Tag Archives: Blues

Song of the Day: “Fell In Love With a Girl” – The White Stripes

An explosive song that clocks in at just under two minutes, “Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the coolest song to be released this century. Everything about the song – its violent riff, Meg White’s anarchic drumming, Jack White’s insane “ahhhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhh-ah!” screams – blasts out of the speakers and pummels everything in its path.

“Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the best thing Jack White ever recorded in illustrious career. Inside those chaotic two minutes is a culmination of rock itself: blues chord progressions played at Zeppelin-esque volume; the DIY ethos of garage-rock and punk; the unbridled energy of The Who and the fierce attack of The Stooges; the power-pop sensibility of The Beatles.

A lot was made of the garage-rock revival at the beginning of the century. Some bands were really good (see The Strokes’ Is This It), others I thought were decent at the time but eventually realized were terrible (see The Vines) and some were fashion statements with instruments (The Hives). And  then there were the ones whose music you heard before back when they were called Joy Division. (Interpol, I’m looking at you.)

But The White Stripes established themselves above the rest with one single swoop. Whereas other bands felt like they were trying too had, “Fell In Love With a Girl” seemed spontaneous and off the cuff. (For the record, I do think Jack White does try too hard sometimes. Remember Get Behind Me Satan?)

The rest of White Blood Cells didn’t reach the height of “Fell In Love With a Girl”. The rest of the songs found on the album were very strong, but “Fell In Love with a Girl” was and too intense and too badass to be pushed by the wayside. The only way for White to eclipse or circumvent the song’s power was to create something more repetitive and simple sounding and double-down on it. “Seven Nation Army” might be on its way to becoming the most famous guitar riff of all time, if thousands of sports fans have their way.

But I’ll never get tired of hearing “Fell In Love With a Girl” in all its glory. To quote Bob Dylan, “Play fuckin’ loud.”

 

Song of the Day: “Find My Baby” – Moby

Play is one of those records that I pull out every once in a while and I’m instantly transported back to my freshmen year of college. It was one of the few albums that I played regularly while reading massive 19th and 20th century novels for my English literature class. (Moby Dick, however, was not one that I read that year.)

The soundscapes and samples were perfect background music for the dense pieces of writing I was attempting to soak in. “Find My Baby” – the second track off the album – is probably the best representation of Moby’s concept of taking old blues and gospel samples and giving it a contemporary twist. The whole song is built off of the opening lines (“I’m gon’ find my baby…Wooo, before that sun goes down”) of “Joe Lee’s Rock” by blues artist Boy Blue.   As “Find My Baby” builds to a crescendo with its electronic flourishes, the sample is first placed in the right channel and as it is finishing on that side, it appears in the middle then on the right in the same sequence, effectively creating a wave of Boy Blue’s voice.

Check out “Joe Lee’s Rock”(sample occurs at the start of the song) as well as “Find My Baby” below.

 

Review: “Delta Deep” – Delta Deep

 

 

10321045_1581720182079895_1102858770077223036_oThe debut album from blues-rock supergroup Delta Deep is full of greasy licks, whiskey-soaked rock ‘n roll and soulful vocals. Imagine a smoking-hot bar blues-bar band playing the best straight-ahead rock and roll you’ve heard with the likes of Aretha Franklin or Darlene Love belting over some furious riffs and you’ve got an idea of what Delta Deep sounds like.

Founded by Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, Delta Deep consists of established and esteemed musicians as guitarist Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots), drummer Forrest Robinson (India.Arie/TLC) and singer Debbi Blackwell-Cook (former background singer for Michael Buble and Luther Vandross.)

Supergroups often have a reputation of being a vanity project: they’re fun for the musicians, but for listeners the results can be cumbersome and underwhelming. Too often, supergroups from different genres have trouble gelling and creating their own sound. You only need to look at Audioslave or Mick Jagger’s ill-fated Super Heavy project for proof.

