When I first started playing Divine Fits’ debut album, “A Thing Called Divine Fits,” I immediately gravitated to the songs that featured Britt Daniels on lead vocals. Daniels formed the band with Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks while on hiatus from his band Spoon. In fact, it was Britt Daniels and the Spoon connection that led me to this album in the first place. What I found was that this record is chock full of really good glam-infused tunes written by each band member with a heaping helping of ‘80s synth-pop and punk rock thrown in for good measure. This track, featuring Dan Boeckner on lead vocals, immediately caught me off guard and insinuated itself into my cranium. It is firmly on “repeat” mode in my iPod.
Shankar’s father was the Indian choreographer, Uday Shankar, while his more-famous uncle was the master sitar player, Ravi Shankar. Although, Ananda also became famous for playing sitar, he did not study under his uncle, but rather studied traditional Indian music with Lalmani Misra at Banaras Hindu University. Shankar was first exposed to Western sounds when he traveled with members of his famous family, as they performed on concert stages across America during the 1960s.
The concept for his debut album was simple, meld Western rock sounds with the traditional music of Shankar’s homeland, India. To this end, Shankar moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s and fell in with the west coast rock crowd, jamming with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and many others. This led to him forming a band for his debut album for Reprise that included session great Jerry Scheff (Elvis Presley) on bass, and Paul Lewinson on moog synthesizer, that along with Shankar’s droning on the sitar, provided an extra layer of space to the soundscapes.
The album mixed popular rock songs of the day like The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and today’s Song Of The Day, The Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” with contemporary classical Indian music composed by Shankar himself. It was produced by Alex Hassilev, who was an original member of the folk group The Limeliters (along with Lou Gottlieb and Glenn Yarbrough) during the 1950s and ‘60s.
While his version of the two rock songs do seem somewhat novel (in a very cool way) today, the classical Indian cuts on the record are the real reason to tune in, especially the 13-minute “Raghupati” which was used many years later as part of the soundtrack to the video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, and the entrancing “Metamorphosis.”
His second album, “Ananda Shankar And His Music” was a jazz-funk affair released in 1975 that has since become a much sought after record for club DJs. Shankar continued to make musical soundscapes combining his sitar playing with electronics throughout the 80s and 90s until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1999. His music was used extensively several years ago throughout the short-lived NBC situation comedy “Outsourced.”
For those interested in hearing more, the album “Ananda Shankar “was reissued on CD several years ago by Collector’s Choice Music.
One of the best by-products of making a top albums list each year, is when those I send it to share some of their picks with me. And let me tell you, even though I do listen to more music than the average person, it is impossible to hear everything, so I do rely on this feedback to find the records that I missed. Such is the case of the album where today’s Song Of The Day hails, which was shared with me by my brother-in-law who works for the National Endowment For the Arts.
He’s the Martin who plays drums for the Jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood, and has recorded with the likes of John Scofield, John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards, Chris Whitley and Iggy Pop. Blades is a Hammond B-3 extraordinaire from Chicago, whose made a name for himself in the San Francisco Jazz scene and has lent his skills to the works of John Lee Hooker and fellow organist Dr. Lonnie Smith.
This dynamic duo joined forces for a one-off late night summit at the New Orleans Jazz Festival last year, and from that one gig, they knew they would have to do it again. And together they’ve made one of the funkiest records to come down the pike in many years, the aptly titled “Shimmy,” released last year on the Royal Potato Family/Amulet Record label.
I’m talking about some serious deep-in-the-pocket groove up for grabs here. With a sound that at times harks back to the kind of Hammond B3 records that were made in the 1960s by the Legendary Jimmy Smith, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Brother Jack McDuff, Martin keeps the rhythms air tight with funky fits and starts, while Blades grabs heaping helpings of inspiration from the instrumental records released by the legendary JBs, who expertly backed James Brown on some of his most serious jams. At the same time, the record is also reminiscent of the work of another duo, The Black Keys, who tread similar territory with guitar and drums.
The tune stack says it all, with titles like “Deep In A Fried Pickle,” “Mean Greens,” “Les And Eddie” (after Les McCann and Eddie Harris), “Pick Pocket,” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Toe Thumb,” you can expect to shake, and yes shimmy to this stuff. So is it jazz? Is it funk? Is it jam band rock? The answer is undoubtedly YES!
