Music Review

Song of the Week: Breanna Barbara - "Sailin' Sailin'"

"Sailin' Sailin'" is our perfect perfect song of the week from the NYC-based singer-songwriter Breanna Barbara and pulled from her forthcoming album Mirage Dreams (No Roads Records). Her blissed-out blues conjure up the stripped down mojo of PJ Harvey and early Delta blues. It was produced and recorded by Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) at The Bomb Shelter in East Nashville.

Arlene Wolff Does It Again... Over a Half Century Later

"I'm the kind of girl who's tried everything once," Valerine Perrine purrs in Lenny. As Mrs. Bruce in the Bob Fosse film, her claim, let's say, contained slightly off-color elements.

Not so for the chanteuse Arlene Wolff, who can make the same assertion and whose career path followed a similar timeline (the 1960s onward). She, however, always took the high road. Yes, her notable achievements are indisputably aboveboard and even more varied. She opened for Jackie Mason in his early days, toured Europe as a singer of standards, and as Assistant to New York City's Mayor Abraham Beame, Wolff devised the Big Apple's now iconic street fairs. If that were not enough, for you sailor buffs, she organized the arrival of the tall ships in New York Harbor for the Bicentennial. Then because she had some free time on her hands, she married Manhattan's then Chief of Police (Mickey Schwartz) and did a little sheep farming. Read more »

Guy Clark, Master Craftsmen, 1941-2016

The year 2016 continues to take some of our best and brightest stars. We have lost Bowie, Prince, Merle, and a slew of others. I don’t have to go through all of the names. I generally put up a quick, "Well, we lost another great one" post on Facebook. This will not be one of those, because the latest loss -- Guy Clark, who passed away on May 17 at the age of 74 -- hits me hard. Read more »

Song of the Week: Nada Surf - "Rushing"

Damn, they've done it again! From their latest longplayer You Know Who You Are, my favorite NYC-folk-rock band deliver a perfectly executed subway love song called "Rushing". I've been a fan for years and this is one of the best songs they've ever executed. Two decades in and they are still bursting with smart lyrics and gorgeous sing-along melodies! 10 new tracks available on Barsuk Records. Don't delay, buy them all today!

Top 25 Twenty-First Century Jazz Albums

Today being international jazz day, there will be much celebrating of the greatness of its history. I’ve done that in the past; it is a great history. But it is not all back in historical times; jazz lives, and evolves, and continues to be great. Yet how many lists of the greatest jazz albums include anything from the current century? Read more »

R.I.P. Prince Rogers Nelson 1958-2016

Prince didn't give a fuck what anybody thought about him. Read more »

A Prog-Rock Bonanza: Anthony Phillips Reissued

Anthony "Ant" Phillips, an original member of Genesis, left after their second album (Trespass, 1970) because of stage fright -- an especially problematic situation, one supposes, for the lead guitarist. He spent the ensuing years studying music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (which is to say classical music), along with occasionally recording demos of new material at home. It would be seven years before his first solo album would appear, but after that he would be fairly prolific. Though he never achieved mainstream success -- which sadly makes sense given that this progressive rock legend didn't issue anything in 1971-76, the peak prog years -- aficionados of the style have long admired his work. Cherry Red's Esoteric imprint is now in its third year of repackaging Phillips's work with his collaboration, and with the recent issuance of 1979's Sides meaning that all of his '70s albums are now available again as box sets, now seems like a good time to review the story so far.

Song of the Week: Gary Lucas & Jann Klose - "Fair Weather"

One may surmise that NYC-based guitar maestro Gary Lucas has the magic touch when it comes to collaborating with profound artists. He has found yet another formidable vocal foil in singer/songwriter Jann Klose. As you may or may not remember, Mr. Lucas was responsible for igniting Jeff Buckley's vocal prowess in their band Gods & Monsters and co-writing the two best tracks on Mr. Buckley's solo debut. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Klose handled vocals in the Buckley bio pic Greetings from Tim Buckley and has appeared at numerous Buckley tributes and multiple stage appearances with Mr. Lucas. "Fair Weather" is from their excellent stripped-down simple Americana-centric album Stereopticon (Cosmic Trigger Records). It's my favorite track from said album. Klose's smooth vocals perfectily compliment Mr. Lucas' acoustic guitar majesty. The video was directed by DeAngela Napier.

Getachew Mekurya R.I.P. (14 March 1935 - 4 April 2016)

Tenor saxophonist Getachew Mekurya, one of the greatest musicians in the long and proud history of Ethiopian music, passed away today. 

Boston-based bandleader Russ Gershon, with whose Either/Orchestra Mekurya played in the 21st century, wrote on Facebook, "By playing Shellella, an Ethiopian vocal war chant, on his tenor sax, he arrived at a sound that had something in common with Albert Ayler independently, half a world away, and several years earlier."