For Delta Deep, the opposite is true. From the very start, this is a band that seems to be completely in sync with each other, even as their individual parts are readily apparent. DeLeo and Collen provide Delta Deep with their muscular riffs reminiscent or early Led Zeppelin. The solos are white-hot and fiery, but never excessive or overblown. Robinson’s drumming past in R&B gives the album its sense of groove (which is sorely lacking in a lot of retro-blues rockers).

But it’s Blackwell-Cook who really sets things on fire throughout Delta Deep. Her soaring voice gives these songs an extra rush. The loose songs structures give her plenty of room to work her magic as she weaves in and out of the music behind her. Her ability to not only be heard over these heavy riffs, but command the chaos is a thing to behold. Blackwell’s voice ensures an aura of authenticity that they may or not may have already have earned without her.

The best thing about Delta Deep is that it sounds so effortless. There’s no pretense of trying to be cool; just a some musicians conjuring up the ghosts of legends past and presenting them in a light and exciting light.

Check out the video for “Down in the Delta” below:

Delta Deep is available now and you can follow the band on Facebook or check out their web-site.

Review: “Radio Sister” – Dave Phaeln

 

 

a0678102170_2

 

Much of Dave Phaehn’s Radio Sister sounds like adult contemporary pop of the late 70’s and early ’80’s. It’s not hard to imagine that many of these songs could be included on the soundtrack for an early ‘80s New York romantic comedy. The pristine production, slightly funky grooves and jazzy saxophones evoke feelings of Manhattan during the Reagan-era. With that in mind, it’s no surprise then that many of these songs were actually recorded in the early 1980s and shelved until now.

Many of the songs found on this set are ear-worms, particularly the title track and “Better Things to Do”. The melodies aren’t immediate, but linger in your head for hours afterwards. Much of that credit can be given to the background vocalists whose refrains and wordless chants who give the sometimes stiff performances a bit of needed soul and grit. The same goes for Phaehn’s scorching harmonica solos. If his licks were played against a white-hot blues band, the results would be stunning.

The best moments on Radio Sister are the rare ones where Phaehn actually lets loose and gets back to his bluesy roots. The rollicking “Soda Fountain” makes you want to get up and dance with its short musical battle between a saxophone and Phaehn’s harmonica.

And in complete contrast to the slick production found on the rest of the album, Radio Sister ends with a stripped down medley of Lead Belly songs and the front-porch blues of “Stranger Blues” . It’s just Phaehn’s voice and some hand claps, but he does his best to conjure up the ghost of the delta, and damn does he come close. Equally impressive is the front porch blues of “Stranger Blues” where Phaehn really shows off his harmonica skills. You don’t even have to close your eyes too tightly before you can see a keg of moonshine at his feet.

There’s a lot to like on Radio Sister but too often it seems stuck in the 1980s. When Phaehn removes himself from that era and dives back to a a more transcendent time is where Radio Sister truly shines. Those tracks are worth sticking around for.

For more info on Dave Phaeln, check out his web-site.

My Life in 33 Songs: #29: “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin (The Song that Changed My Musical Perspective)

 

led-zeppelin2

I discovered Led Zeppelin as a teenager thanks in part to the Legends specials on Vh1. Those specials were visual textbooks on classic rock bands. The Led Zeppelin episode convinced me that they were the greatest band on earth. I was mystified by the band’s sonic power and tales of debauchery. This really was the stuff of legend.

It also helped that Zeppelin was one of the few bands that my mother outright forbid me to listen to. She didn’t know much about popular music other than what my siblings played for her, but she knew of Zeppelin’s reputation as sexual deviants and “Satanists”.

“I don’t want you listening to Led Zeppelin!” She yelled at me once when she discovered one of their tapes in my room. “Do you play Dungeons and Dragons too?” In her mind, the two were interlocked and I was heading down a dark, dark path.

My two best friends had also seen the Vh1 Special, so I wasn’t the only one who it had a profound affect on. While watching fireworks on the 4th of July with our families, the three of us would talk about the finer details of Jimmy Page’s guitar solo on “Heartbreaker” or the sexual references found in “Black Dog”. We argued over which album was better: IV or Houses of the Holy.

