Monthly Archives: December 2012

Exclusive Interview with Singer-Songwriter Alisha Zalkin

Alisha Zalkin’s musical quilt is patched by her Jewish and Mexican heritage, which are sewn together through the commonthread of music. The Mexican side of her family showed her at an early age the sacred power of music, setting aside background chatter and side conversation to pay homage to Ave Maria whenever it played at family gatherings. Already learning the unifying power of music, Zalkin carried this with her, authentically exuding it in her debut album March to a Different Beat. 

To no surprise, Zalkin has always gravitated towards breathtaking female powerhouses like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Carole King, and Gloria Estefan. Also evident is the message of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, as her words spread positivity while acknowledging the weight of life’s struggles.

You’ve got quite a soulful and powerful voice. Did you have any formal training, or have always been singing?

Yes! I’ve been studying voice since I was 8 years old.

March to a Different Beat seems to embody your own life-story coming from two completely different backgrounds. How have your Mexican and Jewish heritages influenced your music and message?

I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up with two completely different cultures, both so rich in history.  Music was very much a part of the Mexican and Jewish sides of my family.  My Jewish grandmother was an opera singer and put on many benefit shows for Hadassah (A woman’s Zionist movement) in Yiddish, and my Mexican grandmother constantly had mariachi music playing in the house.  She and her sisters would always sing along, and anytime Ave Maria would play, they would all close their eyes and bow their heads.  Music was very sacred to both sides of my family.  As someone of mixed cultures, music was the common thread and was what made me complete.  It helped me understand that music is the one language that we all have in common, and it is through music that we can create peace in the world.

Your web-site states that the two Bobs (Dylan and Marley) come out through your music. I’m not sure if Springsteen is an influence, but I do see a connection in the way you both are able to tackle the struggles of every day life while also making the listener see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

 I like to say I am in the business of inspiring others to find courage and inner peace.  Music is just the tool I’ve been given to express that.  Who I am as an artist and what I’m committed to is empowering my listeners so that they can find light within themselves no matter what the circumstance is.

 In the past few years, there’s been a resurgence of powerful women songwriters who are now finding their own voice. How do you feel that you fit into that?

 I feel like I fit in perfectly! I am certainly someone who marches to a different beat, and I have so much to share and give to the world.  It is a very exciting time for powerful women songwriters!

When did you first decide that performing and writing songs was a career that you wanted to pursue?

 I was always very involved in musical theater when I was younger.  Once I hit high school and was seeking an outlet where I could express myself authentically, I knew I was going to pursue this is as a career.

2012’s Top 10 Albums of the Year

(In no particular order.)

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Just when you thought R&B was done, Frank Ocean comes along and blows the whole damn thing up.  Make no mistake though, this isn’t a straight-up R&B album.  Instead of focusing on smooth melodies and songs about trying to get laid, Ocean pulls you in with his atmospheric arrangements, spoken/sung vocals and surrealistic lyrics not normally found in R&B.  When was the last time that an R&B star released an album with a 10-minute song with lyrics about Cleopatra?  Channel Orange is to R&B what The College Drop-Out was to rap 8 years ago: a complete game-changer.

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Blunderbuss is Jack White’s best musical outing since The White Stripes’ Elephant.  Blunderbuss is full of all the things that make Jack White one of the best musicians of his generation: crunching blues with spit-fire solos (“Sixteen Saltines”, “Freedom at 21”) odd folk detours (“Love Interruption”, “Blunderbuss”) and awesome covers (“I’m Shaking”).  Perhaps freed from (the self-imposed) binds of The White Stripes, White gives a tight and focused record that reveals much with each listening.  Blunderbuss is proof that in the right hand, the blues still are vital in the 21st Century.

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Wrecking Ball is Springsteen’s best album since The Rising.  But more than that, it’s the first album since Darkness on the Edge of Town where Springsteen acted like everything around him was at stake. That attitude gives Wrecking Ball a fire that flows through every song. Musically, it’s also his most adventurous – hip-hop, gospel and Irish tin whistles all collide (sometimes in the same song).  “Send the robber baron’s straight to hell,” Springsteen commands because “the greedy thieves that came around, ate the flesh of everything they’ve found.”

