thankfully, it is in dark times such as these were the independent labels begin to thrive, as their commitment to a certain sound or standard rarely becomes compromised.  Those who understood this reality began to scour such labels for a new act to bring hope to the existence of amazing, original music, and few bands delivered with more quality and consistency than Lucero.  Bringing a completely fresh, distinctive, and outright engaging combination of country, folk, and even a bit of indie-rock, with a solid peppering of the punk spirit, there is no question that the group represented everything there was to love about music in a rather dismal age of musical releases, and Lucero proved that there was a bright future in high quality, moving music, though it was far from the mainstream sound. Barely a decade into their career, the band have released half a dozen records, all of which are of the finest quality, and this consistency has remained intact through a number of changes to the lineup.  Due to their unique sound and exceptional level of unwavering quality, there is not an album in the bands’ catalog that is not worth owning, and yet one can argue that Lucero were at their best and most musically pure on their 2002 song, "Nights Like These."

All of the songs on Tennessee are attributed to the entire group in terms of writing, and in this statement, it is clear that the band realizes that a complete group effort yields the best results. On "Nights Like These," there is an amazing sense of energy that runs throughout the song, and such a feeling is rarely found on recordings with a similar underlying sentiment.  It is the way that the guitar of Ben Nichols manages to convey such a wide range of feelings that makes the song so unique, as he perfectly blends together the slow, somber march of heartbreak along side the deep pain and frustration that is almost always in equal measure.  The fact that both of these styles are able to shift back and forth so seamlessly is what makes "Nights Like These" such a unique musical experience, as one can truly feel the pain coming through within the music, which in modern times is often a lost art.  Yet it is the work of the rest of the band that gives the song such a complete feel, as it is in many ways the small additions to the song were the finest moments occur.  Whether it is a deeply soulful organ chord or the way that the cymbals flare out at certain moments, the chemistry between these players is far beyond that of any of their peers, as they completely give themselves to the mood of the song, yielding one of the most stunningly beautiful arrangements to emerge in years.

However, along with being able to lead this band through so many variations on a single style, there is no question that Ben Nichols also possesses a voice that is nothing short of perfect when blended with the overall sound that Lucero presents.  Striking a completely captivating and absolutely ideal balance between country crooner and gritty rocker, Nichols' voice conveys the honesty and feeling of the "kid next door" sitting on the porch singing about his own troubles.  It is the depth and sheer sense of unguarded emotion that comes through in every line he sings which serve as the final element in making this song nothing short of exceptional, and in many ways, this represents the finest mixture of these two genres that has ever been recorded.  Though nearly every artist has taken on the idea of heartbreak at some point in their career, it is the sense of loneliness and loss that one can feel on "Nights Like These," that sets if far beyond other efforts.  In many ways, Nichols is able to convey this emotion so accurately that it becomes almost unsettling, as he hides nothing from the listener and completely bares his soul.  It is perhaps when he sings, "'s nights like these, the sad songs don't help..." where one can truly feel the pain and frustration, and yet the song remains some how alluring and completely beautiful.

In an era of music that has become increasingly stagnant and predictable, bands like Lucero serve as proof that there is still the potential for amazing, original music to be created.  Ignoring every trend that one can find, it is the way that the band blends together element from country, folk, blues, and a bit of punk attitude into a sound that has never before been heard that makes them such a wonderful band to experience.  It is this combination and balance which enables Lucero to become accessible and enjoyable to music lovers across the spectrum, as there is an honestly and purity within their sound that cannot be denied.  It is the way that the entire band moves as a single unit, completely filling out every nuance of this composition that draws the listener into "Nights Like These," and the balance between instrumentation cements the idea that when done properly, the final product will always massively outweigh the sum of its parts.  Adding in the truly sensational and absolutely moving singing of Ben Nichols at its core, and Lucero's overall performance here becomes nothing short of an absolute joy to experience time and time again.  The sincerity that one can feel in every word which Nichols sings is second to none, and this level of authenticity and honesty within the music serves as a reminder that try as they might, but there is never anything that can replace or top truly talented musicians performing at the top of their game.  While every one of their records are solid both musically and lyrically, there is no question that Lucero’s 2002 album, Tennessee, stands as their finest work, and easily it is hard to find a more accurate display of the true power and presence of the band than their heartbreakingly amazing song, "Nights Like These."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

