Monday, August 30, 2010

Schultz' Earful

By: David Schultz

Without the fanfare or advance promotion that normally accompanies any New York City concert appearance, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals attracted a healthy crowd to the southwest corner of New York City’s austere Bryant Park for a free late summer show. Beginning with a simple Tuesday-afternoon tweet from Ms. Potter spilling the beans on a “secret show” somewhere in New York City, word spread quickly and by Thursday evening, the allure of GPN under the stars (well, streetlights, we don’t get starlight in Manhattan) proved a clarion call that most righteous music-loving New Yorkers couldn’t ignore. This might be thought of as a fine demonstration of the power of the new media: it’s better evidence of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ growing star power.

The impetus for rallying the troops to Bryant Park was a taping for the PBS concert series Live From Artist’s Den (which has been paired in most markets with the Sun Studio Sessions). Since the release of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, the band’s self-titled third album, the lovely and vivacious Potter has blossomed into a burgeoning rock queen, she’s got a voice that combines the soul of Aretha with the passion of Janis and can shimmy like Tina. Oh yes, she can also rock the Hammond B3 and the Flying Gibson like no other.

With the Bryant Park environs serving as a gorgeous backdrop, Potter & The Nocturnals played a powerful and exciting set reminiscent of their last New York appearance at Webster Hall. Even with the advent of hundreds of cable channels, it remains difficult to capture the essence of any band doing their thing on stage. Most of the time, cameras simply aren’t there when the band is in their infancy, garnering their fans with charismatic, buzzworthy performances. By the time the band becomes big enough to earn national exposure, the creative flourishes that exist when there’s little at stake have usually disappeared.

It remains to be seen what makes the cut from the nearly two hour set but the raw material is there for PBS to air a definitive GPN performance. “Medicine” detoured into the one kit drum circle and “Stop The Bus” saw Potter, bassist Catherine Popper and guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco take to the ground for an old-fashioned sit-in. Much like her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Potter slowed down Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” replacing Deborah Harry’s disinterested detachment with a sense of urgent passion. Most intriguing, despite the outdoor venue, the hush that customarily accustoms Potter’s a capella opening to “Nothing But The Water” remained noticeable. Keep an eye out for the show when PBS airs it later this year.

T BONE BURNETT SEEMS TO WIELD THE MIDAS TOUCH when it comes to coaxing resonant performances within the confines of the studio. Especially when he’s working with an established singer like John Mellencamp, whose latest album sheds all vestiges of the populist corporate shill persona reluctantly foisted upon him by the overexposure of “Our Country” in Chevy ads in favor of the voice of the wizened folk singer that has always been within his grasp. Somewhere in the vault are the sessions that were once destined to be the third GPN album, shelved in favor of the recently released Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that features Yurco and Popper.

Burnett’s skills notwithstanding, it’s questionable whether pairing him with a young and growing band works towards their advantage. Only the people involved know the true story of what transpired when Burnett was interjected into the GPN mix. Safe to say though, his penchant for working with his regular stable of musicians caused dissension in the band and very likely played a role in Bryan Dondero’s departure. With Popper and Yurco firmly entrenched as Nocturnals and the effect they’ve had on the band’s growth, it’s hard to say that things worked out poorly but Burnett’s involvement innocently brought about an enormous amount of friction and a seismic shift within GPN.

In listening to We Walk This Road, Robert Randolph & The Family Band’s latest album helmed by Burnett, the same questions arise. Musically, it’s the perfect album for Randolph and infinitely less poppy than his prior efforts, which have always seemed like they failed to capture the spark of Live At Wetlands. Even if the recorded snippets are more Moby than Rev. Gary Davis, Burnett steers Randolph away from such mundane leanings and guides him towards his strengths, the gospel pedal steel and old-timey blues that has marked Randolph’s strongest work. Danyel Morgan’s unmistakable falsetto rears its head on “Travelin' Shoes” and “Salvation” but otherwise it’s hard to tell whether this is a Family Band effort or if they’re making cameos on their own album. No matter which way you look at it though, Randolph’s take on “If I Had My Way,” known to many Deadheads as the hook of “Samson & Delilah,” ranks up there with his best, a perfect match of artist and song.

