Monthly Archives: April 2012

Herbie Hancock – Sunlight / 1978

Not a typical Herbie album for one BIG reason – “vocals” by Herbie himself. Why quotes? He used a voice-encoder, or “vocoder” (NOT “vocorder”). Invented by Bell Laboratories in the early 60’s, this “effect” was first popularized by Wendy Carlos on her early 70’s soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange, most notably in her electronic realization of Beethoven’s 9th. A bit later it was used by Kraftwerk on “Autobahn” and Man Machine. A vocoder takes an input signal, such as a synthesizer (but can be anything) and filters it using a second input signal, such as a human voice. The input signal is “shaped” to the charactersitics of the second signal. This second signal can be mixed with the original (Moby did this a lot on “Play”) or removed so only the filtered original is heard. This is what Herbie did here. Of course when you use a synth you don’t have any of the problems associated with bad singing, like wavering pitch.

Now to set things straight: Peter Frampton never used one, he used a device referred to as a “Pig”, where a tube channels the sound of the instrument acoustically to the mouth where it is then “shaped” and picked up by the microphone. This effect was also used by Jeff Beck on “She’s a Woman” from Blow By Blow and on the phenomenal live album he made with Jan Hammer. It was also used by BT Express on the Function At the Junction album (how’s that for an obscure ref?). Also, Cher had nothing to do with her vocoded voice on “Believe”. Cher had recorded a demo of this song and an independent (and then unknown) producer used the effect on her voice, then took the track to Cher who loved it. The tune became a big smash, and for the next year every Backstreet Bumbiters and the N*Sphincs recording used him, making that producer an overnight success (can’t recall the name). The process used for Believe was a very-labour intensive process of isolating just certain places in the vocal performance where she changes notes, then taking her voice out and inserting the vocoded line for just the split second of the note transition. Takes hours and hours to do.
This album was an experiment in styles from Herbie, and from the picture of his setup on the back cover it is obvious he had major enthusiasm for electronic instruments. He created a sound on the new Sennheiser vocoder that approximated his voice and wrote a few funky tunes he could “sing” on. For that alone this album is a novelty. And for the funky disco suit he’s wearing, complete with medallion.
The album is actually quite good, though the tunes are a bit cliche lyrically. But you still have all the great players like Harvey Mason and Paul Jackson, Mtume, Jaco Pastorious etc etc so the music kicks no matter what. When Herbie kicks in with a solo it’s pure joy as always. Even though the songs are designed to be danceable, the writing is still first-rate with lots that rewards. It’s also amazing to hear these great musicians doing their best to realize Herbie’s vision, even though it’s not really what they were used to playing. Very professional. When Herbie had a minor hit with this album, he moved into a more commercial feel and started using guitar players like Ray Parker Jr and other musicians who came from the funk and Motown schools, like Melvin Ragin (“Wah Wah” Watson), and I believe one or both are on this album. Just keep an open mind, remembering that Herbie is an explorer, and here he’s expressing something that he never quite repeated. Not a failed experiment or anything, just a unique moment in his musical development: Herbie as vocalist.
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Delta Spirit – History from Below / 2011

Today, Delta Spirit will embark on a journey that will find them many new fans . Their sophomore album, History From Below, is one of the finest albums you’ll hear this year. Inspired by Howard Zinn’s novel “A People’s History of The United States,” the album is a giant step forward and an accomplishment I thought them incapable of achieving.

I was a fan of their self-produced debut, Ode To Sunshine, but this release trumps it in every way – songwriting, instrumentation, production, arrangement, musicianship, and intellect. It’s theme may be consistent with Zinn’s novel, but the songs are varied with lively, Springsteen-ish piano/guitar driven anthems and reflective, vintage Waits-style Americana ballads. The latter is fitting, considering the band recorded in Cotati, CA at a studio thrice occupied by Tom Waits for different albums.

The album starts with the politically charged “9/11,” a cheerful song that belies its subject matter. The driving electric guitars in “Bushwick Blues” follow, building into a climax with Matt Vasquez’s screeching vocals bleeding into a dramatic guitar solo.‚  “White Table” showcases percussion comparable with what you’d hear from modern day contemporaries like The Dodos or Local Natives. With the exception of the pop gem, “Golden State,” the rest of the album glows with slow-moving Americana folk-rock.

It’s these songs that captivate me. “Devil Knows Your Dead” is a dreamy blessing, reminiscent of old Irish prayers with lines like “May the wind be always at your back/ And the sun shine warm upon your face” and “May the road, may it rise beneath your feet/ And be downhill all the way to your door.”