February 4: Blind Faith, "Blind Faith"

Artist: Blind Faith
Album: Blind Faith
Year: 1969
Label: Polydor/Atco

When writing the history of an overwhelming majority of bands that manage to achieve large-scale commercial success, it is a rather simple task; as one easily notes their rise from a "garage band" to fame and recognition. In a small umber of cases, an additional chapter must be made, as one of the artists manages to find a later solo resurgence or perhaps success with a second musical project. Then of course, there is the case of Eric Clapton. In many ways the "King Midas" of blues-rock, nearly every band of which he was a part in the 1960's and 1970's stands today as an integral part of the history of rock music. From The Yardbirds, to the legendary group Cream, to his work with Derek and The Dominos, Clapton's name is without question one of the most highly respected in music history. Yet it was the "one off" project between the latter of these bands which may feature the greatest playing of his career.  In fact, it was this band that was formed in the wake of the breakup of Cream, with drummer Ginger Baker looking to find a new band alongside Clapton's guitar.  At the same time, Steve Winwood was facing similar issues within The Spencer Davis group, and after bringing Ric Grech on board, they dubbed themselves Blind Faith.  Though the band only released a single, self-titled album, their 1969 album remains one of the most impressive moments in the entire history of recorded music.

Though the music throughout all of Blind Faith is nothing short of spectacular, a majority of the initial hype behind the record came from the controversy concerning the cover art (pictured above). Considered "too racy" for U.S. audiences, the cover was replaced by a group photo for its release there, though a single run of the original were pressed and sold within the U.S. Regardless of all of this, one cannot deny the fact that Blind Faith is one of the greatest blues-rock albums ever recorded, and in many ways, one can make the case that this sound was what Eric Clapton had been searching for up to that point. Moving around the core sound of a classic slow blues, yet as it progresses, both the music and lyrics give it an amazingly soulful, almost preaching tone. One can easily feel the frustration and searching for inner peace of Clapton though his guitar playing on each track, and even when he kicks the songs into a more aggressive gear, his magnificent wah-infused solos somehow fit perfectly into the song. In many ways, the songs on this album serves as a clear precursor to the sound he would perfect with his next project (Derek & The Dominos), yet one can easily argue that "Presence Of The Lord" remains of his finest compositions and musical performances of his career. Similarly, Ginger Baker creates an amazing, grooving backbeat throughout the album, and the chemistry between these two artists has rarely sounded as complete, vaulting the overall sound of the record beyond any possible expectations.

Presenting both ideal vocals, as well as an almost gospel-esque electric piano performance at times, his work within the confines of Blind Faith may very well represent the finest moment of the career of Steve Winwood.  Smooth and soulful throughout, the electric piano progression gives the album an almost "church like" sound,perfectly mirroring the tones of Clapton's playing, and the combination of these sounds makes each moment more powerful than the next, and vaulting the entire album into absolutely unprecedented territory. Similarly, with an ample dose of reverb in tow, the vocals of Steve Winwood are without question some of the most heartfelt and powerful ever written and performed. Pulling stylistic influence from American R&B, Winwood's vocals cap off the "religious" feel to the song, as he puts an almost unfathomable amount of emotion into the lyrics.  With each of the band members contributing to the lyrics, it is amazing to hear how they all work together as a cohesive feel, each one digging deeper into the bluesy roots of their shared music.  Again, "Presence Of The Lord" stands out from the rest, as one can find most philosophical and literal meanings when Clapton pens the phrase, "...I have finally found a way to live, just like I never could before..."  Yet it is the way that Winwood is able to extract every bit of emotion from these words which makes them take life, and there is no doubt that it was his work on this album which cemented his legacy.