The cream of the crop was “Stairway to Heaven” with its majestic intro and hard-rocking ending. To our teenage minds, it was the ultimate epic. It had everything: a soft beginning, mystical lyrics and the greatest guitar solo of all time.  I used to pull my headphones closely to my head so I could hear Bonham’s drum rolls during the solo.

“Stairway” made all the other bands I listened to all the time seem small and quaint. I could totally understand why it was the most requested song of all time on FM rock radio. There was just something about it that set it apart from others.

The fantastical lyrics directly aligned with The Lord of the Rings which I was reading at the time. It was the perfect soundtrack as I read about Frodo’s trip to throw the One Ring into the pit of Mt. Doom.

One afternoon while my parents were gone, my brother caught me playing Zeppelin on my family stereo. He shook his head in disgust. “Turn that shit off,” He growled. Before I could protest, he took out a tape and popped it in the stereo. An old blues recording filled the room. “This is Howlin’ Wolf,” My brother declared. “Your beloved Zep stole tons of riffs and lyrics from him and other blues artists.”

First he played Wolf’s “How Many More Years” and informed me that the lyrics for “How Many More Years” were in fact taken from this song. Then he played “No Place to Go” and I could tell that riff from Zeppelin’s “How Many More Years” was stolen from this song too.

Taking riffs and lyrical ideas is part of the blues tradition and it’s not unique to Zeppelin. Several artists I love and admire have done it. Bob Dylan has did it numerous times with his latest albums. “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” off of Modern Times which takes its title and melody from a Muddy Waters song of the same name. Jimi Hendrix did it with “Catfish Blues” – which turned into “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return”).  The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” lifted its melody from a gospel song by the Staple Singers.

But my teenage mind didn’t know that. I wondered how they could get away with it and felt betrayed. Almost instantly, my love of Zeppelin vanished and my view of them completely changed. They were no longer thunderous gods. They suddenly became silly, bloated and excessive. I’m not sure my friends had the same revelation I did, but they also stopped listening to Zeppelin around the same time.

And with that, “Stairway” became the worst offender. What I had previously thought was a gorgeous epic became a trivial and bland piece of music. Page’s solo suddenly represented the worst of ’70s excess. Plant’s lyrics in “Stairway” with its references to pipers and may-queens seemed incredibly dorky and clunky.

There’s no shortage of people who view “Stairway to Heaven” as a cultural touchstone. It’s probably not hyperbole to suggest that “Stairway” had a huge affect on a generation’s musical tastes. But for me, it represented what type of  music I don’t want to listen to: masturbatory guitar solos, long suites in songs, drum solos, etc. Many of the artists from the ’70s I now love – like The Stooges, The Ramones, Joy Division, The Clash – are the exact opposite of Zeppelin. In other words, pretty much any stadium rock band from the ’70s that’s not The Who or The Rolling Stones is not for me. I just can’t do it.

Ironically, the only Zeppelin song I still listen to is “When the Levee Breaks” which is entirely ripped off an old blues song from the 1920’s.

Song of the Week: “The Thrill Is Gone” – B.B. King

 

 

B.B. King’s guitar playing on “The Thrill Is Gone” is one of the many reasons I love the blues legend. Few guitarists capture human emotion like B.B. King, and “The Thrill Is Gone” is a perfect example of this.

Though his guitar-playing is the main-selling point of the song, King tastefully lets the notes hang sadly in the air. He never overplays and throughout the song allows the rest of his band room to breathe, adding extra tension to the song. His bluesy notes perfectly echo the song’s lyrics about a love gone bad. Even if King never sung a word on the track, you’d know the pain he was going through just by his playing.

