Monthly Archives: October 2012

Song of the Week (Halloween Edition): “Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker Jr.

 

There were two things growing up that truly shaped my adult self: music and Ghostbusters.  So for Halloween, I present to you both for this week’s song of the week.  Happy Halloween.  I’ll be back with a full post tomorrow.

 

 

New Music: “Uh Oh!” – Super Water Sympathy

Super Water Sympathy describes their sound as “a synthesis of classic symphonic ambience with modern ethereal anthems.”  Lead single “Uh Oh!”‘s chorus definitely sounds ready to be played in arenas and festivals.  “Uh Oh!” has a pop sensibility, but the band seems to be reaching further with its layered sounds and ambience.  Even though there’s also a sense of doom throughout with its the repeating line of “soon we will be expired” and mentions of funeral pryers.

Check out more on Super Water Sympathy here.

New Music: “Be Easy” (Video) – Made in Motion

Remember the mid-1990s when Sublime ruled the airwaves? If so, you should check out Made In Motion’s “Be Easy”.  Made In Motion’s sunny and laid-back “Be Easy” recalls Sublime with rapped verses, a melodic chorus and layered guitars throughout.

While the band’s sound is reminiscent of the mid-90’s California rock scene, they actually hail from Brooklyn.  Made in Motions is made up of childhood friends Rob Cahill and Johnny V and is rounded out by Doug Less and Roger Mulligan.

For more on Made in Motion, check out their web-site.

Song of the Week: “Sweet Jane” – The Velvet Underground

 

The Velvet Underground were known for many things, but sounding positively gleeful isn’t one of them. Yet, at the 3:30 mark of “Sweet Jane” when Lou Reed and the rest of the band erupt into an ecstatic non-verbal melody, they sound like…well, that they’re having fun. “That’s my favorite part of the song,” I told a friend recently as we listened to the song during a long road-trip.

“That’s everyone’s favorite part of the song,” He replied with a hint in his voice that suggested that I was crazy for having to declare my own love it.  Oddly enough, that particular section of the song was cut out of the original pressing of Loaded was also familiar to most listeners.  Luckily, the “full-length” version was restored on re-issues and included on the band’s boxed set Peel Slowly and See.

For a band whose lyrics pioneered the dark underbelly of City life with music to match, “Sweet Jane” is perhaps the most accessible song the Velvet Underground ever recorded with its memorable riff and sing-along chorus. As such, it’s no wonder that it’s perhaps the one song by the band that is perennial favorite on classic rock radio (even if a minute was cut off).

The best version(s) of the song can be found on Live at Max’s Kansas City, where they tear through the song twice. Fans might disagree whether Live at Max’s Kansas City represents what the group truly sounded like live, since John Cale had already left and drummer Maureen Tucker was out on maternity leave.  For me however, replacement drummer Billy Yule (Doug’s younger brother) gave the songs an added punch especially “Sweet Jane”.  The band flies through the song with reckless abandon.  Allmusic has described Reed as being bored during the gig, which leaves me wondering if they’ve listened to the same album I have.

Reed later gave the song a glam-rock update with an extended intro, which can be found on his live album Rock and Roll Animal. While that version has its merits, it lacks the force and toughness of the original arrangement.

Album of the Week: “Get Happy!!” – Elvis Costello & the Attractions

It’s no secret that Elvis Costello can tackle almost any musical style with relative ease. In his storied career, he’s taken on country and folk (King of America), jazz  (The River in Reverse with Allen Toussaint) classical pop (Painted from Memory with Burt Bacharach), Tin Pan Alley (parts of Imperial Bedroom), reggae (“Watching the Detectives”), along with the punk charge of his first few albums.

But it’s his fourth album the soul-tinged Get Happy!! stands among his most accomplished musical experimentations. Get Happy!! isn’t just a love letter to American Soul, wearing its influence on its sleeve. Many albums and artists suggest influence of a particular musical genre, but fail to really dig deep and get inside the music they’re professing an admiration for.  With Get Happy!! Costello showed that he was not only familiar with Soul but comes up with a set of songs that rival many of its classic singles.

History sometimes like to paint Get Happy!! as Costello’s reaction to his drunken faux pas about Ray Charles. (The story is not really worth repeating, so if you’re familiar with it, you know what I’m referring to.)  But to look at Get Happy!! through that lens would be missing the point. Costello had already been stretching out before he made this album, and Get Happy!! is just an extension of his ambitions to move outside the punk genre.