DOES IT BREAK YOUR HEART that rock and roll no longer seems to have a home on the radio? This is probably as good a time as any to remind everyone about Blues & Lasers, the Scott Tournet helmed rock and roll caravan that features fellow Nocturnals Benny Yurco and Matt Burr, drummer Steve Sharon and bassist John Rogone. Blues and Lasers not only feel your pain, they have a remedy to soothe the soul. On After All We’re Only Human, Blues and Lasers harness their freewheeling arena rock energy into a tightly-wrought panoply of finely crafted songs. The gunshot of the snare drum that punctuates the opening guitar riff of “Give It A Try” serves as the starter’s pistol for Blues & Lasers Olympian effort that combines elegiacal harmonies with heavenly slide guitar and paces dueling axes with the bombast of a duo of drums. By having an ear attuned to the greats of the past, B&L gloriously usher classic rock and roll into the next decade. After All We’re Only Human lets the world know that the art of creating an album hasn’t been lost in the age of the 99 cent download. This is the classic rock record of the year.

JAZZ AFICIANADOS ARE SALIVATING over the recent discovery of a treasure trove of recordings from the late 1930s. Most of the Savoy Collection, comprised of close to 1000 discs recorded on vinyl by audio engineer William Savoy, consists of radio broadcasts that haven’t been heard since they originally aired more than seven decades ago due to Savoy’s zealously fanatical protectiveness over the music. The National Jazz Museum in Harlem acquired the entire collection, which reportedly includes performances by Louis Armstrong, Bennie Goodman, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holliday, Lester Young and many others that were thought to be lost.

The significance of the collection comes from the fact that, in the 30s, records consisted of 10 inch, 78 rpm shellac discs that held about three minutes of music. A jazz musician at heart, Savoy became fascinated with recording technology and used 12 and 16 inch acetate discs and recorded them at 33 1/3 which allowed him to capture much longer performances in their entirety. More than 75% of the discs are described as “compromised but salvageable” and the daunting task of preserving the recordings and transforming them to a digital format falls upon Doug Pomeroy, a Brooklyn-based audio engineer that specializes in audio restorations. Once done though, the legal wrangling can begin. Although, the museum will be able make the recordings available right away, copyright ownership issues in the music should delay the widespread release of the inevitable box set.

GOT TO SPEND SOME QUALITY TIME with XM Radio’s Grateful Dead channel. A station dedicated to endless live recordings of the Dead, Jerry Garcia Band and related projects gives ample opportunity to explore decades of blues interpretations, psychedelic explorations and the transcendent interplay that defined the band and created an entire genre. However, the station’s commitment to resurrecting the full Dead experience has its drawbacks. Nonstop broadcasts of Dead bootlegs are peppered and sprinkled with an unfortunate number of misfires and it’s startling how often the band could replicate the wheeze of dying herd of donkeys. Even so, it still beats commercial radio.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Rinjo Cloudcast

By: Rinjo Njori

The "Mr. Fantasy" is a nice cover of the Traffic classic and you can never go wrong with King Khan and anything.
Or Subscribe via iTunes, here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

WNET Friday Night Music Block: Dierks Bentley & Thea Gilmore

WNET 13, NYC PBS continues with another great Friday night music block tonight with Live from the Artists' Den featuring celebrated country music veteran Dierks Bentley at 9:30pm. Sun Studio Sessions follows at 10:30pm with the UK's Thea Gilmore.

UnCut Magazine dubbed Thea "the best British singer-songwriter of the last 10 years, and then some." Joan Baez personally invited Gilmore to tour with her and in 2008 the music icon dueted with her for "Low Road" on Thea's critically acclaimed release LieJacker. The legendary room provides a perfect background for Thea's haunting and at times vocally stunning performance.