Like many blues songs, it’s not quite as simple as a bad break-up. When King sings that he’s “free from [her] spell” it sounds down-right nasty. That’s the only indication of what happened but that seems to be more than enough for King to get out and leave. And clearly, there’s no going back. The thrill isn’t just gone, it’s dead in the ground.  Near the end of the song when King wishes his ex-love well, you have to wonder whether he’s being sincere or if it’s just another kiss-off.

 

 

 

Song of the Week: “Bold as Love” – Jimi Hendrix

When I used to work at Starbuck a few years ago, they often had Jimi Hendrix on their playlist.  I always thought this was a bit strange, since Hendrix’s wild blues doesn’t really seem to mesh with the hurried vibe of a Starbucks in the morning.  Even his slower songs demand to be heard and listened to.  Reducing Hendrix to simple background music in such a corporate and fast-paced setting seems to go against much of what his music stood for.

Still, as a fan of Hendrix, I was always glad to hear him being played even in this odd setting. I knew almost every single note of the songs they played – the usual hits with a few obscure songs thrown in for good measure – but “Bold as Love” always seem to stand out.  It was a song that for whatever reason, I always kind of over-looked before.

For me, “Bold as Love” is quintessential Hendrix.  Within its four minutes, it’s got everything that made Hendrix great – bluesy ringing chords during the verses, psychedelic inspired lyrics and the ending guitar solo that beams with all the colors of the sun.  Hendrix’s playing always had a lyrical quality to it (even the more wild and violent playing) but on “Bold as Love” it seemed to open the doors of the universe and all of its meaning.  If that seems like a hippie fantasy, well that’s exactly the point.

Album of the Week: “Exile on Main St.” – The Rolling Stones

I wasn’t ready for Exile on Main St. the first time I heard it. Like many, I knew the stories and the album’s status in the rock and roll canon.  At the time, my Rolling Stones collection consisted of Sticky Fingers, Let it Bleed and Hot Rocks.  In other words, most of the “big ones”.

Expecting most of the songs to sound like hard-rocking opener “Rocks Off” I grew a bit disappointed as I went further into the album.  There didn’t seem to be an immediacy to the songs and many of them blended together.  A few such as the camp-fire styling of “Sweet Virginia” and Keith Richards’ “Happy” snuck through.  Otherwise, Exile seemed lost on me. I didn’t quite see what the big deal was.  Maybe all the rock critics who loved this album were in the same state of mind that the Stones were while making this album.

After a few listens, I put it aside for awhile only listening to it occasionally. Over the years, as I read more about Exile the more exciting the story became but the music itself never really seeped through.  In one interview I read, Mick Jagger wondered aloud why so many fans and critics rated the album so highly.  I’m with you, Mick.  I just don’t get it. There were so many songs on Exile that it was hard to find my way inside.   It seemed here was a party going on, but I was not invited.

A few years later, I friend of mine played me “Shine a Light” in his car.  I had obviously heard the song before, but I never really connected with it.  Yet, this time was different.  Perhaps it was the beer going to my head, but Jagger’s drunken gospel really struck a chord with me:

May the good Lord, shine a light on you. make every song, your favorite tune.  may the good Lord, shine a light on you warm like the evening sun. 

Suddenly, the rest of the album made a whole lot more sense.  Exile on Main St. wasn’t rock and roll in the sense of loud guitars, but taking all of rock and roll’s roots and putting altogether in one album.  The traces of Gospel, R&B, Soul, Country and Blues that fill Exile’s four sides are never forced. Each song sounds like it came it to being organically, in a haze of drugs and booze.  There’s not a forced note on the album.

“Shine a Light” for me represents all of the contradictions on Exile, and what makes it great.  The song itself is straight-up Gospel – a song seeking redemption of a friend – on an album full of sleaze.  Of course, many of those singing old Gospel and spiritual songs were no saints either.  Jagger may want the good lord to shine a light, but he also brags about “kissing cunt in Cannes” on “Casino Boogie”.

The fact that the album sounds like this is quite an accomplishment.  Shit, it’s an accomplishment the album was even made.  There’s no doubt that the stories behind Exile are legendary.  Sometimes it’s hard to separate the tales from the music.  But what the listener is left with is a great piece of music whose influence will still be heard for years to come.