That isn’t to say that Costello left punk behind on the album.  Opener “Love for Tender” nearly flies off the rails, as does Costello’s version of “I Stand Accused”. But it’s the slower songs that really leave a mark whether its the organ heavy “Opportunity”, the slow-rhythm of “Secondary Modern”.  The sole acoustic song “New Amsterdam” allows Costello to show off his soulful vocals and trade-mark wordplay.

While every single song on the album is of high-quality, Get Happy!! races along through its 20 tracks at around 40 minutes. By the time many of the songs really sink in, Costello and the Attractions are off to the next song. And really, that’s a huge part of the album’s charm. By trimming the songs of excess, Costello manages to craft an album that is extremely focused in musical style and lyrics.  It’s also one of his best.

 

Song of the Week: “Prove It All Night” – Bruce Springsteen

 

When Bruce Springsteen made Darkness on the Edge of Town, he made a very clear decision to make a grown-up record. No, this wasn’t going to be Born to Run Part 2. And truth enough, Darkness is a much more bitter album than Born to Run. If that album was the sound of a summer escape, then Darkness is the pounding hang-over.  It’s the realization that all that the shit you thought you could leave behind followed you all the way down the road.

As one of the highlights of Darkness, “Prove It All Night” is also one of the songs that upon first listen sounds like it could be one on Springsteen’s earlier albums.  The pounding intro of the piano and the drums sound perfectly suited for Born to Run. But after that, things get sticky.  When Springsteen finally comes in and declares that he’s been working real hard to keep his hands clean, you know this is not walk down the board walk.  It’s a love song certainly, but instead whisking his girl away because his record company gave him a “big advance”, Springsteen sounds desperate and afraid.

I’ve always thought of “Prove It All Night” as the exact opposite of “Spirit in the Night”.  That song was a celebration of the summer night, and never wanting it to end.  “Prove It All Night” isn’t a celebration – Springsteen only wants to spend the night with his girl because he doesn’t want to face whatever tomorrow brings.

Like most Springsteen songs, “Prove It All Night” takes on an entirely different life on stage. During the fabled 1978 Darkness Tour, the song was extended to 10 minutes by a way of a length intro. It begins slowly with Roy Bittan’s piano playing softly, before Springsteen unleashes a searing guitar solo. As the band picks up the tempo, the tension builds until it seems like the band is about to break. And at that final moment when the audience (and band) seems beaten they break seamlessly into the actual song.  (Unfortunately, for whatever reason this version of  “Prove It all Night” was not included on the massive Live 1975-1985 boxed set.  For shame!)   After the Darkness Tour, the extended version was not played until earlier this year and it sounded just as great now as it did back in 1978.

Attention Remix Producers: Remix “The Raven” By Alan Parsons {Contest}

 

In collaboration with Alan Parsons, Satellite EDM is offering a contest to remix Parson’s track “The Raven” is conjunction with the release of the 2012 film The Raven.  Grand prize includes $1,000 and an exclusive release on Satellite EDM.

For more on the contest, check out the official page here.

Q&A With Singer-Songwriter Jillette Johnson

Jillette Johnson is a piano playing singer-songwriter with a voice full of passion and songs that offer wisdom well beyond her 23 years of age. Her fresh and keen sense of style is ever present in the way she dresses and shines through in her music as well.

Wind-up Records signed Jillette based on the strength of her song “Cameron.”  It’s a bravely vulnerable song that explores the struggles of a transgendered person and ultimately emerges as a universal anthem about the need to feel at home in your own skin and the tough decision to stay true to yourself.

Her debut EP, Whiskey & Frosting was produced by Michael Mangini and Peter Zizzo (Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, Joss Stone) and recently released digitally on iTunes.

Whiskey and Frosting is a pretty accomplished EP.  Are those songs that have been around for awhile, or were they written pretty recently?

I wrote these songs over the last year or so -along with about 50 other songs I wrote this year. I write a lot. (Laughs.) It can be overwhelming.

The title of the EP seems to fit the mood of the songs – there’s are part of it that are uplifting, but darker tones underneath.  Where did you come up with the title?

Whiskey and frosting are two of my favorite things. After having a hellish day last spring, my friends shocked me with a surprise party and all I had all night was whiskey and the frosting off of all the cupcakes. My friends know me well, and they knew that there was nothing that a little whiskey and frosting couldn’t fix. Thus the title of the EP was born.