You can see a preview of Thea's Sun Sessions taping here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Schultz' Earful

By: David Schultz

NOW THAT THE STROKES are back, we can reflect upon recent period from the past when every band that seemed to have a bright future in front of them was deemed “The New Strokes.” Given how prevalently the term was bandied about, it’s a shame that The Strokes became a casualty of their own overexposure, imploding under the weight of inflated expectations. Ironically, with their resurrection in the fledgling stages, The Strokes would probably be happy right about now if they could self-fulfill the prophecy and become “The New Strokes.” If that did come to pass, such a term would be anachronistic and passé. We’ve moved on since those days. Now, every band that emerges from nowhere with a cult-like following borne from the approval of the current critical tastemakers is billed as the “New Arcade Fire.” If you are reading this, I suspect I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know.

Still critical darlings, Arcade Fire have returned to the center of the cultural consciousness with The Suburbs, their sterling new studio album. The perfect storm of despair, inspiration and anonymity that resulted in Funeral, the debut disc that launched them (and Pitchfork) into the upper stratospheres of relevance, will unlikely ever happen again. Fortunately, the philosophical shift shown on Neon Bible wasn’t a temporary digression; Win Butler, Regine Chassagne and the rest seem uninterested in reimagining and recreating past glories. They may be keeping an eye cocked backwards - the title track cribs the melody from Funeral’s “In The Bedroom,” Win Butler appropriates Gordon Gano’s wry cadence on “Month Of May” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” updates Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” – but they are honing and refining the majestic scope of their music, much in the same way U2’s adeptly eased up on the throttle of grandiloquence over the past decade.

On the heels of The Suburbs’ release, Arcade Fire took over Madison Square Garden for a pair of shows that became the de rigueur destination for anyone with a real or feigned interest in meaningful modern music. Despite being outed as robots by Terry Gilliam, Arcade Fire showed that they are rock stars in the same sense that we originally considered Bono a rock star: there is an uncontrived exuberance and earnestness that contagiously enlivens any size crowd. The only difference between the band that introduced Neon Bible to New York with five shows at the intimate Judson Memorial Church and the band on stage at Madison Square Garden was that they had more room on stage to parade about with unrestrained glee. They’ve even learned how to protect their own. On Wednesday night, when Butler took a moment to point out the New York crowd where Hakeem Olajuwon schooled the Knicks in the mid-90s, they launched into “Neighborhood #3 (Power’s Out)” before anyone could react. Choosing not to challenge (or possibly agitate) the Garden crowd with the politics of “Windowsill” or the existential angst of “My Body Is A Cage,” Arcade Fire wrapped up the night with the unescapably anthemic “Wake Up.” The song’s splendor dissipates by the final chorus but the joyous swell of twenty thousand voices singing the wordless opening notes in unison more than carries the moment.

WHEN JASON ISBELL JOINED THE DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS, the Alabama natives, who had already mythologized their homeland and Lynyrd Skynyrd in their Southern Rock Opera, raised their game to new levels. In addition to filling the third amp of the triple-headed guitar monster popularized by their idols, Isbell added a third voice to the Truckers working the middle ground between the empathetic musings of Patterson Hood and the wizened recitations of Mike Cooley. Isbell’s departure from the band in 2007 left a noticeable void; A Blessing And A Curse and Brighter Than Creation’s Dark had their moments but lacked cohesiveness. Hood and Cooley have always been complementary voices and visions of the Southern experience. However, the absence of Isbell’s bridge only served to highlight the differences between the two.

On The Big To-Do, a third voice has emerged and it turns out it’s one that’s been there all along. Once you get past the fact that it belongs to longtime bassist Shonna Tucker, her gifts as a songwriter and vocalist reveal themselves in a startling and somewhat surprising display. In contrast to Hood’s somewhat comedic “Drag The Lake Charlie,” which concerns the fear that a friend’s thoughtless lapses might have a disturbing effect on his volatile spouse, Tucker posits a more resigned and defeated view amidst the soaring crescendos of “You’ve Got Another.” Cooley’s presence and let-me-tell-you-son bark isn’t as prominent as past efforts and The Big To-Do is heavy on Hood’s Springsteen-of-the-South narratives. Nonetheless, the Drive-By Truckers remain the preeminent chroniclers of the South and The Big To-Do is a fine return to form, unquestionably their best effort post-Isbell offering.

