great retro soul and funk: kings go forth + sharon jones

August 19th, 2010

Sharon Jones Outside Lands
Sharon Jones @ Outside Lands, photo by Natalie Kardos

I have no never-ending mental catalog of soul but I know my stuff–my collection includes all of Stax’s and Motown’s singles from 1959-1968 among other stuff. It makes me happy when I hear a new artist doing soul right, like Mayer Hawthorne, Raphael Saadiq or Candie Payne.

In the last few months, I’ve heard two albums that I really think have done soul and soul-funk right–it’s soul that’s authentic but still fresh and invigorating. It pays tribute without being a cheap imitation. They’re both thoroughly enjoyable for many hours of listening.

The Kings Go Forth (myspace) are from Minnesota Milwaukee. A ten-piece soul and funk outfit, they’re not the standard sort of band coming up right now, but, man, is The Outsiders are Back a fantastic album. From the upbeat and almost exuberant opener “One Day” to the hard-swinging, hard-hitting, falsetto-voiced ballad “Fight With Love”, it’s a worthwhile listen.

Kings Go Forth – One Day (mp3) (buy)

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You can get another track from KEXP or preview the whole album.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings (myspace) are an established band by this point, playing big venues and festivals from coast to coast. While their previous albums (like 2007′s breakout One Hundred Days, One Hundred Nights) were enjoyable, the recently released I Learned the Hard Way is the first, I feel like, that sounds right. Though the songs don’t all sound alike, it’s stylistically similar in a way that transports me; there were multiple times that songs from the album came on and I thought I was listening to some ’60s b-side. “Better Things to Do” has a nice swagger and melody to it, while the title track could have been a Stax single from that time.

My favorite track, though, is the closer, “Mama Don’t Like My Man”. The simple, distorted guitars under the anguished lead vocals and back-ups reminds me uncannily of ’60s soul gospel numbers. I often thing an acoustic session with a modern indie pop band will tell you if they actually have good songs, so does this song reveal that Jones and Co have good songs and plenty of style.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Mama Don’t Like My Man (mp3) (buy)

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You can grab the title track in exchange for your email address or hear more at their myspace.

My what a box set: Phil Spector: Back to Mono; win a copy!

July 15th, 2009

Phil Spector is more in the news for being a convicted murderer these days than anything else. Before that, people may know him for screwing up Let It Be (at least in the opinion of one knight).

But I wanted to bring some focus back to the genius music he produced and one of my favorite box sets of all time: Phil Spector: Back to Mono. It’s has three discs of Spector singles and the full length Spector Christmas album as the fourth disc. It’s an overview of the Wall of Sound, with its huge drums, layered production and diverse instrumentation. You can also hear that Spector introducing Latin elements into pop songs in a time when that was not yet commonplace.

Of course it has the hits and Phil Spector’s hits are among the best pop songs made: “Be My Baby”, “He’s a Rebel”, “Then He Kissed Me”, and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” among them. Then there are many other songs you’d recognize, but the real value in the set are the lost gems hidden in here. I love Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem”, a light and straight-forward soul ballad with some great orchestrations and fun vocal lines. Lee Curtis’ “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” borders on doo wop and has a driving rhythm and a fantastic chorus. “Uptown” by the Crystals is a Latin-tinged love song with a great pre-chorus->chorus build.

“Heartbreaker”, also by the Crystals, has a harder groove and more swagger than most of Spector’s numbers, putting it closer to a Motown track than most. It also has a classic sax solo in it. Treasures’ “Hold Me Tight” is built upon a percussion line than may be close to “Be My Baby”‘s in how good it is. The vocal melodies are also really catchy. It holds a fairly rare distinction of being a Beatlest cover that is much better than the original.

The Crystals – Heartbreaker (mp3)

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Treasures – Hold Me Tight (mp3)

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This is really a fantastic box set and I recommend it to anyone that’s interested in oldies, girl group or soul music.

While going through some of my stuff, I found an extra, unopened copy of Phil Spector: Back to Mono. I bought this with my own money, but I’ll give it away to one lucky reader. To enter to win the box set, leave a comment with the song on the collection you most look forward to listening to again and again by 11:59pm Sunday July 19. (See here for tracklist.) I’ll pick one winner at random. Be sure to put a valid email address because I’ll need to contact you to get an address to ship it to if you win. This contest is open to residents of US and Canada only.

You can buy it at amazon.