“Vivian” was written for Matt’s grandparent’s who died during the band’s first two tours. You can watch the video below and listen to his words. I won’t be able to do that one justice with a description. “St. Francis” follows combining near-perfect lyrics,‚  fiery vocals, harmonica, country-western guitars, and horns to create an intensity that’s palpable.

And finally, this carefully crafted body of work is finished with 8 minutes of glory that is “Ballad of Vitaly.” History From Below was released today and I can’t say enough good things. I’ve seen the band live and loved their debut, but this release shows that they mean business and proves that they are well beyond ordinary.
Track Listing1. 9/11 (3:18)
2. Bushwick Blues (3:44)
3. Salt in the Wound (5:52)
4. White Table (5:08)
5. Ransom Man (4:29)
6. Devil Knows You’re Dead (4:20)
7. Golden State (3:17)
8. Scarecrow (4:08)
9. Vivian (4:30)
10. St. Francis (4:25)
11. Ballad of Vitaly (8:07)
Delta Spirit – Bushwick Blues  

 

Carly Simon – No Secrets / 1972

No Secrets was Simon’s commercial breakthrough. The album spent five weeks at number 1 on the Billboard charts and quickly went Gold,[1] as did its leadoff single, “You’re So Vain“, which remained at number 1 on the Pop charts for three weeks, and at number 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts for two weeks.[2] 25 years after its initial release, the album was officially certified Platinum on December 12, 1997.[1]

Initial reviews for No Secrets were mixed mostly in an ironically positive vein. Robert Christgau, writing in Creem, rated the album only a B− and stated that “if a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn’t rhyme “yacht,” “apricot,” and “gavotte.” Is that some kind of joke?”[4] Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone was ironic in his praise concluding that “what finally makes No Secrets so refreshing is her singing, which conveys the finest spirit of patrician generosity.”[5]

A more recent review from Allmusic‘s William Ruhlmann along with a high rating reflects a more positive regard for the album. Ruhlmann noted that “You’re So Vain” “set the album’s saucy tone, with its air of sexually frank autobiography and its reflections on the jet-set lifestyle.” He also stated that “now that she felt she had found true love, she was as willing to acknowledge her own mistakes and regrets as she was to point fingers.” But even he concluded on the note that “Perry paid particular attention to Simon’s vocals in a way that made her more engaging (or at least less grating) to listen to.”[3]

Listen : We Have No Secrets  

Bright Eyes – Cassadaga / 2007

Cassadaga is a Seneca Indian word translating at “rocks beneath the water”. The Earth motifs and lilting country rock with a taste for danger both harking back to that previous career watermark, ‘Lifted…’. Most of the songs measure up: the bouncy ‘Four Winds’ showing him unafraid of blanket radio play, while ‘Make A Plan To Love Me’ is the most instantaneously beautiful song of his career – a tale of romantic negligence that’s lent a barbed, poison-ivy edge. Really, only ‘Middleman’ and ‘I Must Belong Somewhere’ sound like filler. This is about as close to a bid for mainstream acceptance as you’re going to get from Bright Eyes, and while that makes ‘Cassadaga’ veer dangerously close to the stylings of the accused, two things redeem him: the fragility of his cracked voice, and the fact that you’re as likely to hear a Conor Oberst song simply about harsh treatment from women as you are to find him taking tea round Peel Acres. Instead, these songs are testaments to the resilience of the human spirit, and Conor paints a collection of people all learning to cope. The desperate housewife of ‘Hot Knives’ who reacts to her husband’s infidelity with hedonistic revenge; the ‘Soul Singer In A Session Band’, the person with the gift that their occupation stifles; ‘Classic Cars’’ tale of Mrs Robinson-style suburban scandal. Yet most pointed is ‘No One Would Riot For Less’ – a dystopian picture of a moral-free future world, which is essentially a tender song of two lovers learning to survive in a world where neighbour kills neighbour over boxes of fish fingers.


These aren’t sad songs, though. As Conor told us himself recently, “The thing about human beings, as imperfect as they are, they possess an incredible ability to reinvent themselves and become better than they were.” Could Conor be trying to pull that off himself? Possibly. As well as the grown-up lilt to the music, ‘Cleanse Song’ sees this self-confessed lush experiment with drying out. He finds it pretty boring, of course, but as the one overt first-person narrative on the album, it signals his own capacity to grow and change. Meanwhile, with the erstwhile hermit falling over himself to be interviewed, it sounds like he’s finally ready to be a big star. He’s made an album that will appeal as much to indie snobs as owners of records by mainstream singer-songwriters, and this could turn into Bright Eyes’ biggest contribution: in showing how absorbing introspection can be. Perhaps the likes of Blunt will be toppled by the shame.