Though he is responsible for a number of the most beloved albums songs in the history of music, his work with the very short lived Blind Faith is often overlooked in the overall music history of Eric Clapton. Falling between the end of the supergroup Cream and the formation of the equally impressive Derek and The Dominos, Blind Faith provides a rare glimpse into the internal struggle of an artist trying to find their sound. Almost every song on Blind Faith is a blues-rock classic, and there is not a moment anywhere on the album that is anything less than stellar.  This lack of filler highlights the exceptional talents of the four band members, and they stand as one of the few groups in history who most truly wish had made more music.  There is a passion and spirit that runs throughout the entire album the likes of which have never been matched, and the energy and mood that each song exudes is outright musical bliss.  Along with the dazzling, soulful guitar of Clapton and the similarly impressive piano work from Winwood, the rhythm section of Baker and Grech are equally fantastic, and there are few that will argue their place as one of the finest pairings in history.  Perhaps managing to "out-do" each of their previous bands' work, one can find everything that makes blues-rock so fantastic all throughout the extraordinary 1969 self-titled release from Blind Faith.

Friday, February 3, 2012

February 3: Daily Guru, "Something Old, Something New #48"

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

Thursday, February 2, 2012

February 2: Rudy Van Gelder

When one looks all across the history of recorded music, there are countless performers that are constantly named as being responsible for shaping the world of music, as well as altering culture in general.  While one cannot deny that the sounds of such artists had impact that is deserving of the utmost reverence, the reality stands that each of these performers had a team around them that ensured that their sound was properly captured an mixed.  The production teams that worked on so many seminal recordings have been largely forgotten by the passage of time, and yet there is one name that is nothing short of synonymous with the entire world of jazz music.  Though he is easily on par in terms of achievement, and it is nothing short of stunning to read a list of the albums which he oversaw, there is no question that Rudy Van Gelder still fails to receive all of the accolades he so clearly deserves.  Truth be told, one can make the argument that he was the most important element in the entire history of jazz music, as he served as the primary recording engineer for Blue Note Records throughout a majority of the 1950's and 1960's.  Lending a consistent sense of professionalism, an almost legendary work ethic, and an unending quest to create the best possible recording environment, there has simply never been another producer even remotely as vital to the progression of music as a whole than Rudy Van Gelder.

Unlike many early producers an engineers who somewhat "fell" into the role, Van Gelder's passion for the recording process began at a very early age, as he showed a passion for electronics and the intricacies of the microphone when he was in his teens.  This led to Van Gelder creating impromptu "recording sessions" in a modified room of his parents basement, and it was during these recordings where Van Gelder began his search for "the perfect sound."  As legend has it, Rudy Van Gelder spent much of his money on the equipment necessary to improve every aspect of this home recording studio, and by the end of the 1940's, he was recording "legitimate" musicians in this space.  Even in these earl recordings, there was a tone and quality that separated it from most of the work of the larger record labels, and this led to a meeting between Van Gelder and Blue Note Records producer Alfred Lion in the early 1950's.  Almost immediately following this event, the record label began using Van Gelder on a very regular basis, and he quickly became one of the most in demand producers on the planet.  It was his constant striving to capture the very essence of the musician with whom he was working that set his sound so far apart from that of his peers, and he became well known for his exceptionally humble, yet relentless quest to bring the best out of every musician with whom he worked.

When one steps back and inspects the massive list of albums for which Van Gelder served as producer, it is nothing short of mind blowing to think that one person could have had as much high quality work as one finds in his catalog.  Nearly every jazz luminary of a fifteen year span had some connection with Van Gelder, as the likes of Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cannonball Adderley all own much of the sound of their finest recordings to the work of this one man.  However, it was his work with outright legends like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk where one can not only understand just how highly revered a figure he was in his own time, but the fact that the sound he was able to bring out of every artist was truly something unique.  It is the way that you can hear slight variations in the techniques of Van Gelder, as he moves certain instruments to specific parts of the mix, where one can truly appreciate the "art" of producing and engineering, and one can easily make the case that without his vision and talents, jazz music would never have reached the heights that it did throughout the 1950's and 1960's.  Yet the fact remains that "the Van Gelder sound" is very much a secret of sorts, as he rarely shared the intricacies of his techniques; but the fact remains that due to the overall feel and absolutely flawless sound he was able to capture, there is not another producer in history that can even remotely rival the importance and talents of the great Rudy Van Gelder.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 1: Daily Guru, "Get Over Yourself, Indie-rock Scenester!"

In today's video, I set a few things straight for the world of "indie rock" and their fans. Share and enjoy.