Monthly Archives: July 2013

New Music: “The King and the Clown” – Nat Osborn Band

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Remember the late ’90s when jazz and swing made a come-back and everyone ended their sentences with words like “money” and “baby”? As a kid, Nat Osborn most have been paying attention because the music he is very much in that vein: trying to bring jazz in contemporary American life.

But Osborn is smarter than most of the groups. Instead of being completely retro to the point of embarrassment, Osborne layers his jazz with a few updates. There’s a bit of disco-style wah-wah guitars underneath the wall of horns. The beats courtesy of drummer Zach Nicita have a slight hip-hop feel to them.  Lyrically, Osborn can be hilarious (“she’s a hard-core hippie vegan freak with snake-skin on her feet”) while also touching on some social issues (“Stand Your Ground”).

Fire in the Wind finds a group that feeds off each other. Osborn maybe the group’s leader and songwriter but it’s the ensemble that really brings everything together.  While the studio album is great, I’m sure they’re even better live.

Check out “Fire in the Wind”:

Song of the Week: “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)” – The Clash

The more I think about it, the more I see Mick Jones as the real genius in The Clash. Joe Strummer gets most of the attention and with good reason. But Strummer could also be a little too much John Lennon. Both had lots of admirable traits politically, but sometimes it could just be too much. And like Lennon, his politics weren’t always thought out despite his best intentions.

Jones on the other hand, was the group’s rock-star. He was the guy who wanted to just play and the one that wrote most of the group’s music. The dynamic between the two was made The Clash great just like Lennon and McCartney.

When I first got into The Clash, I used to always scuff at “Train in Vain”. It’s too simple, I thought…too much of a straight up pop-song. The Clash didn’t really do those things. But “Train in Vain” shows that if Jones wanted to, he could have made a great career out of writing pop songs. The irony of course, is that when he formed Big Audio Dynamite after The Clash, that group was even more experimental than The Clash. (Though they did have some hits and there were plenty of hooks.)

Everything about the song is instantly memorable:  Topper Headon’s famous drum intro, Jones’ riff and of the course the song’s chorus. Despite punk rock’s tendency to dismiss their elders, Jones clearly must have been paying attention songs of yesteryear. The song has an upbeat feel to it, but the lyrics are quite heavy and depressing.  “You didn’t stand by me,” Jones sings in his signature soft-voice. “No, way. No, not all.”

For many casual American fans, The Clash are probably best remembered for this song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and “Rock the Casbah”.  Any other group would have killed to include a song like “Train in Vain” on the record, and The Clash tacked it on the very end of London Calling. On the original pressings, it wasn’t even listed as a track.

For me, “Train in Vain” also represents the end of an era. As the last song on London Calling, it sort of represents a good-bye to the “classic Clash”. Sure they did some good stuff afterwards, but their follow-up Sandinista! was too over-blown for it’s own good.  Combat Rock, with the exception of a few songs, was mostly terrible and forgetful.

Though the song’s lyrics are obviously about Jones’ girlfriend, the chorus could seem like a foreshadowing of Jones’ firing from the band by Strummer in 1983: “Did you stand by me?  No, way. No, not all.”

New Music: “Snobbery” – Straw Bear

 

 

large9England’s Straw Bear are quickly becoming favorites on the BBC with the release of their single “Snobbery”. “Snobbery” is a simple and effective tune with a chiming guitar line that recalls the early days of R.E.M.  It’s got a slightly melancholic tinge, but the lyrics are actually quite amusing. The narrator – the “snob” in the song – finds himself at odds with his new girlfriend’s family.  “It’s lucky I want you,” He tells her.  All class, this guy.

“Snobbery” can be found on the band’s latest album, Black Bank.  For more information check out the band’s site here.

New Music: “Monuments” EP & “Airplanes” Video – Balto

 

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Folk rock is having a bit of a moment in popular music now. You could argue that the rise of folk inspired bands are riding the waves of the likes Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and Fleet Foxes. And perhaps that’s true, but we haven’t reached a point where there’s a folk-rock version of Stone Temple Pilots or Bush if Mumford is the genre’s Nirvana.