One of the things I like about the album was how it managed to feel intimate  (“When the Ship Goes Down”) yet sweeping and epic at the same time (particularly “Torpedo”).  Was that a vibe you going for?

Honestly I write all of my songs sitting alone at my piano and I have no idea what’s going to come out, or where the songs will take me until I’m there. I write with my instincts, so its rare that I pre-meditate the vibe of any particular song. However I’m not shy, so I definitely like a little drama and dynamic in anything I write. My producers (Peter Zizzo and Michael Mangini) really nailed it though in the sense that they were able to capture my intimacy and make the most of my ferocity.

You’re also a pretty accomplished piano player?  Did you take formal lessons as a kid?  Or is something you took up on your own?

Thank you! I’ve taken lessons off and on since I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until I started writing that I became so attached to the piano. It really became tool to serve my writing and it’s also an extension of my voice.

Did you write any songs when you younger or is this something you’ve come into recently?

I started writing songs when I was 8. Although I do remember wandering around the sandbox in pre-school, making up words and melodies. But yeah, because I started at such a young age, songwriting is as natural to me as falling asleep. I have to do it, and if I don’t, I’m not a happy camper.

“Cameron” addresses the feelings and tribulations of being a young transgendered individual, and has a positive message.  What inspired that particular song?

Cameron is a song about the isms in all of us that we deserve to embrace and to be proud of. I’m blessed to know an incredibly beautiful kid who has been brave enough to go through a sexual transition, and has done it gracefully and without apologies. However, as much as Cameron is inspired by my fearless friend, it is a song about anyone who is made to feel like they don’t belong.

One of the things that caught my attention and I liked about the song about it was that it was very specific.  It doesn’t shy away from the emotional context of Cameron. It’s not vague unlike some other songs with a similar theme.

I love details. I think that simple, little intricacies serve to tell a much more relatable and real story. I also don’t see the point in being shy about writing a song like Cameron. Either you write the song and tell the slightly uncomfortably honest version, or you don’t write the song at all.

Now that you’ve got Whiskey and Frosting out – what’s next?

I’m actually setting up to release my full debut album in the spring! Record is already done, just got to hit the road and try to motivate the world to listen to me.

New Music: “Bang Bang Bang” – A Girl I Know (Invader! Remix) {Exclusive Premiere}

A Girl I Know’s “Bang Bang Bang” has recently racked up 45,000 Youtube hits in over a month.  It’s a collaboration between actress Carolina Hoyos, actor Ken Franklin, and Jeremiah Bitsui who played Victor on Breaking Bad.

The Invader! is the project of 22-year old Alejo Gonzales who hails from South Florida.  Check out The Invader! remix of “Bang Bang Bang” here.

 

Q&A with Donegal X-Press’ Brad Dunnells

 

The Donegal (pronounced ‘dä-ne-gäl) X-Press has emerged as one of the premiere Irish-American roots rock groups in the country. This high-energy, six-piece outfit has gained praise and fans from New York to Ireland, Baltimore to Nashville and beyond. DXP blends a unique combination of traditional Irish music with American country and blues, folk and rock, rhythm and funk, which John O’Regan of Roots Magazine calls, “…creative ferocity not seen since The Clash’s London Calling period.”

Building on a core of traditional Irish pub songs, the Donegal X-Press added original songs and popular covers to their live set, creating a stage performance that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences.


 

In the years since its formation, the group has gone from boozy bar crowds to sharing the stage with artists such as The Saw Doctors, Prodigals, Solas, Black 47 and the Wolfe Tones. DXP has also written and produced four albums of original music: Whiskey, Bars, A-Go-Go; Quinn’s Diaries; Translations; and Stand Alone. In 2000, the Irish Voice (NYC) named the group among their “Best of 2001” and eventually dubbed them “Artist of the Year.” In that same year, Brad Dunnells was the first American to the win the National Song Contest for Peace held in Cork, Ireland. The 1st place winner, “Omagh,” is featured on Quinn’s Diaries. In 2001, Donegal X-Press was named “Best Band” in the Baltimore City Paper’s Readers Poll.