If it had come out when it was recorded, it would have been met with shrugs, or even worse, total disdain. Instead, except for those lucky few who could afford an expensive Japanese import box set, we’ve had to wait 36 years for it to finally get a legal release, and then only in the U.K. However, if you’re a fan of Todd Rundgren and Utopia, then it was totally worth the wait.
“Disco Jets” was recorded in 1976, directly after sessions for the album “Faithful.” The album found Todd Rundgren with his head firmly in the past, giving half the tune stack over to faithful covers of songs from 1966 including “Good Vibrations,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine), with the other half of the album comprised of new Rundgren originals including the now-classics “The Verb To Love,” “Love Of the Common Man” and “Cliché.”
“Disco Jets” was a total comment on the current pop culture of the day, including disco tunes, a cover of the “Star Trek” theme, a song called “Pet Rock,” outer space songs, even a song addressing America’s big 200th birthday Bicentennial (“Spirit Of ‘76”). Today’s Song Of The Day was Utopia’s comment on the whole “Convoy” craze brought on by the C.W. McCall’s 1976 #1 hit.
The all-instrumental album was quickly cut in one weekend with the Utopia lineup of Todd Rundgren, Roger Powell, John Siegler and Willie Wilcox. None of the members took the sessions too seriously and some of them came away from the proceedings a little embarrassed, but by listening you can tell that they all had a blast recording an album that at times is reminiscent in sound to “Wired” era Jeff Beck.
Siegler left Utopia after the sessions, to be replaced by Kasim Sultan. When the band resumed recording, work began on the album “Ra,” leaving Disco Jets in the can. It’s a shame too, because although the album is totally of its time, the classic Utopia sound today comes as a welcome breath of fresh air, circa 1976.
What a great way to start a new year! The first new David Bowie music in ten years, in the form of a single called “Where Are We Now?,” was released on Bowie’s 66th birthday this week, and a new album, “The Next Day,” is coming down the pike on March 12. The recording sessions were held in secrecy, so few knew that this one was on the books for 2013. Even in our linked-in totally-online-world, surprises are possible!
Anybody that’s known me for a long time knows that I’ve been a huge fan of David Bowie since the early 1970s. His music had a profound impact on me, and I’ve never stopped loving or listening to it over the years. Being a fan of Bowie during my middle school years (6th-9th grade) also brought me a lot of grief in the form of bullying, but I always persevered because I knew just how great his music was.
Throughout the years, I saw him in person as often as possible, catching his 1976 “Isolar StationToStation” tour, the 1978 “Isolar II/Heroes” tour, 1980 on Broadway in “The Elephant Man,” 1983’s “Serious Moonlight Tour,” 1987’s “Glass Spider” spectacle, “1997’s “Earthling” tour and his final “A Reality” tour in 2004.
After health issues on his final road trek, Bowie gave the impression that he was completely finished with music, preferring to settle down in New York City with his family. So it is indeed a huge bonus and a total surprise that we have some new music coming from him in 2013.
The new song is an atmospheric ballad filled with a sense of ennui, and is very much akin to what he’d been doing on his last two records, “Reality” and “Heathen.” In the video, which was directed by multimedia and installation artist Tony Oursler, Bowie takes us on a somber tour of the Berlin streets that provided the backdrop for two of his greatest albums, “Low” and “Heroes,” while a two-headed puppet version of him and (I’m assuming) his wife, Iman sit on a couch with distorted faces. All the while, the lyrics to the song appear on the screen.
In a bizarre twist, the cover of “The Next Day” takes the album cover to “Heroes,” crosses out the old title, and obscures Bowie’s face with a white box sporting the new title printed plainly in the center. For a Q&A with the designer about this cover, you can go to this link: http://virusfonts.com/news/
For today’s Song Of The Day, I’ve also revisited a track from his last studio album, Reality which was released in 2003. “Try Some, Buy Some” was written by George Harrison and is one of two covers on the album, the other being a cover of The Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso.”
Harrison wrote the song as a vehicle for Ronnie Spector, the former lead singer of The Ronnettes. Her husband, Phil Spector produced the sessions for Harrison’s album “All Things Must Pass,” and as part of the production deal, Harrison happily agreed to write and co-produce an album for Ronnie (whom he was a huge fan of) and release the record on the Beatles’ Apple label.
Phil’s heavy drinking during the early ‘70s session resulted in only a handful of songs being committed to tape including “You,” “Tandoori Chicken,” “When Every Song Is Sung” and “Loverly Laddy Day,” before the sessions were totally aborted. A single of “Try Some, Buy Some” backed with “Tandoori Chicken” was released on Apple and didn’t do well in the charts. The rest remain in the can to this day.