Portland’s Balto doesn’t reach for the arena posturing for Mumford & Sons, and there’s no  shout-out ala singalong chorus like “Ho Hey” on Monuments and it’s all the better for it. Balto take the Fleet Foxes approach and let the songs settle in and capture a mood.  The songs are built upon folk traditions and styles, but each song offers something slightly  different. “Doves” is built upon lush harmonies and gentle acoustic strumming. The title track is built upon echoing drums. It’s a slow-burn of a song that works effectively out of its use of space. “Cavalry” has a bit of a loose shuffle to it with a nice addition of the mandolin.  It’s these types of moments that make Monuments seem authentic and not just merely taking on a trend.

Check out the video for “Airplanes” below:

Americanarama Tour: Merriweather Post Pavilion (7/23/13)

 

At one point during My Morning Jacket’s set, Jim James appeared to be wearing a black cloak. Dude has got to be hot, I thought. My friends and I were seated on the lawn and could barely see the crowd, so we were left with James’ image on the video-screen to be our guide.  And from the video, it certainly looked like he was in a cloak. The fact that  Jim James decided to look like a Jedi on a hot July night at out-door venue didn’t really faze me. Dude is a bit odd, for sure.

As it turns out, the cloak wasn’t a cloak but a towel. Okay, I understand that a little bit better. A towel certainly makes more sense than a fucking cloak on a hot summer night.  But wearing a towel over your head is still a bit odd.

Oddness was front and center at the Americanarama Festival, and not just from James. The three headliners – My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Bob Dylan are all in their own way a bit strange and left of center.  They each exist out of the mainstream and each have a dedicated and rabid fan-base.  They have their own ideas of constitutes American music and continually push the boundaries of that genre to dizzying heights.

Dylan fits this category the most – he’s been blazing a trail of the most bizarre lyrical images put to wax since the 1960’s. Musically, he switches up his set-lists so frequently – in song selection and arrangement – that in order to truly appreciate one of his shows you have to know his catalogue inside and out.

Such was the case at this particular show.  Most of the songs were given a slow jazzy arrangement, completely different from the original studio versions. And rather than focus on his most well-known songs, Dylan opted for more obscure material such as “Blind Willie McTell” (a fucking masterpiece of a song from The Bootleg Series), “She Belongs To Me” and “Things Have Changed”.  Those wishing for his “protest” songs got in a piano-based version of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.   Only “All Along the Watchtower” was saved from a new viewpoint – though he’s been playing closer to the Jimi Hendrix version than his own for decades.

As for Wilco, they don’t make it easy for fans to love them which makes them odd too. I don’t mean that as a slight, but their songs take time to sink your teeth into.  Once you really get the songs, the rewards are plenty.  Wisely, much of Wilco’s set-list focused on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – after all these years it’s still their best album.  Wilco’s not-so secret weapon has always been juxtaposing beauty with avant-garde noise and wild sonic elements. “The Art of Almost” off of 2011’s The Whole Love was a clear example of this with its spaced out groove first-half.  For the second half, the band exploded into a wall of noise that was only hinted at on the album version with guitarist Nels Cline leading a super-charged freak out guitar solo.

The Americanarama Tour has been labeled as the most dad-rock show of all dad-rock shows.  By having Dylan on the bill, perhaps there’s a certain invitation for that label.  But he isn’t coasting.  But usually when I think of “dad-rock”, I think of bands like Dawes, Coldplay and The National- ones who are arena-ready but kind of boring and bland.  My Morning Jacket might be the closest to the dad-rock out of any of the artists on this bill with their leanings towards ’70s rock. But still, they’re a little too out there for a a large mainstream audience.

Part of My Morning Jacket’s charm is their lack of identity or perhaps their willingness to tackle a variety of genres. They can out-jam most jam-bands, and are way more interesting musically than Phish.  They can play roots-rock, but also attack with a bit of soul and groove. They’re a trippy band but can also play a straight-forward version of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It” – the fact that it was popularized by The Band gives you a good indication of the group’s influences.

“Americana” as a musical term is a bit over-played.  Perhaps that’s why the tour was billed as “Ameircanarama” to show these artists aren’t stuck in the past even as they borrow from it.  In age where festivals are the rage – with many of them focusing on the big names acts – it’s nice to see a traveling festival where music remains the focus. Apart from James’ towel of course.

New Music: “Bad Day” (Video) – Joe Moorhead

 

“It’s a bad day in the islands today,” goes the chorus of Joe Moorhead’s “Bad Day”.  For Joe a bad day in the islands consist of bottles running dry, roofs leaking and enough money in his pocket to tip the bartender “but not enough to get drunk.”  The last part is probably the worst of his woes come to think of it.