If The Brakeman Turns My Way 

 

DJ Shadow – Dark Days [Single] 2001

Written especially for the excellent documentary film of the same title (highly recommended, also) the two versions of ‘Dark Days’ on this cd are amongst Shadow’s best tracks, in my opinion. This single was released in 2000 but the film didn’t find it’s way into UK cinemas until 2002 – even though it was filmed back in the mid-1990s.

Although he has been asked to do many soundtracks over the years, ‘Dark Days’ was the only one Shadow felt strongly enough about to not only consent to his music being attached to (almost the whole ‘Endtroducing’ album was used in the film), but also to go as far as writing a brand new track especially for it.

Style-wise, the instrumental, at least, is closer to what you hear on ‘Private Press’ than ‘Endtroducing’: laid back, yes, but with a fierce twanging gutiar hook and those distinctive Shadow beats holding it together. If you know the track ‘Fixed Income’, it’s along those lines, but less John Barry (60’s theme tune masetro -The Persuaders, James Bond, etc) and more Ennio Morricone (king of spaghetti western soundtracks – A Fistful of Dollars, etc).

The ‘spoken for mix’ is exactly the same track but with spoken word extracts from the film weaved into the tune. It works beautifully, even if you haven’t seen the film yet. And if you have seen the film, it’s a nice reminder of the rich cast of characters we get to meet. Read the dvd reviews for further info on the film. Can’t recommend both highly enough.

“Dark Days (Main Theme)”

Candid shot of Shadow’s home studio during Unkle demo stage, early 1997.

Gabriel & the Hounds – ‘Kiss Full Of Teeth’ / 2012

By Kerri O’Malley » Takka Takka’s Gabriel Levine may have a full set of teeth hidden behind his lips, but he keeps them hidden in his solo debut as Gabriel & The Hounds, Kiss Full of Teeth. Soft and sullen, the record flies past personal, intimate, or masterfully moody and dives right into a deep depression.

At least there’s one exhilarating springboard track before we greet our old friend Darkness. Track two, the awe-inspiring “What Good Would That Do?” buries its big-sigh-let’s-just-cry-about-it message behind a western guitar twang, bumping the song along like a tumbleweed trapped in a dark hall of dusty memories. You get the feeling that somewhere in the singer’s mind, this song is a stand-off between him and some silent girl (or guy), teasing out the simple battle of differences between two people – a wishy-washy stand-off, I grant you, but a great one to sway along to as the sun bakes the sand.

Unfortunately, the swaying stops here, and the sobbing soon begins. The rest of the album unfolds like a slow waltz – following all the steps of a predictable and vague romance. Vibrant violins and hooting horns, instruments that tend to make tunes stand out these days, can’t drag Kiss Full of Teeth from its moody, melancholic focus on yesterday’s love. This album’s bringing me down so hard I recommend a name change from Gabriel to Bruce. It’s not just the attitude of sadness that induces heart sinks, it’s the moping nothing behind each lyric – too nondescript and without any realized redemption – that keep the tracks from becoming truly compelling.

Even songs like “Wire and Stone,” who start slow but ultimately change (in the case of “Wire and Stone,” the song twists into a militant march right before it cuts off, bringing those empty, enchanted suits of armor from the end of Bedknobs & Broomsticks to my mind), disappoint. The shifts are too late, like a school bell at the end of a brutal and boring day. Welcome, but you wish it had come thatmuch sooner.

Far from a bare or brash record, Kiss Full of Teeth melts into a muddy melancholy. While some tracks stand out, ultimately Kiss Full of Teeth lacks its name’s aggression and strength, melting into a dirge for dead dreams that competes with even the darkest days.

 

Kiss Full Of Teeth tracklisting:
A Beginning
What Good Would That Do?
Wire And Stone
Lovely Thief
The World Unfolds
When We Die In South Africa
Talk Of The Town
Photos Of The End
An In-Between
Who Will Fall On Knees
An Ending

  

Grinderman 2 RMX / 2012

Grinderman are pleased to announce the release of Grinderman 2 RMX – a collection of remixes, reinterpretations & collaborations based on the songs contained in the band’s 2010 critically celebrated album Grinderman 2.

Out on Mute on 26 March 2012, Grinderman 2 RMX marks the first time all these tracks have been collected together. The album will be available in a deluxe double vinyl edition with CD insert, as well as CD and digital formats.

Grinderman 2 RMX’s many outstanding tracks include “Super Heathen Child” – a collaborative version of Grinderman’s “Heathen Child” (MOJO Honours Song Of The Year 2011) which teams the band up with legendary guitarist Robert Fripp (King Crimson, David Bowie, Eno); an exclusive previously unreleased remix of “Bellringer Blues” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitarist Nick Zinner (about which Grinderman enthuse “It shits all over the original!”) a remix of “Mickey Mouse & the Goodbye Man” by producer/-musician Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age); “When My Baby Comes” by Cat’s Eyes (a duo consisting of Horrors’ front-man Faris Badwan and soprano Rachel Zeffira); “Evil” reinterpreted by Silver Alert (Grinderman’s Jim Sclavunos) and The National’s front man Matt Berninger; and Grinderman’s original demo version of “Evil”, “First Evil”.