George Harrison later used the backing tracks for “Try Some, Buy Some” and “You” with his own vocals, and released them on the albums “Living In The Material World” and “Extra Texture” respectively.
While Bowie’s version of the song is somewhat faithful to both Harrison and Spector’s recording, the string arrangement and his dynamic vocals add a dramatic flair to the proceedings not found in the others.
“Turbulent Indigo” was Joni Mitchell’s last great album. That’s not to say that all that followed wasn’t any good, it’s just that “Indigo” was her last consistently good album from beginning to end.
Coming in on the heels of a trio of experimental records on the Geffen label – “Dog Eat Dog,” “Chalk Marks In a Rainstorm” and “Night Ride Home” – that featured electronic textures and somewhat dated layered production, “Turbulent Indigo” returned Mitchell to Reprise records with a more stripped down straight-ahead sound that peeled back the atmospheric electronics of the previous records in favor of more organic instrumentation akin to records like “Hejira.”
Thematically, the album was her state of the world circa 1994, and her world was not a pretty place to live in. Once again, Larry Klein played bass and produced, but the couple’s marriage came to an end during the sessions resulting in their divorce after twelve years of marriage.
To match the title, Mitchell delivered her most turbulent set of songs in a long time including “Sex Kills” which dealt with such social injustices as violence, global warming, sexuality in consumerism and AIDS with its repeating chorus, “And the gas leaks, and the oil spills…And sex sells everything, and sex kills.”
The song, “Not To Blame” speaks about domestic violence with its harrowing opening couplet “The story hit the news from coast to coast/They say you beat the girl you loved the most.” Although Mitchell has denied it, the song was supposedly about Jackson Browne and Darryl Hannah’s tumultuous relationship.
The album’s opening track “Sunny Sunday” dealt with the topic of suicide, and today’s Song Of the Day is the gut-wrenching “Magdalene Laundries” dealing with the suffering and abuse of “fallen” women who were sent to the Magdalen Asylums at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for being promiscuous or pregnant out of wedlock.
“Yvette In English” was co-written by David Crosby and features the soprano sax of Wayne Shorter as does several other songs on the record. And Seal sings with Mitchell on the James Brown cover “How Do You Stop.” The record may seem like a depressing affair by my description, but this two-time Grammy winner was one of her most inspiring records in many years, and like I said before, her last consistently great record.
It was the era of T. Rex’s Electric Warrior, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Lou Reed’s Transformer. Glam rock was all the rage as were Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople and The New York Dolls. And there was also a new brand of power pop taking the charts by storm at the same time with hits like “Little Willie” by Sweet, “Go All The Way” by Raspberries and later “Saturday Night” by Bay City Rollers.
Enter David Essex…British actor and future glam rock pinup star. Essex had an acting career appearing in the musical Godspell in 1971 and later in the film That’ll Be The Day where he came to the attention of British and American audiences alike.
So it was just a matter of time for him to take on the world of recorded music with this self-penned two-time hit from 1973. The bass player on this sinuous track is Herbie Flowers who went on to play bass for David Bowie on the album Diamond Dogs the following year. This song is the ultimate glam-pop confection, a sticky piece of ear candy with a slicing string arrangement and echo-laden bass riff. It should be no surprise that the track made it into the U.S. top five by 1974. Such was the popularity of the song that it would eventually top the charts again in 1988, when it was recorded by TV soap opera star Michael Damien.
While Essex will forever be associated mainly with this song in America, and perhaps his appearance in Jeff Wayne’s musical interpretation of The War Of the Worlds from 1978, he has led a long acting career primarily in the UK, where he has performed in the musicals Evita (and scored the top-five British hit “Oh What A Circus.”), Aspects Of Love and Footloose.
Every Christmas Eve through Christmas morning I manage a homeless shelter in an area church. It gives the regular workers a night off on their holiest of holidays, and it is something that I find very rewarding. Inevitably every year, I either get home after, or someone comes up to me during the 15 hour shift to tell me of some celebrity who has passed. So it was that I came home today, not only to the news that we lost the great actors, Jack Klugman and Charles Durning, but we also lost Ray Collins of The Mothers Of Invention.