Bob Dylan – Tempest

Tempest is a full album of the twisted tales found in Dylan classics like “Romance in Durango” and “Idiot Wind”.  Like Springsteen, Dylan offers a dark album for a dark time.  Where Springsteen honed his anger at the “greedy thieves” and capitalism, Dylan’s album is filled with murder and blood abound. There’s a triple murder-suicide, a fictionalized version of the Titanic’s sinking where passengers violently attack each other for life-boats and Dylan’s declaration where he’ll pay in blood but not his own.

Santigold – Master of My Make-Believe

Master of My Make-Believe continues the genre-busting experiments of Santogold and takes them even further. Left-field ideas are the core of this album. There’s weird buzzing  guitars (courtesy of Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah  Yeah’s) over dark atmospheric beats.  Though there are a lot of producers on the album (including Diplo and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek) it sounds complete.  Much of Master of My Make-Believe recalls the sonic sound 80’s pop, but it sounds totally fresh and exciting.

Passion Pit – Gossamer

Unlike a lot of electronic-rock albums, Passion Pit’s Gossamer bursts with ideas and urgency. Underneath all the synths it also seems extremely human.  The off-kilter beats and samples seem to mimic lead singer Michael Angelako’s Bi-polar Disorder. The trippy sounds and upbeat nature of the music make Angelako’s angst and frustration all the more apparent evident on “Carried Away” and “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy.”  Gossamer might be a vehicle for Angelako to keep his demons in check, but for the rest of us it’s a glorious treat.

Gary Clark Jr. – Blak & Blu

In the past couple years, Gary Clark has been touted as the 21st Century’s version of Jimi Hendrix.  Jack White aside, it’s been awhile since a guitar hero has caused this much commotion and accolades. While Blak & Blu doesn’t quite live up to Clark’s live shows or conjure up the ghost of Are You Experienced? it’s a fascinating listen.  By incorporating neo-soul and hip-hop beats into his mix, Clark has found a way to update blues rock without feeling redundant.

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Prior to Handwritten’s release, The Gaslight Anthem put out a cover of Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust”.  It shouldn’t come as a shock that the Gaslight Anthem would cover Pearl Jam, as both bands wear their hearts on their sleeves without a trace of irony.  But that’s always been a part of The Gaslight Anthem’s appeal.  While their influences are still part of their sound, Handwritten finds The Gaslight Anthem finding their own sound in a bid for America’s “most important band”.

Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire

“I’ve changed! I’m grown-up! This is a breakthrough!” That’s more or less what Alicia Keys has been shouting from the roof-tops in album promos and interviews for Girl on Fire. Still, it’s always nice to hear a mainstream woman artist who isn’t afraid to put her personal struggles at the forefront. But the real seller for the album is how Keys manages to convey her own personal revelations through her music as well whether its the retro-soul of “Tears Always Win” or the fuzzy and killer beats found on “When It’s Over”.

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

Leonard Cohen has been on a roll in recent years. His recent tours have seen him invigorated and that attitude permeates throughout Old Ideas.  Cohen’s usual themes of love, redemption and Biblical allusions are all present, but there’s also some good-natured (and self-depricating) humor thrown in for good measure. The songs themselves open up slowly – the female backing vocals are wonderful especially on “Amen” and “Lullaby”- pulling the listener further into Cohen’s soul and mind.  Cohen may think these are Old Ideas, but his music sounds as vital as ever.

 

New Music: “The Ripple Effect” – The Talia Billig Band

“Backwards running, forward running,” Talia Billig sings on The Ripple’s Effect opener “Egress”.  That mantra could sum up Billig’s music throughout The Ripple Effect. At times the music sounds familiar; a tried and true set of folk and piano based songs.  Yet, there are moments throughout The Ripple Effect which throw the listener in unexpected directions like the jazzy-rhythms that fuels “Egress”, “Travel On” and “Polypoid”.  The melodies don’t always match the music – that’s actually a good thing – sometimes Billig sings faster when you think she would sing slow, and vice versa.  The gentle piano that frames the core of “But Not Broken” sounds like it would be a somber ballad, but Billig’s soulful voice turns it into something else. At times, Billig captures the anti-folk presence of Regina Spektor, but The Ripple Effect shows a very intriguing artist ready for the world to hear.

 

A Guide to The Post 1981 Rolling Stones Albums

Almost all of the Rolling Stones albums through Exile on Main St. are essential for any rock fan, as are Tattoo You and Some Girls.  After that it gets a bit tricky.  Even the most hard-core Stones fans admit to only listening to their post Tattoo You albums with vague interest.  Sure, the albums after Tattoo You aren’t groundbreaking, but there’s still plenty of great music to be found if you take the time.