Album of the Week: “Bringing It Back Home” – Bob Dylan

To kick off the “Album of the Week”, I thought I’d start with one of the greatest albums of time, and what is perhaps my favorite record.

“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” was the song that caught my attention as a 14 year-old kid.  My older brother had picked me up from school and popped a cassette of Bringing It All Back Home.  “Check this out,” He said pressing the fast-forward button.  “This song is hilarious.”

I rolled my eyes. Not that I didn’t like Dylan, but Pete was playing him every time he picked me up.  The song seemed like any other Dylan song to me. “Did you hear that?” Pete asked pressing the rewind button.

“Hear what?” I demanded.

Pete hit the play button and Dylan’s voice came through:

Just then the whole kitchen exploded from boiling fat. Food was flying everywhere, I left without my hat.

It might have been the funniest line I had ever heard in a rock song. It was so silly, and cinematic. It was easy to imagine a kitchen exploding, and the narrator running for his life, like a scene right out of Ghostbusters.

Once the song was over, I asked Pete to replay the song one more time, and found myself engrossed and laughing at almost everything Dylan sang. It’s a wonder that Pete’s rewind button didn’t break that day.  We barely made it 20 seconds without hitting the button trying to figure out what exactly was going on. From one stanza to the next, Dylan’s “dream” gets wilder and funnier. And it just keeps going.

At this point, I’ve listened to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” hundreds of times, and each time it has never failed to make me laugh. As a teenager, its absurdity reeled me in.  In college, it was the surrealistic imagery.  Now, it’s the historical jokes and how Dylan re-writes American History.

And that is the essence of Bringing It Back Home. Rock music was split into the two distinct eras once the album was released. After Bringing It All Back Home, rock lyrics no longer had to be curtailed specifically for the music. Topics were as wide open, as anyone’s imagination. Everyone noticed the shift.  Even the Beatles, who were the biggest celebrities in the world at the time, realized that they had to change their approach.

Being groundbreaking only tells part of the story of Bringing It All Back Home, though.  More so than any other Dylan album, it showcases every facet of his personality.  It’s funny (“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream)”, heartfelt (Love Minus Zero/No Limit”), angry (“Maggie’s Farm”) and socially aware (“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”).

If there is a theme to the album, it’s Dylan as the outsider ready to fire back at his detractors and critics. He’s slaving away during “Maggie’s Farm”, but ready to tell off Ma, Pa and whoever else gets in his way.  His friends end up in jail in “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” and goes on a mission to rescue them, only to abandon them later.  On “Outlaw Blues” he “looks like Robert Ford, but feels like Jesse James” and hides behind his dark sunglasses.  “Don’t ask me nothing about nothing,” He threatens later in the song, “I just might tell you the truth.”

Dylan would go on to make better albums, but none showed the artistic leap forward that Bringing It All Back Home did.  After this Dylan’s genius was already certified, this is the album where he truly showed what he was made of.

 

Q&A With Songwriter Anna Rose

The daughter of composer Alan Menken and a ballet dancer, 26 year old singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist ANNA ROSE is currently busy composing the follow-up to her phenomenal 2010 debut album Nomad.  First introduced to the guitar at age 5 during a family gift swap, she has proved her musical prowess time and again with her powerful voice and ability to cross the boundaries of “singer-songwriter” to create a sound fully her own.  Currently ANNA ROSE is in the studio recording her second full length; she recently released a sultry, soulful cover of THE ARCADE FIRE’s “My Body Is A Cage,” which was featured on The Arcade Fire news site and the website “Cover Me.”

 

You picked up the guitar at 5. Did you think that even then as a young kid, that music would be something that you would ultimately want to pursue?  Or was there any particular moment when you realized this? 