By age fourteen, Mekurya was already a professional musician, playing saxophone and clarinet in the Municipal Band of Addis Ababa, the capitol of Ethiopia. At twenty, he was in the house band at the Haile Selassie I Theatre, and at thirty joined the prestigious Police Band. Read more »

Mike McGinnis - Art Lande - Steve Swallow at IBeam (Brooklyn, NY), March 27, 2016

Chances to hear pianist Art Lande in action in New York City are rare; with bassist Steve Swallow, even rarer (they had a band in the Bay Area in the '70s). Fortunately for New Yorkers, clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Mike McGinnis took it upon himself to bring them together for some trio concerts, and though snow in Colorado kept Lande from arriving for the originally scheduled Thursday and Friday shows, IBeam was able to accommodate them for the expected four sets by squeezing in a late set Saturday and then three sets Sunday night; I caught the first two on Sunday. Read more »

Charity Begins Alone

Adam Miller 
Who Would Give His Only Song Away
(Chelsea Records)

When Wes Farrell, the man who penned the perennial evergreen "Hang On Sloopy," and was overseer to the phenomenal chart successes of the Partridge Family and David Cassidy, set up his own record label in 1972, his maiden release wasn't a sure fire pop confection. He began proceedings with an exquisitely crafted collection of psych outsider introspection. Adam Miller, his new discovery and recipient of this gracious act of faith didn't set the world aflame, he didn't even darken it's edge, and today remains unknown, his album the victim of at best a misreading of the small print one is required to field when stumbling across an artist with no fame attached to the name above the title, more than four decades after the event. Chelsea Records became an outlet for pop and disco, especially the wonderfully camp and catchy Disco Tex and his Sexolettes, to name but one. It didn't suggest a testament of smouldering intensity and insight that would give the likes of Sixto Rodriguez, a man who knows a thing or four about waiting around in the doldrums of obscurity before recognition finally pays a much belated call. The albums enigmatic, cryptic name Who Would Give His Only Song Away is suitably intriguing and enigmatic, as is the young man looking downwards from the front cover. As of now there is precious more to add but the songs which are arranged with immense decorum and class by the respected jazz pianist Michael Melvin. Read more »

Song of the Week: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - "Astonished Man"

The alt folk-rock outfit Thao & The Get Down Stay Down have just released their fourth album, A Man Alive, and "Astonished Man" is the first single from said album. The record was produced by fellow Bay-area musician and tUnE-yArDs leader Merrill Garbus, and she produces the heck out of this single. In fact, their entire album. It's even quirkier than the Talking Heads and her own band, and that's in a grand way. 

This Charming Man

An Evening With Arthur Brown
11th March 2016
The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, UK
To the uninitiated, the title on the flyer suggests an event of essential Britishness, a talk about allotments, a discourse on gardening, or maybe the latest findings of the local historical society. Such is the distinctive ordinariness of the name Arthur Brown, as English as roast beef, and harking back to a time of tweed, flat caps and whippets. This is indeed an aspect of the truth, for the Mr Brown in question has elements of all of the above, but he is much more besides, and is quite simply one of the unsung national treasures, a living legend, the godfather of heavy metal and shock rock, and influence on acts with distances in longevity as Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and the Prodigy. With a four octave range that even now, at the tender age of seventy three puts most "knackers in a mouse trap screechers" to shame. He also possesses a wonderfully rich, almost fruity speaking voice that makes him sound like a prophet or a priest, or an actor about to wander along the finest aspects of Shakespeare.

George Martin R.I.P. (1926-2016): More Than Just the Fifth Beatle

On the evening of March 8, famed producer George Martin passed away at home, in his sleep, at age 90. (The announcement was first made on Ringo Starr's Twitter account.) He is, of course, primarily famous as the Beatles' producer, but I was heartened to see many friends in my Facebook feed chose to mark his passing by posting non-Beatles tracks he produced. Martin was a well-established, and well-rounded, producer before he started working with the Beatles. In his career the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee worked in quite a variety of contexts with any number of famous people, from comedy records with Peter Sellers to jazz records with Stan Getz, and practically everything in between.

The Beatles would undoubtedly have become famous without him -- and perhaps he without them -- but they wouldn't have sounded as good. Who else at that time would have made a Beatles record on which not one Beatle played an instrument? Of course, I have just described "Eleanor Rigby," on which Paul McCartney sang over Martin's lovely string quartet arrangement.

In 1998, struggling with hearing loss, he decided to bow out of the business with the album In My Life, released under his own name but full of guest stars ranging from Sean Connery, Goldie Hawn, Robin Williams, and Jim Carrey to Bobby McFerrin, Jeff Beck, Celine Dion, classical guitarist John Williams, and Phil Collins, all heard interpreting Beatles songs. Martin justly included two of his own compositions on the album too, the instrumentals "The Pepperland Suite" and "Friends and Lovers." As one of the true gentlemen of rock rode off into the sunset, this valedictory album and his induction into the Hall put the period to a long and fascinating tale (though he and his son did work on one final Beatles project a few years later, a Beatles remix for Cirque du Soleil).  Read more »

Achievement in Reverse: Brett Smiley Obit

Brett Smiley 25th September 1955 - 8th January 2016.

The death of Brett Smiley has removed one of the most obscure, but fascinating facets from the chipped, black nail varnished footnotes of rock. Until the turn of the new century his most slender of reputations rested only in the minds of those fortunate enough to possess his lone single "Va Va Va Voom," a wonderfully effete confection which surfaced in Britain in the fading months of 1974. Over-hyped and over the top, this California pretty boy import pouted and pranced like a stick thin bleached and back combed Goldie Hawn in platform boots. He emoted huskily: "I've gone so crazy I'm a certified nervous wreck. A little bit eccentric Ha! Screaming like a discotheque,"  made the cover of Disc magazine as the prettiest boy in the world and managed to briefly render Marc Bolan butch and reveal Sweet as the dockers in drag that they truly were. Had he gained a more prolonged period of exposure his androgyny would have shocked the nation, as it was he crashed and burned, his single bombed undeservedly, despite having Steve Marriott of the Small Faces on guitar duties, and not yet nineteen, he became a teenage has been. A has-been then for the second time because Brett Smiley was no stranger to the fame game. At the age of eleven he'd already conquered Broadway in the lead role of Oliver. Precocious he might have appeared, but it was with an awareness of his own worth and capabilities. Read more »

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