Update: The contest is closed and with the help of random.org, I’ve chosen Will as the winner. Thanks for the entries!

joel p. west is like craiglist->barter but instead of trading crap for other crap, you trade art for a good album

May 5th, 2009

railing
the photo I gave Joel P. West in exchange for Dust Jacket

After Natalie’s suggestion and further song obsession, I participated in Joel P. West‘s (myspace) Dust Jacket Project, where you send him a piece of art–a photo, drawing, song, poem, etc–and he’ll send you a download code for the album.

That’s pretty sweet, right*, but it gets better: this San Diegan’s album is good. From the opener, “28th and NE Davis”, you can tell it’s going to be a quirky, orchestrated folk album. It took me a couple listens to get into the song, but now when the stomps/ low drums starts, I’m looking forward to the rest of the song, and the album. The melody, especially along with the words “open up, my hands are freezing” has slowly burrowed its way into my head.

Another highlight is “Bark and Feathers”. It’s an upbeat folk number with a rollicking drum beat and nice strings throughout.

Joel P. West – 28th and NE Davis

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Joel P. West – Bark and Feathers (mp3)

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It’s got its inconsistencies, but while I don’t love all of it, Dust Jacket‘s a solid effort and worth the price.

Make some art and get the album. You can also check out his Daytrotter session.

*Granted: you can get just about any album you want complete free, but that’s not exactly legal, nor does it have the pleasant side effect that it forces you to be creative.

american analog set reborn: wooden birds’ magnolia

April 12th, 2009

andrew kenny of the wooden birds
Andrew Kenny of Wooden Birds, by Adrian Bischoff

Since I saw the Wooden Birds (myspace) (twice) at SxSW I’ve been trying not to listen to their forthcoming debut album, Magnolia.

The Wooden Birds are the new band fronted by Andrew Kenny, of American Analog Set along with members of other ipickmynose favs, Lymbyc Systym and Ola Podrida. And I’ve been trying not to listen to Magnolia, out May 12, because I know it’s the sort of album I could just put on repeat for a few weeks at a time. It’s just that good an album.

The band treads on similar intricately orchestrated and layered, rhythmic, drone-folk-pop ground to AmAnSet, with perhaps more percussion in the approach. The record doesn’t hit a sour note throughout, from mid-tempo opener “False Alarm” to the melancholy and brilliant closer “Bad”. One familiar tune, “Hometown Fantasy”, originally released as an Andrew Kenny solo number (on the Home split EP with Ben Gibbard), holds down the middle.

the Wooden Birds – Sugar (mp3)

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the Wooden Birds – Anna Paula (Live on Woxy) (listen to the whole Woxy session)

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Bonus mp3:
Andrew Kenny – Hometown Fantasy (mp3) (buy)

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You can pre-order the album from insound. The band has tour dates on the East Coast right now and then in Europe soon. In Austin, Kenny said the band was planning to tour the album in June and would hit the West Coast.

In related news Slowcoustic points out that American Analog Set has a rarities comp called Hard to Find: Singles and Unreleased 2000-2005 coming out next Tuesday.


Wooden Birds at SxSW

Update: The vinyl (+mp3 download code) is available now.

dark was the night, as inspiration

April 7th, 2009

I know I’m late posting about this and I’m just another voice talking about it at this point. Well, let’s say it’s good enough that it’s worth another voice.

Sometimes a compilation album comes across that’s more than a collection of good songs; it’s inspiration, in auditory form.

By sometimes, I mean about once every ten years. The last one I remember was the Lounge Ax Relocation and Defense CD.. It inspired me in a number of directions: the indie rock of Seam and the post rock of Rachel’s. (Those are still two of my favorite bands of that era.) It was the first place I heard Shellac, June of 44 and the Mekons.

Much like that Dark was the Night, put together by the Dessner brothers of the National, is the sort of compilation that inspires one to listen to new music. Granted, it has good National tracks and Bon Iver tracks. We knew it would, after all. Where it succeeds is its lesser-known tracks.

The gorgeous Riceboy Sleeps track, for instance, is a great track from a band I’d never heard of[1]. Ambient, instrumental and sprawling, it’s just beautiful. The Yeasayer track, a medium slow groove with layers of percussion and clapping and tightly wound but melodious vocals, makes me want to give them another try.

The many collaborations are also something to note. The Books with Jose Gonzalez (covering Nick Drake) put together a good track, as do Feist and Ben Gibbard. David Bryne sings on a Dirty Projectors track. Antony with Bryce Dessner put together a simple and gentle cover of Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home.”

