Music Review

The Black Crowes Have Flown The Coop!

The Black Crowes have broken up. Too bad, too. Looks like the riff between vocalist Chris Robinson and his guitar playing brother Rich Robinson has shaken some feathers from the Crowes' roost. Apparently Chris wanted a greater stake in the ownership of the band. Brother Rich had this to say: "I love my brother and respect his talent, but his present demand that I must give up my equal share of the band and that our drummer for 28 years and original partner, Steve Gorman, relinquish 100 percent of his share, reducing him to a salaried employee, is not something I could agree to." Shades of the Rolling Stones "hired gun" practices or a calculated tactic to afford them one final tour in the very near future? Either way, any upcoming Spring/Summer 2015 tours will be missed. In the interim, we've posted this wonderful concert from 2013.

Song of the Week: First Aid Kit - "Master Pretender"

One of our favorite Americana acts, Swedish duo First Aid Kit has just released an animated video for their song "Master Pretender" from their album Stay Gold.

Best New Jazz Album of 2014

Because explaining the glories of a project like this requires a length unsuited for a listicle, my favorite jazz album of 2014 gets an article all to itself.

Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings 1-4 or: A Jew at Large in the Minstrel Diaspora (Constant Sorrow)

Allen Lowe has (at least) a double identity: jazz composer/saxophonist, and scholar of early American jazz and pop. This four-CD set combines those identities even more than usual as it contains a whopping 62 original compositions, many -- perhaps even most; I didn't do the math, but it feels that way -- inspired by the sounds and personalities of early jazz and pre-jazz (both kinds of ragtime, etc.), as detailed vividly in his accompanying notes: Bunk Johnson (we get many movements from a Bunk Johnson Suite), Bix Beiderbecke, Paul Whiteman, Ernest Hogan, James Reese Europe, Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden, and a few more obscure figures. Later jazz legends are also cited as inspiration for some specific tracks, repeatedly Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, but also Lennie Tristano, Al Haig, Edgard Varese, Henry Mancini, Ran Blake, George Gershwin, gospel pianist Arizona Dranes, Zora Neale Hurston, Anthony Braxton, B-movie actress Barbara Payne, Jaki Byard, and Duke Ellington. Read more »

Steve's Favorite New Rock, R&B, and Electronic Albums of 2014

The mainstream drew me back in a little this year, though mostly by looking back several decades to the same things I love and incorporating them into music that doesn't especially sound like 2014.

1. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (Constellation)

I think of Silver Mt. Zion as the post-rock Pogues. They have the drunken singing and the scratchy fiddling and the punky energy, but in a sort of gritty yet sophisticated Godspeed! You Black Emperor musical context (and in fact founder/singer/guitarist Efrim Manuel Menuck used to be in Godspeed!). On their eighth album, the added intensity that appeared on their previous album is increased; this may be their best yet. My favorite track is "What We Loved Was Not Enough," where at first it seems like he's singing "The days come when we no longer fail," but then when the women chime in with the same line minus his accent, it turns out "fail" is actually "feel"; across over 11 minutes, this becomes mantra-like. But really the whole album is stunning. (This review originally appeared in the print version of The Big Takeover.) Read more »

Dusty's Favorite Rock Music from 2014

What a year in rock music! There, I said it. Too much to take in. Like a rowboat taking in more water than I can bail out. I keep getting new music recommended to me by friends, publicists, old lovers, dudes on subways, songs blasting in hipster boutiques; freakin' new music was everywhere. I got tipped to U.K. acts such as punk rockers Sleaford Mods, poetry rapper Kate Tempest, and folkster Jake Bugg; there was a new pop rock opus by Dan Wilson, and soulful Brooklynite Selena Garcia, and much more. I could barely compile my "best of/favorites of 2014" list knowing that I'll probably discover even more music after I've completed it. But here ten favorite tracks from 2014, a few essential reissues, and my ten favorite albums, yes, albums, like on real heavy duty vinyl, with two sides and everything. Read more »

Blues Images 2015 Calendar

Once again a new year is imminent and you may be looking for a calendar, and as usual I highly recommend this one, not least because it includes a CD of great country blues.

First, the calendar. Blues Images is the vision of fanatical blues collector John Tefteller, who recently paid $37,100, reportedly the highest price ever for a 78 RPM record, to acquire the second known copy of a rare Tommy Johnson record -- and he already owned the other copy! (More about that in a bit.) Clearly this is a man who takes the blues seriously.

After acquiring a large collection of material related to the famous Paramount label in 2003, Tefteller started this calendar series featuring the wonderful art drawn for vintage advertisements of Paramount records during the label's 1922-32 heyday, and artists' promotional photos. Since then, Blues Images has branched out to include material from other labels' artists -- for instance, the 2015 calendar's April page features a great photo of the duo of Brother Son Bonds and Hammie Nixon, Decca artists. The first 12 tracks on the accompanying CD are always synched with each month's artwork, so the fourth track is their gospel tune "I Want to Live So God Can Use Me." October features a 1930 photo of the young Roosevelt Sykes; on the CD he's represented by "Conjur Man Blues," which he recorded for Paramount under the pseudonym Dobby Bragg. Read more »

Classical Review Roundup for December

Between reviews I'd been accumulating, things I listened to for my best-of-2014 list, and a couple of comparisons I'd planned to make, there's enough for another review roundup before the close of the year. Note that the three that could fit into the reissue category -- Rilling, Berman, and the first 71 tracks of the lead review here -- would all have been on my best-classical-reissues-of-2014 list if I'd made one.

Best New Classical Albums of 2014

It was another year full of great classical music. Here are my favorites from 2014, new releases only, no reissues.