Even if the narrator is having a shitty day, Moorhead’s laid-back delivery and sunny acoustic strum makes you believe that a bad day in paradise is still better than a bad day anywhere else.

“Bad Day” can be found on Joe Moorhead’s new album Tides are Rising out now.  For more info on the Joe Moorhead check out the band’s web-site here.

Exclusive Interview with Broken Anchor

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A few weeks ago, I reviewed Broken Anchor’s awesome new album Fresh Lemonade.  Fresh Lemonade will be released on August 20th.  I recently caught up with Broken Anchor master-mind Austin Hartley-Leonard who shed some light on the making of the album.  

 

You started out a solo performer.  Why did you decide to start Broken Anchor and what’s the difference between a Broken Anchor song and one of your own songs?

The main difference is that Broken Anchor doesn’t suck.  (Laughs).  Around LA, I was doing singer-songwriter kind of music.  I was going through a Wilco and Whiskey Town phase and was really inspired by their music.  After a while, a couple of years ago, things got a little dark and I had to clean up.  When that happened, I got sober and all the songs I had didn’t really work and I didn’t have any connection to it.  So I started over, and I said goodbye to all of it.  I had a couple of songs and I met Brian Gordon for coffee, and I wasn’t even totally confident.  Once we did one song, it turned out totally fresh.  And we ended up doing 12-13 songs.  So that’s how it all started.

As a solo performer you’ve had lots of songs on different TV shows – “Teen Mom” “Burn Notice”, etc.   Years ago – artists would have been opposed to that.  Do you see it as necessary evil, or do you think the climate has changed so much that it doesn’t matter?

We’ve had Teen Mom and we’ve had a couple things on NBC.  We’ve been kind of blessed.  I don’t really view it as either.  To me, it all sort of changed earlier than everyone thinks.  Aerosmith was in a Gap commercial and Bob Dylan was in a Victoria’s Secret commercial – people forget that shit.  I think that view is childish, whether or not your favorite artist pays their water bill by bar tending or putting a song on television show it doesn’t matter.  I fucking hate bar tending and I did for a long time.  Everyone has to pay the bills.  People don’t buy music anymore.  If my music is put out in front of 25 million people, I think I’d be a fool to turn my nose at it.  It’s a question I get a lot and it’s totally valid.   But no one has ever asked me to change my music to be on an ad or a television show.  That would be a totally different story.

“Canada” is one of my favorite songs on the album.  I was really drawn to that one.  It seems to me that for a lot of people Canada is this representation of the great out-doors.  Is that what you were going for on the track?

Actually, no.  I just recently went to Canada and it was beyond gorgeous. I wish that had been the inspiration.  But it’s a bit more childish than that.  (Laughs.)   It’s a bit more about a break up, and ‘why don’t you just take off’?  Go away as far as you can.  Go to Canada’.  It’s an escape into obscurity.

“Fresh Lemonade” seems like a mix of My Morning Jacket and early ‘70s Neil Young along with Wilco.  Were those two an inspiration while making the record?

A couple of cuts have this jangly quality, a Southern California sound.  My Morning Jacket is a big influence, as is Band of Horses.  My mother was also big into The Shirelles, I think that late 60’s lazy California sound came in.  But I also love Minor Threat and Fugazi.  The influences aren’t completely obvious.  When I set out to make the record, I had no clue.  If someone had said, “why did you make a record that sounds like The Beach Boys, but My Morning Jacket too?” I wouldn’t have a clue.  But we just said, “Why don’t we add this guitar part here, or this one there.”  I love big sounds and a lot of reverb – hence My Morning Jacket.  Big drums, big beats – I’m very drawn to.

Now that the record is about to come out…any plans for a tour? 

We’ve had a couple of setbacks.  Our drummer quit and it was a bit unexpected and we had a 5-week tour planned.  I’m in the process of re-arranging the live show. I was considering auditioning drummers.  Our plan now is to try to get an opening slot.  What I’m combining is a one-man show with samples on my control-pad. When it’s ready to go, it’ll be fucking killer.  When the record comes out, we’ll go up and down the coast.

For more information on Broken Anchor, visit their web-site here.