Now I’m not saying every track is a winner, but I think what’s important here is that, as a whole, the compilation is good enough to get you from beginning to end, to hear those tracks and bands you wouldn’t hear if you were skipping around to a few choice track. I’d recommend getting it.

the National – So Far Around the Bend (mp3)

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Bon Iver – Brackett, W9 (streaming)

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Riceboy Sleeps – Happiness (streaming)

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You can pick up Dark was the Night on amazon

[1] Of course, I now know that it’s a side project from a band I do know (Jonsi of Sigur Ros’ side project).

Update: rewrote parts of it.

numero group’s latest gem: Downriver Revival

March 16th, 2009

Every time an album with religious themes is reviewed, it seems the writer feels the need to clarify his personal position on religion. Reviews of the bitches-and-hos varieties of rap–do they clarify their position on bitches and hos? Regardless, I figure that there’s good music inspired by faith and good music inspired by secular themes.

Everything that Numero puts out is great, but Local Customs: Downriver Revival has to be one of my favorites yet. With a mix of gospel, soul, rock and funk, this album collects recordings between 1967 and 1981 that Felton Williams made in his basement in Ecorse, Michigan–Detroit’s down-river neighbor. Initially they were issued on Williams’ Solid Rock, Cass, Compose, and Revival labels.

The collection is solid throughout, but among the highlights have to be the four tracks from Shirley Ann Lee. They’re all drenched with great vocals and they alternate between frantic, rousing, uptempo numbers and slower ballads. Then there’s the old-school-gospel-like-you-see-in-the-movies of the Gospel Supremes’ “Sinner Man.” There’s lo-fi, home-recording-like songs like the selections from Coleman Family and The Revelations. The compilations winds this way and that, through soul and jazz, funk and rock before ending with a full gospel choir.

Shirley Ann Lee – There’s a Light (mp3)

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Pilgrim Wonders – He Never Failed (mp3)

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The 24 track compilation would probably be worth the price by itself, but it also includes a DVD with 200 sound recordings (demos, sermons, rehearsals, outtakes, etc) and a documentary about putting the collection together.

Buy Downriver Revival from Numero Group or Amazon.

sam cooke’s keep movin’ on, where to start with sam cooke albums

February 17th, 2009

Sam Cooke had probably the best voice in soul music before he was killed at far too young an age. And it stands as one of the best still. You probably know this. If not, you can get acquainted. This is where I’d recommend starting with his music:

  1. Portrait of a Legend A greatest hits of sorts, it’s got all the songs you know and a handful you don’t and will grow on you.
  2. One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 A hot live and hard-hitting live recording from his peak. He brings new energy and a new perspective to each song in the set.
  3. Keep Movin’ On

For the most part, Keep Movin’ On–which I finally picked up recently–isn’t the hits and it has some overlap with Portrait but once you get more into his music, this the next place to go. It’s a number of recordings he did for Abkco in his last year or two, including the masterpiece “A Change is Gonna Come.”

The style is all over the place as Cooke seemed to be trying to figure out his next direction. He’s got jazzy numbers, orchestrated ballads, soul dance tunes, and pop songs. I’m not going to say it’s without its misses, but the missteps are easily forgivable given the quality of the music overall.

“Rome (Wasn’t Built In a Day)” Classic Sam Cooke. His voice settles in a swinging soul groove in this pop song. When he wails “give me time” near the end of “The Riddle Song” This is a version of an English/ Appalachian ballad dating back to the 15th century. Concentrate on his voice–forget the orchestration for a minute–on this one. It’s just amazing.

Sam Cooke – Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day) (mp3)

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Sam Cooke – The Riddle Song (mp3)

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Not all of the songs are on the softer side–I’d love to share them all with you. “Sugar Dumpling” is a great song.

Keep Movin’ On is available from insound.

peter broderick’s home

January 13th, 2009


home

Folk is nearly the only thing Doug and I have in common. He was a DJ at the radio station doing electronica shows–his shows were so electronic that he did his “mic breaks” (announcing tracks, public service announcements, etc) with a computer text-to-speech program. But somehow we had folky music in common. We even cohosted one very odd, but memorable combination show on that genre. He’s a good person to have around–he was really early on the Fionn Regan train, for instance.