Grinderman 2 RMX tracklisting:

1 Grinderman / Fripp – Super Heathen Child
2 A Place to Bury Strangers – Worm Tamer
3 Nick Zinner – Bellringer Blues
4 UNKLE – Hyper Worm Tamer
5 Joshua Homme – Mickey Bloody Mouse
6 Cat’s Eyes with Luke Tristram – When My Baby Comes
7 Barry Adamson – Palaces of Montezuma
8 Silver Alert – Evil [ft. Matt Berninger]
9 SixToes – When My Baby Comes
10 Andy Weatherall – Heathen Child
11 Factory Floor – Evil
12 Grinderman – First Evil

Levon Helm, Key Member of the Band, Dies at 71

(NEW YORK) — Levon Helm, the drummer and most recognizable vocalist of the influential rock group The Band, died April 19 of throat cancer in New York.  He was 71.

“He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates,” Helm’s longtime guitarist, Larry Campbell, told Rolling Stone. “All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity.”

With a soulful, weathered voice straight from the Arkansas cotton fields where he was raised, Helm contributed vocals to many of the group’s best-known songs, including “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up on Cripple Creek.”

While The Band was often celebrated for its mastery of the roots music of the American South, Helm was the only member of the group who actually hailed from the States.  Guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko and keyboardists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel were all Canadian.

After years of honing their craft on the bar circuit under the moniker Levon and The Hawks, Helm and the others were hired as Bob Dylan’s backing band.  In the late 1960s, under Dylan’s mentorship, the outfit rechristened itself The Band and released its acclaimed debut album, Music from Big Pink, in 1968.  The group’s earthy sounds quickly made an impact on many famous contemporary artists, including Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Elton John, whose 1971 hit “Levon” was named after Helm.

After recording six more studio efforts, The Band announced their breakup in 1976, and gave a star-studded farewell performance at San Francisco’s Winterland.  The affair is documented in Martin Scorsese’s classic concert film The Last Waltz, often called one of the greatest rock and roll films ever.

Helm put out a few solo releases in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and in 1983, The Band re-formed without Robertson, with whom Helm maintained a fractious relationship.  The group continued to tour and record on and off until 1998, though Manuel committed suicide in 1986.  Danko died of drug-related heart failure in 1999, leaving only Helm, Robertson and Hudson from The Band’s lineup.

In the late 1990s, Helm was stricken with throat cancer, which damaged his singing voice.  However, by the mid 2000s the musician had made a strong recovery, going on to release the Grammy Award-winning albums Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

Also in recent years, Helm hosted a regular series of jam sessions, dubbed “The Midnight Ramble,” at his home in Woodstock, New York, which attracted many big-name musical guests.  He also took a touring version of the concerts on the road.

Besides his music career, Helm had acting roles in several major films, including Coal Miner’s Daughter and The Right Stuff, the latter of which he narrated.

 

From: Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer / 2007

Calvary

From: Scotty Moore & D.J. Fontana – All The King’s Men / 1997

Keith Richards and Levon Helm – Deuce And A Quarter

Moby Grape, Moby Grape, 1967

The name Moby Grape comes from an absurdist punch line: What’s big, purple and swims in the ocean? But the band that influenced groups ranging from Led Zeppelin to The Pretenders was no joke. Neither was its 1967 debut, according to Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke.

“It’s one of the few rock ‘n’ roll albums of any era that you can say, ‘That is a perfect debut album.’ The songwriting on it is memorable — you take those songs with you wherever you go. The triple-guitar orchestration… it’s not just power chords. Everyone is playing melodies and counter-melodies and rhythms. Very funky, also very country, very punk, very surf. And they were all singers.”

When other San Francisco bands were stretching out with long, psychedelic jams, Moby Grape was producing catchy three-minute songs that were composed, played and sung by each member. Moby Grape’s drummer, Don Stevenson, calls the songwriting process a “collective consciousness.”

That “collective consciousness” was a little surprising, since these five guys had little history and a lot of differences. Guitarist Peter Lewis and bassist Bob Mosley came from Southern California surf bands. Stevenson and guitarist Jerry Miller played in organ trios around Seattle. Canadian-born Skip Spence had just left another San Francisco band, Jefferson Airplane. Yet all five members produced remarkably cohesive vocal harmonies.

“Sitting By The Window”