In addition to performing with the Donegal X-Press, the multi-talented individuals who make up the group have many side projects. Jeff Malcom (bass) and Skye Sadowski (fiddle) co-founded and perform with the Baltimore-based group Man Down, while Jeff Trueman (drums) performs with the band Pale Stars, also native to Baltimore. Laura Hein (keyboard) is a solo pianist and accompanist who performs throughout Maryland. Along with singer/songwriter Laura Cosner, Dunnells and Tinney founded the folk trio The Wayfarers, while Tinney has published two books of short stories and poetry-prose (Hilliard & Harris Publishers).

 

Paid Off the Boom is your 6th album.  I don’t want to use the term “mature” but it certainly seems to be different in tone and themes than your earlier albums.  It seems at times a bit subdued and maybe melancholy.  It seems more folk influenced than your previous albums is that a fair assessment?

Paid Off The Boom is indeed our 6th album and certainly a departure from some of our previous ones. I think “mature” is a good adjective to describe it. We have certainly developed in our songwriting, adapted as a band, and progressed as musicians. The result is a change in our overall sound. While subdued or melancholy are certainly not the overall feelings we were looking to project, I suppose the material is certainly a lot less raucous than other records. We made a decision a few years ago to develop a sound that was primarily driven by roots, rock, and Americana – folk would be the pulse of all three of those genres. I suppose good storytelling and simple chord patters are at the heart of our songwriting and listening interests.

The title track recalls the “Oyster Wars” of the Chesapeake Bay.  Mind explaining what exactly “the Oyster Wars” are? 

 

Hard to believe, but there was a time, not too long ago, when fisherman on the Chesapeake Bay killed one another to stake access to fishing grounds on both the Maryland and Virginia sides. This feud was so bad that Maryland enacted our country’s first “Oyster Police” to quell the feud and enforce fishing laws. Years later that organizing would become the Department of Natural Resources. Along with this violent and competitive conflict came a host of other problems including slavery, and corruption.

“Take My Hand” is one of my favorite songs off the album.  It’s a bit of departure for you guys – its got a bluesy feel, especially with that harmonica.  How did that song come about?

 

Our fiddle player Skye Malcom actually wrote the lyrics to that song. I suppose she would have to give the background on what inspired her to write it. She brought the song to me with a simple melody and we hammered out the song that you have today. Jason does a great job playing harp on that tune. I also love what Ed Tetreault did with the arrangement on this one. The build during the bridge in particular. I think this one I’d love to hear Van Morrison sing – or maybe Grace Potter sing.

The Donegal X-Press is part what is called the “Irish/American Counter-culture” and the band always seems to draw big crowds.  What do you think attracts people to the style of music the band is playing?

 

I truly believe what we do is timeless and cross-generational as well as cross-cultural. There really are only three flavors of music: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. I think we do a great job of incorporating each into our live shows. If you tell a good story with your music and invite your audience to participate with you during the show you people will connect with you. That is what makes people remember you and keep coming back. Irish Americans, in particular, are very loyal fans for music that celebrates their heritage. I think we’ve been lucky in that we have been able to win over audiences of very diverse backgrounds.

How long did it take the band to make Paid off the Boom?

 

I would say way too long. However, if the end justify the means, than it took as long as it needed to, as we are very happy with how the album turned out.

The band is known for its energetic live performances.   Do you practice often when you’re not playing shows?

 

Unfortunately, no, we rarely practice. Sometimes if we’ve been off for a while we will do a quick “tune up”. But the only time we get together to practice is to develop new material. As far as our energy goes, that comes from have a really great band of entertainers who know how to “switch it on” when we hit the stage.

The band also plays a lot of covers as well – you’ve even included the Old Crowe Medicine Show/Dylan song “Wagon Wheel” on the new album.  Do the covers have to fix into a certain criteria for you to consider playing?

 

Funny, we started covering that song way before it became as popular as it has become with so many bands today. For years, people asked us to put it on a record. Now that we have done so, I hear that “Wagon Wheel” has become unpopular as a cover as it has been overdone the same way you aren’t suppose to play “Stairway to Heaven” in a music store. I suppose the only criteria for choosing covers is that everyone in the band enjoys playing them.

You guys have been around for almost 20 years now.  Did you expect to still be playing when you first started? 

 

Well, more like 15 years, … but whose counting. I can’t imagine we expected to be doing anything that we have all ended up doing since 1998. But I guess that’s life. As long as I am still standing there will be a Donegal X-Press. I can only hope and pray that I am blessed to continue to make music with these 5 extraordinary people who I love dearly and think the world of. It has been a wild ride to say the least.