The other day I got an email from him about Peter Broderick, a Portland and Copenhagen-based songwriter. I’ve mentioned Broderick before, but you had to have eagle eyes–he’s the other guy in Horse Feathers. (He’s also in Danish group Efterklang.) So I’d heard of him but never investigated his solo music. I’m glad Doug prodded me to.

There seems to be a growing set of “gorgeous folk”. It might just need to be a genre–J. Tillman, Horse Feathers, old Iron & Wine, and Adem could all be in it. Broderick could join that group as well. The more the merrier, I say.

Broderick treads particularly in the lush aspects. Whispery vocals, active-but-soothing fingerpicking, and just enough reverb to make things float. Home won’t keep you awake at work, but it does have a set of gorgeous folk songs. Some songs are more straight ahead fingerpicked folk songs and others tend towards a minimalist, almost post rock-influenced vibe of drawing out the music.

“With the Notes in my Ears” is one of my favorites. The simple simple fingerpicked guitar and double tracked vocals give way to almost reverent backing vocals. “Not at Home” falls in the repetitive-but-hypnotic-not-boring category. The accordion (harmonium?) and bells add a nice touch.

Peter Broderick – With The Notes in my Ears (mp3)

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Peter Broderick – Not at Home (mp3)

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Broderick along with Efterklang have a date in San Francisco in March:

3/10 Efterklang, Peter Broderick @ Bottom of the Hill, 9pm, $12, 21+

He has some dates listed in Seattle, Portland and in the UK, but he doesn’t have a lot else listed stateside. Check his myspace for details.

You can buy Homes from insound.

intriguing, disorienting pop from japan: shugo tokumaru’s exit

December 17th, 2008


Night lights, Tokyo

Have you been to Japan? I was there a bit over a year ago. It’s a place of contrasts, at least in my limited experience. One minute you’re overwhelmed by the lights of Shinjuku and the next you’re in the most tranquil garden at Diago-ji in Kyoto. Or you’re experienciing a cosplay restaurant. Or you’re on a lightning fast high speed train. Or you’re in the quaint small town-like Taito-ku area of Tokyo. And, of course, it’s the home to tiny cellphones and misspelled/ awkwardly worded signs.

Of course, this doesn’t have a lot to do with Shugo Tokumaru (myspace), other than I’m not surprised his unusual, eclectic and disorienting pop comes out of Japan.

Built on loops of various types–some reminding me of the circus, western swing, even hip hop–and often layered with even more loops of all sorts, it’s like information overload. But the music also has a really strong melodic pop sense to it. There are two almost-warring sides to it: the smoother melodic side and the often-frantic loop-side to it. It’s disorienting at the very least, but it’s also really intriguing.

There are definitely some misses on the album, but overall it’s a really good and intriguing album.

Shugo Tokumaru – Parachute (mp3)

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Shugo Tokumaru – Hidamaru

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You can buy it from insound


Gold Pavillion, Kyoto

the bay bridged, vol 2 EP

November 18th, 2008

The Bay Bridged announced their Bay Bridged, Vol 2 10″ EP last week. I received my copy later in the week.

The compilation includes five exclusive songs by Rogue Wave, Emily Jane White, Birds and Batteries, Two Sheds, and Okay on 10″ vinyl (and all copies come with a download code for high quality mp3s).

Opening the package you get an immediate view of the double sided picture disc. The record itself is gorgeous and perhaps that’s why there’s no jacket (just the clear outer sleeve), but I sort of want a nice jacket to put my record in. This is a small complaint, I know.

The two sides aren’t A and B–no, that’d be too easy–they’re Bear, left above, and Tree, right above. With an (yet another) excellent track from Two Sheds, one that I’d enjoyed live many times, and a long hypnotic song from Okay, I feel the Bear side is the better one. Tree may have the biggest name of the bunch, Rogue Wave, but while I think they put in a good effort, it doesn’t catch my ear in the same way.

Unlike many compilations, this one has some uniformity of sound: all of the tracks were recorded by the same engineer (Ian Pellicci) and most of them were recorded at the same studio (Tiny Telephone). It’s nice that it has some aural continuity in there.

All in all, a nice compilation and a worthy collectible from the guys over there at the Bay Bridged.

Buy it at the Bay Bridged store

You can stream the songs below or or over at the Bay Bridged:
<a href="http://thebaybridged.bandcamp.mu/album/the-bay-bridged-volume-2">Rogue Wave &#8211; Empress by The Bay Bridged</a>

(Full disclosure[2])