This superbly programmed and performed album contains eight Latin sacred choral works (specifically motets, mostly votive antiphons and psalm motets) by John Taverner (c.1490-1545), Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585), William Mundy (c.1529-1591), Robert White (c.1538-1574), and William Byrd (c.1540-1621). Active during the period of greatest religious upheaval in English history, they kept writing richly layered polyphony despite changing fashions (though the later composers listed would also provide chordal English-language anthems as needed). 

Joe Cocker, R.I.P.

Long before John Belushi mugged his spastic body movements and raspy vocals in an SNL parody, the Sheffield, England-born Joe Cocker was the voice that could sing any rock song and make it his own. His riveting performance at Woodstock, on the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour of 1970, and early solo albums made him an unlikely rock star in the US. Joe may have lost his battle with lung cancer, but his songs will live on. His Beatles' cover "With a Little Help from My Friends" remains one of my favorite songs by him. Rest in peace, Mr. Cocker.

Song of the Week: Dan Wilson - "Love Without Fear"

Okay, so those of us who dig Dan Wilson's singing, songwriting, and playing know how incredibly talented he is. His first band, Trip Shakespeare, remains one of America's epic pop-rock outfits, even if they were always under the radar of mass consumer consumption. Then he went and outdid himself with his next band, Semisonic. "Closing Time" is a repeat offender on my iTunes repeat button. And if that wasn't enough -- cuz the guy's gotta pay the bills -- the Twin Cities native wrote hit songs for the Dixie Chicks, Adele, Dierks Bentley, even freakin' Taylor Swift. How I missed this song when it was released is anyone's guess. But here it is for all of you to enjoy on this chilly December weekend. Pick up his new solo CD, Love Without Fear, now. 

ANNIVERSARIES: Sergei Rachmaninoff Conducted Philadelphia Orchestra in Recording of His Symphony No. 3 75 Years Ago

Philadelphia Orchestra/Sergei Rachmaninoff
Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 3/Isle of the Dead/Vocalise
(RCA Gold Seal)

During most of his life, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was best known as a pianist and composer. He only took up conducting through an odd set of circumstances. The premiere of his First Symphony in 1897 was seriously marred by the inept conducting of Glazunov, who was reputedly drunk. Not only did this impress on the young Rachmaninoff how crucial a good conductor was to the success of his music, the critical rejection of his First Symphony on the basis of that performance sent him into a depression and caused a mental block against composing. Read more »

A Comparative Listening Survey of Dvořák's Ninth Symphony, Part II

Having given the history of the "New World" in Part I, it seems wise to preface Part II with some words about how the symphony is constructed. The movements are:

I.    Adagio; Allegro molto
II.   Largo
III.  Scherzo: Molto vivace
IV. Allegro con fuoco

Unusually, every movement starts with an introduction. The first movement's is the most famous:  starts with a striking slow introduction that establishes the current of nostalgia for, or homesickness for, the composer's native Bohemia. Another reminder of this comes with the famotus flute solo -- or does it? Some have remarked on its similarity to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," but this is not so much a quote as a paraphrase, so to speak; small bits of "Chariot" are elided into something new that mingles many flavors: African-America spiritual, yes, but also Native American music and Bohemian folk music, which share a pentatonic flavor. Read more »

Bobby Keys & Ian McLagan, R.I.P.

Two music legends have passed on recently, Small Faces/Faces' keyboardist Ian McLagan and super session saxophonist Bobby Keys. Texas-born and bred Keys is best known for his work with The Rolling Stones. (As well as his hard-charging camaraderie with Keith Richards.) His honkin' can be heard on such Stones jukebox anthems as "Brown Sugar," "Happy," and "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" as well as John Lennon's hit single "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night". He also played with one of my favorite bands, Delaney & Bonnie  as well as The Plastic Ono Band, Nilsson, Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and many more. Last year I caught him in action with Bob Weir. Read more »

Song of the Week: New York Funk Exchange - "Get On The Floor"

Ready to get on your good foot? "Get On The Floor" people! From the very tasty horn-and-vocal band New York Funk Exchange with the delicious vocals of Serena Fortier. From their must-listen, 14-track sophomore album This Is Your Brain On Funk. Perfect for those post Turkey day exercise workouts. Might even get Grandma and Grandpa out on the dance floor with this one.

ANNIVERSARIES: Alfred Schnittke Born 80 Years Ago

Controversial composer Alfred Schnittke was born November 24, 1934 in the Soviet Union's Volga Republic, an ethnic German enclave. In his mid-thirties he pioneered a broadly eclectic style of composing that drew on many classical styles (even sometimes quoting familiar Beethoven or Bach works, among others) as well as the occasional foray into jazz and pop. By 1972 his experimentalism had earned the disapproval of the Soviet Composers Union (the Soviets also weren't enamored of his occasional expressions of religion, for that matter), but a number of esteemed musicians who had left Russia to live in the West supported his work and brought him an international reputation. His work was basically pessimistic in outlook, but its emotional impact, and the accessibility of some of the styles he drew on, nonetheless seduced many listeners.

The contradictions in Schnittke's style are laid out in his liner notes to the BIS recording of his Symphony No. 3: "I do not know whether or not the symphony will survive as a musical form. I very much hope that it will and I attempt to compose symphonies, although it is clear to me that logically it is pointless. The tensions of this form, which are based upon a tonal perception of space and on dynamic contrast, are paralyzed by the present material-technical point of view. Nevertheless there is hope: in art, the impossible has a chance of success whilst the certain is always deceptive and hopeless." That said, he could easily be considered the last great symphonist. Read more »

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