Honestly, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to pursue music as my career. I think as soon as I opened my mouth and realized what singing felt like, I was fixated on it. Then, when I dropped piano and began playing guitar, it all started to come together. I use “come together” loosely, accounting for the fact that I was 5 years old.

Speaking of guitar – Nomad is full of it.  It’s not “full on rock”, but the acoustic arrangements are quite complex. There’s also some nice bluesy fills on “Dare” and “Gillian”.  Where you going for that wide-open space sound of early 70s albums?

 Yes and no. I was trying to stay as authentic to myself as possible within the process, so I was initially less focused on what “sound” I was going for, but rather trying to record these songs the way I had always envisioned them in my head. I was going for that sound without really knowing it. I was frighteningly aware that this record would be my first impression and I knew I didn’t want to sound too stylized or trendy. I just wanted to sound like me, but at the same time, one of my biggest influences is the rock of the early 70’s, so that clearly came through. The bluesy stuff definitely shows where I’m heading though, because the new album has a big blues influence.

You’ve mentioned how California has a huge a huge impact on you. There’s definitely a sense of that on Nomad. How did the experience out there affect your songwriting? 

I moved out there at 18 to get away from anything and everyone I knew, honestly. I wanted to wipe the slate clean. I was basically running away but I justified it with college. Then I dropped out of college. California became my mother and my best friend and my worst enemy. It bitch-slapped me with every experience I could have never asked for. Going through the process of becoming whole was what effected my writing.

You’ve stated that you like to go for “full on takes” when recording.  Do you know what you’re looking for when you start, or is a lot of it by feel? (ie– you’ll know it when you hear it?) 

We rehearse a lot before we record. Get every arrangement where we want it. Then perform the balls out of it. I like to capture a great performance, as if you’re at a great show. So I know what I’m looking for most of the time, but the beauty of live takes is that you get these little surprises that are so good you could have never dreamed them up ahead of time.

As a self-proclaimed guitar-head, what type of guitars do you prefer to play? Any guitar-players that inspire you both in terms of songwriting and playing?  

Okay, you’re in for it now. This question could be a whole evening of conversation. We’ll start with the actual instrument. I’ll play any guitar I can get my hands on, but recently I’ve been really working with my Tele and Gretsch. Those are the two most featured on the new material so far. I played my acoustic throughout Nomad and the shows that followed, so I’m finding the excitement of changing guitars throughout a live set and loving how different each song sounds on a different guitar. Being a rhythm guitarist, that’s really important to me. As for players, I’ll just list some because I could go on forever about each: Jimi Hendrix, Lindsey Buckingham, Jack White, Jamie Hince, Chuck Berry, Arlen Roth, Son House, Keith Richards…this list could be endless. Those are just the ones on the top of my head right now.

“Wilshire Boulevard” is probably my favorite song off of Nomad.  I love the jazzy feel it has to it. What’s the story behind this song? 

Thank you! I’m so glad you like it! I wrote that song while I was living in East LA and I would drive up and down Wilshire to get to my gigs to avoid the freeways. I would drive home on that street after shows, thinking about what I could have done differently and which songs came off well that night. “Wilshire Blvd.” became this physical representation of the transformation I was going through.

 You recently received a lot of attention for you cover of Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage”.  What attracted you to that song, and were you expecting the kind of response it got? 

I was definitely not expecting the response! It was so flattering and it made my heart swell knowing that people connected to it. I had been messing around with the cover just as a way to work through some personal stuff and when we were in the studio, my producer, Kevin Salem, heard me playing it and wanted to get a recording. It’s the only time I have not worked on an arrangement in advance of going into the studio. I’ve loved that song since Neon Bible came out, but it took on a new life this year when I began playing through it on my own.

Have you started working on the follow-up to Nomad?  What types of sounds can we expect it on it? 

Absolutely. It’s almost finished and I’m so excited about it. It’s heavier and has more of a blues influence, as well as a 90’s grunge aspect, but I’m sure you’ll find it has the basis in classic rock that Nomad has. I’m curious to see what you think! I really can’t wait to get it out into the world.