Collins was the lead vocalist for the Mothers on their first four albums “Freak Out,” “Absolutely Free,” “We’re Only In It For The Money” and “Cruisin’ with Reuben And The Jets.” Today’s song of the day comes from the Mother’s album “We’re Only In It For The Money” (1968) which was a parody of the flower-power movement of the late 1960s. Ray Collins left the Mothers temporarily during the recording sessions for this album, only to rejoin in time for the “Cruisin’“sessions that took place at the same time.
Now, back to the homeless shelter…it was also six years ago, while managing the shelter on Christmas Eve, that I was told the sad news that James Brown had died. Being that a large part of the guest population at the shelter that year was African American, I felt it behooved me to break the news that “The Godfather Of Soul” had perished during the night during the guests’ morning cigarette break, for which I was the chaperone.
What ensued was one of the liveliest and most loving musical conversations I’ve ever been a party to, as we discussed our favorite James Brown songs, moves and performances, from an artist that certainly touched all of our lives. Just goes to show, that no matter what your economic or ethnic background, music is something we all share and have in common! Peace On Earth!
I’ve been spinning tracks by San Pedro’s Minutemen all day, since it was 27 years ago today (12/22) that lead singer, D. Boon, died in a car wreck. Minutemen were such an important band to me and my cohort back in the early 1980s. They were a band that cut through the image-centered video-centric MTV acts that dominated the music scene, with a healthy dose of punk rock realism.
D. Boon was a visionary poet who regularly tackled the subjects of racism, politics and the plight of the working man, while musically he had a mean streak of funk running through his veins. With super bassist Mike Watt and “the funky drummer” George Hurley by his side, this punk rock political power trio totally changed the way I listened to music.
In action, D. Boon would lumber over and pulverize his guitar in a hyperactive fury of flying sweat, while Mike Watt would anchor the songs totally locked-in with George Hurly like the precision funk machine these two literally were. I saw them several times at the legendary Hoboken, NJ club, Maxwells, and even got to meet D. Boon once when he came out after a show to hang with the fans. First time I saw them was at the now-defunct New York City club, The Peppermint Lounge, which was also a hot spot for dancing during the ‘70s disco era.
Today’s Song Of The Day comes from a Minutemen album, that in my estimation, is one of the most important records of the 1980s. The sprawling 1984 double album, “Double Nickels On The Dime,” is a non-stop festival of jazz, country, folk, funk and punk that is spot-on lyrically, and musically all over the map (in the best way possible). It’s an exhaustive 45 track stew with low-key musings (“History Lesson Pt. 2”), cow-punk guitar rave-ups (“Corona” – better known as the them to the MTV series Jackass),rocking diatribes (“Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing,”) and low-down funk (“Jesus And Tequila”) – and that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.
If you’ve never heard of Minutemen before, the excellent documentary “We Jam Enono – The Story Of The Minutemen” is essential viewing, featuring hours of rare footage, classic interviews and interviews with the surviving members of the band.
Psychedelia is alive and well and living in…Maryland? Well at least in Animal Collective’s case, it hails from Maryland. In a musical world where little is truly ever new, Animal Collective consistently tap into the past to create a sound that’s wholly their own. Like a wigged out Yes or a Beach Boys on acid, the sound of Animal Collective is like nothing else you’ve ever heard.
David Portner (aka Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear), Josh Dibb (aka Deakin) and Brian Weitz (aka Geologist) were grade school friends who went away to different colleges, but would reconvene back in Maryland to make music during breaks. After college they began to work together regularly. Forming a collective, rather than a band, gave them the freedom to work alone, in pairs or all together based on who was available at the time, resulting in their 2009 breakthrough record, Merriweather Post Pavilion, having only three of the four members in the lineup. While not working together, each member of the group has recorded outside projects, with Panda Bear becoming a successful recording artist in his own rite, and Brian Weitz becoming a marine biologist.
During their early days, the collective would take to the stage wearing masks and makeup, in an effort to feel more comfortable in front of people. They did this from 2000-2006 until the notoriety of the masks began to overtake their music. Today, their live shows feature elaborate lighting, with the band typically performing mostly new and unheard material, sometimes years before it is released. I saw the band perform today’s Song Of The Day at the Pitchfork Music Festival back in 2010, only to have it finally turn up two years later on this year’s stellar album, Centipede Hz. It seems the face makeup has made a reappearance in this, the official video that accompanied the release of this song as a single.
In 2010, the group branched out into film with the release of a “visual album” called ODDSAC, featuring music and videos developed at the same time and edited live in real time. While, I’ve not personally seen this film, or heard the accompanying sound track, based on their prior modus operandi, it must be one far out experience.