The Almost-Great Albums

Voodoo Lounge (1994)

Producer Don Was attempts to capture the burning-blues of the Stones’ Exile hey-day.  That’s mostly true though there a few experiments that don’t quite work.  Still, Keith knocks off some off his best riffs in years and Charlie Watts is as tight and dynamic as ever.  Steel Wheels may have been the album where Mick and Keith buried the hatchet during their infamous feud during the mid-1980s, but this is the album where they feel like a band again.  The only real problem is its excessive length.  Exile was fueled by its sprawling length, Voodoo Lounge not quite so much.

Key Tracks: “Sparks Will Fly”, “You Got Me Rocking”, “Out of Tears”

A Bigger Bang (2005)

If Voodoo Lounge was meant to capture the spirit of Exile or the early 70’s Stones, A Bigger Bang is the album that actually does.  It’s not calculated, it’s just the Stones rocking out with some of their best songs in years. Perhaps to prove Pete Townshend’s point that the Stones shouldn’t grow old gracefully, Mick spits out some of his nastiest and most hilarious lyrics in years.

Key Tracks: “Oh No, Not You Again”, “Driving Too Fast”, “Look What the Cat Dragged In”

The “Keith Saves the Day” Albums

Bridges to Babylon (1997)

This is the first time I remember a Rolling Stones’ album being released and also one of the last times that one of their news songs was played on mainstream radio – “Saint of Me” and “Anybody Seen My Baby”.  For Voodoo Lounge, Jagger has gone on record that he wanted more experimentation, and Bridges to Babylon finds the Stones incorporating some “new trends” (by 90’s standards) into their music including samples and drum loops.  Some The rockers seem more forced here (particularly the opener “Flip the Switch”), but it’s Keith who steals the show here with lead vocals on the two album closers “Thief in the Night” and “How Can I Stop?”  Both songs are exceptional boozy, bluesy slow-burners that perfectly suit his gravely and smoky voice.

Key Tracks: “How Can I Stop”, “Thief in the Night”

Steel Wheels (1989)

I’ve always liked “Mixed Emotions”.  Though Mick says it’s not about him and Keith, it’s hard not to listen to it without thinking of the Glimmer Twins’ reconciliation.  Steel Wheels was designed as the Stones’ “big comeback” and in some cases it feels exactly like that. Like Bridges to Babylon, Keith delivers the goods – whether it’s his guitar-work on “Terrifying” or “Sad Sad Sad” or his lead vocals on “Can’t Be Seen” and the album-closer “Slipping Away”.

Key Tracks: “Sad Sad Sad”, “Mixed Emotions”, “Slipping Away”

The Not-So Good

Undercover (1983)

If you’re a huge fan of “Starfucker” (aka “Star Star”) and its sexual nastiness, then Undercover might be the album for you. The Stones have sometimes been accused of being misogynistic especially during their early days, but Undercover is filled to the brim with sexual imagery that’ll make your head turn.  Even the titles sound menacing and sleazy: “Tie You Up”, “Pretty Beat Up”, “All the Way Down”.  The Stones may have perfected the sleazy image of rock and roll, but here it just sounds tired.

Key Tracks: “Undercover of the Night”, “She was Hot”

Dirty Work (1986)

Dirty Work might be the only Stones album that is downright embarrassing.  I know an album shouldn’t be judged by its cover but that cover photo of the Stones in bright 1980s  suits sums it up. It’s the anthesis of Exile with its synthy production. Even worse there are no memorable songs. Okay, maybe the cover of “Harlem Shuffle” narrowly escapes.

Key Tracks: “Harlem Shuffle” – if that’s your thing.

 

“Luci” (Album Trailer) – Khaled Dajani

 

Saudi-Arabian born Khaled Dajani is set to release Luci in January 2013.  Described as an concept album, Luci blends hard-rock, spanish guitar and Middle-Eastern sounds into one big sound.  Khaled currently resides in New Jersey and will have two shows in the New York area this week.  On 12/11 he will play the National Underground and on 12/13 he will perform at the Northern Soul in Hoboken, New Jersey.  For more information check out his web-site.

Check out the trailer for Luci below.