Music Review

The Watkins Family Hour - Lincoln Center

Saturday night was a perfect summer evening for free Americana music at Lincoln's Center Damrosch Park as part of the Annual Roots of American Music, Americanafest NYC. The evening featured two of the genres rising stars. The headliners played two sets with the first half of the set featuring mostly original tunes by former Nickel Creek members Sean and Sara Watkin's new band The Watkins Family Hour. They and their extraordinary band entertained a robust crowd of New Yorkers and tourists alike. One of my favorite songs of the evening was their beatiful take on the Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace." And co-vocalist Fionna Apple's original song "A Mistake" was quite moving. Yes, she's one of the members of this band. Read more »

Song of the Week: Barrence Whitfield - "The Claw"

"The Claw" is a much-needed jolt of raw, unfiltered, throw-back, punked-out garage rock bliss played with the same verve and reckless abandanon as The Sonics once did it. Barrence Whitfield & The Savages keepin' it real in this pre-fab muzak daze. From their new long player Under the Savage Sky on Blood Shot Records. TURN IT UP, UP TIGHT WHITE PEOPLE!!!!

U2 at Madison Square Garden, 30 July 2015

I finally did it: I saw U2 in concert.

I may have waited too long to catch the band in its prime, but its 37 years of experience -- without a personnel change -- and undiluted passion have made it one of the biggest concert draws for decades now, even if recent albums have been uneven in inspiration. Read more »

Video of the Week: Church of Betty - "Endure"

NSFW. So simple that it will hypnotize, but that's always been the case with many of NY-based Chris Rael's Church of Betty tunes. His new single "Endure" (from longplayer Swirled World) channels the raga spirit of George Harrison. The video directed by filmmaker/photograhper Jasmine Hirst has an edgy, East Village experimental quality that perfectly exploits the overall tone and texture. 25 years in and Church of Betty can still thrill.

American Composers Declare Independence from Europe

When I was growing up, New York 's best (now long-defunct) classical radio station, WNCN, played only American composers' music each Fourth of July. With the classical world dominated by Europeans, this was a welcome and educational corrective. In the history of American music, independence wasn't achieved until the 20th century; 19th century composers such as John Knowles Paine and George Whitefield Chadwick studied in Europe and blatantly imitated European models. Listening to their music "blind," few would guess they were Americans. There was Revolutionary War-era vocal writer William Billings, but his originality was more a lack of proper technique. Continuing WNCN's tradition, here's a look at true American classical music.  Read more »

Chris Squire's Musical Legacy

Chris "Fish" Squire, the heart and soul and, yes, the foundation of iconic prog-rock band Yes, passed away Saturday at the age of 67. He had been battling leukemia, and last month had left the band for the first time -- he is the only member to appear on every Yes album (21 studio albums and a plethora of concert recordings). Squire, who played with a pick, achieved his unique sound by rewiring his Rickenbacker bass to stereo and sending the output of the bass and treble pickups into separate amplifiers. His sound -- and, let it be remembered, his vocals, usually heard in harmony or counterpoint to lead vocalist Jon Anderson's, but still prominent enough to be immediately recognizable -- was integral to the classic Yes albums of the 1970s. Read more »

Song of the Week: Todd Rundgren - "Put Your Arms Around Me"

Okay, so it's a collaboration and not a true solo Todd Rundgren track. The album Runddans is the result of the collaboration between Todd Rundgren, Hans-Peter Lindstrom and Emil Nikolaisen. Their track, "Put Your Arms Around Me (Stereolab/The High Llamas Remix)", is fantastic. Hopefuly Todd will get back to his organic roots on this next long player. Until then, this will do just fine.

Thoughts on Ornette Coleman

The first time I heard Ornette Coleman in person was at a New Year’s Eve concert in the Harlem State Office Building cafeteria. (He and his band Prime Time were topping a triple bill that opened with drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson  & the Decoding Society and found guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer’s band spanning the transition from 1980 to 1981; both leaders had spent crucial time as Ornette sidemen.) The thing I remember most about it was how closely Ornette’s sound on alto sax resembled that of Charlie Parker’s. I had never heard the resemblance on Coleman’s recordings, but on the nearly non-existent sound system in this low-ceilinged (with acoustic tile) room, the similarity was striking. Read more »

Fare Thee Well... 50 years of The Grateful Dead!

So if you know anything about The Grateful Dead, you know that this is their 50th anniversary. Their final shows will take place in Santa Clara, CA (2 shows) and in Chicago at Soldier's Field (3 shows). (A live webcast of all five concerts will be available for $79.95 at Dead.net.) To celebrate this historic milestone, Dead.net has just started taking advance orders on their new 80-disc box set -- Thirty Trips Around The Sun -- featuring 30 unreleased shows; one show from every year of touring! (It's planned for a September 18th release date.) You may not have enough time to listen to all 80 discs, but if you're a Deadhead, how can you say no? There will also be a 4-CD sampler set -- Thirty Trips 1965-1995 -- that serves as an introductory sampler to the Dead’s live canon, including 30 unreleased performances — one from each concert in the boxed set – along with the 1965 recording of “Caution.” Also featured is an essay by Dead aficionado Jesse Jarnow dissecting every track in the collection.  Read more »

Song of the Week: Fable Cry - "The Zoo of No Return"

Love, love, love the vaudevillian vibe of this Nashville-based "theatrical scamp rock" quintent known as Fable Cry. This song has mirth and mischief oozing from every note. Hope they cut a vidoe for it. For fans of Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits, Danny Elfman, et al.

A Summer Wind...

The 30th anniversary of SummerStage kicked off last night at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park with the best touring band on the planet -- Tedeschi Trucks Band. And with the Allman Brothers officially retired, Mr. Trucks, and his wife Susan Tedeschi have easily replaced them as top dogs. Rolling Stone magazine may have ranked Derek Trucks the number 16th of the top 100 Guitarists of All Time, but in my book this virtuoso is a top five candidate. He so fluid, nimble, inventive, and identifiable on his Gibson SG that I would argue he's the best rock guitarist on the scene today. (Okay, feel free to prove me wrong with your comments below.) Yes, it's one thing to dominate on the jamband scene, but quite another to dominate the rock music biz. Read more »

David Lindley - Live at The Cutting Room - 11 May 2015

For L.A.-based stringed instrument maestro David Lindley, the more obscure the stringed-instrument, the more inspiring. Employing a half-dozen guitar-like instruments (several custom-made Weissenborns, a black top Irish bouzouki with added frets, electric oud) in various open tunings, he effortless finger-picks his way into your head and heart. And his droll between-songs banter is both hilarious and informative. Having been employed by some of the world's most-beloved singer/songwriters, such as Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, to name just two of my favorites, has definitely served his stage presence and chops quite effectively.  Read more »

Song of the Week: Dwight Yoakam - "Liar"

Dee-Wight Yoakam is back!!! And he's got the guitars and snarl ramped up to 11. "Liar" is a roots-rockin' barn burner off his latest long player Second Hand Heart. Hell, the whole album is one of his best in years. These tracks remind me of his early days when he toured with indie rockers Hüsker Dü. Had to turn it up to be heard!

Song of the Week: Reina del Cid - The Cooling

The life of singer-songwriters who have attempted to navigate the modern music biz is littered on a highway to hell. A nearly-impossible task of "making it" seems a daunting task for even the most noble of bards. But thankfully the Minneapolis-based indie folk artist Reina del Cid ignored the warnings and delivered a remarkably coherent effot, start to finish. The Cooling is smart and evocative and basic - vocals, guitars, upright bass and drums. These are road tested songs that have found adoring audiences all over the midwest. Now they have the opportunity to find a larger audience. The title track is unquestionably one of my favorite tracks of the year. This string-driven (cello, violins, upright bass) waltz about death is so smart that it will inspire you. And if that ain't livin', well, then you ain't livin'!

The Uppercut: Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo: Live at Okuden

In recent years, some of the most interesting and evocative jazz albums -- including Anouar Brahem's The Astounding Eyes of Rita and the Wolfert Brederode Quartet's Post Scriptum -- have featured someone playing the bass clarinet slowly and carefully in a way that recalls some of the most interesting and evocative jazz albums of all time, Fusion and Thesis by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (later collected as 1961). Which may explain why, despite featuring the nimble, expressive, and yes interesting and evocative fingers of pianist Matthew Shipp, Live at Okuden really gets its mood, and thus its mojo, from the bass clarinet, alto sax, soprano clarinet, and flute playing of Mat Walerian. Read more »

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