IN A MODEST PRESS RELEASE, U-Melt announced that they will be playing their farewell show, a Last Waltz if you will, at New York City’s HighLine Ballroom on November 26, 2010. From their press release:

Over the last seven years U-Melt has enjoyed all the unique experiences of being a touring rock band. We have criss-crossed the country, released three albums, and built a family of amazing friends and fans throughout the US. Recently we have found ourselves struggling through the economic downturn along with the rest of the country. After much discussion we have decided that it is time to close this chapter of U-Melt.
If you’ve been a reader of Earvolution for any period of time, you know how disheartening I find this news. In 2005, shortly after I began this “career” as a freelance journalist, I saw U-Melt in Greenwich Village at the Lion’s Den (the pre-renovation Sullivan Hall). Inadvertently borrowing advice from Lester Bangs, I felt compelled to proclaim the greatness of U-Melt to the world. To this day, I have never wavered from my belief that U-Melt’s unparalleled levels of creativity and musicianship should have catapulted them into the Zeitgeist of American music. I can’t say that Rob Salzer’s departure from the band on the eve of the release of Perfect World didn’t make this day foreseeable. It makes the sting no less dull and their phenomenal third studio album will now have to serve as a poignant reminder of U-Melt’s genius.

Here’s to wishing Zac Lasher, George Miller, Adam Bendy, Kevin Griffin (and Salzer) the best in their future endeavors. I’m looking forward to the reunion shows in 2018.

JIM BIANCO HAS A NEW ALBUM in the new works. Like most independent artists, cash flow is a problem but creativity is not. If you can watch this video and not donate a small sum, you are one hard-hearted individual and I recommend that you apply for a job within the music industry post haste.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Katy Perry Topless in Rolling Stone

Katy Perry and Jann Wenner are both marketing geniuses - often for different reasons - but this time for the understanding the old adage: sex sells. Katy dips into that well more consistently than Wenner, but time and time again Wenner shows he's more than willing to play the naked breasts card.

From Janet Jackson to Jennifer Anniston, Rolling Stone has moved multiple covers by going topless. And, Perry knows that the next best thing to putting out sex tape is gettin' out the girls for a little show and almost tell.

Kudos to both (oh and to Katy and Jann too!).

Schultz' Earful

By: David Schultz

EVERY SO OFTEN, I end up at a show where I am completely oblivious as to who’s playing. It’s a liberating experience to go see a band without a single preconceived notion of what I’m about to hear. This past Friday, Rinjo brought me to see The Gories, a Detroit-based late 80s garage rock band that has recently reunited much to the delight of a middle-aged throng sporting faded tattoos. Weaving blues riffs and basement psychedelics through a wash of feedback and reverb, The Gories bury their vocals to near indistinguishable levels, giving a glimpse of what British rock from the 60s would have sounded like if The Kinks and The Rolling Stones had better equipment and then turned their dials past their breaking point. In The Gories’ hands, which play at deafeningly loud volumes, even the basic blues of John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley sound demonically foreign. The Smith Westerns and Best Coast have drifted into the same territory once mined by the veteran trio. They may not have a fetish for the blues like Mick Collins and Dan Kroha but by submerging three chord pop songs into an aural miasma of distortion, they prove that everything old can be new again.

BLUES LEGEND BUDDY GUY greeted the crowd at Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ return to Madison Square Garden with a sterling hour long set. Remarkably spry for 74 years old, Guy separates himself from his senior-citizen brethren by putting on an actual show instead of placing himself on a pedestal and soaking up adulation (and a nice paycheck) while offering sporadic music interludes. As is Guy’s custom, he finished his set with a medley of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Cream’s “Strange Brew” and Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile” that shows off his own influence in the music we’ve treasured for years. As if to show how it all flowed from him, rather than play those songs straight, Guy flips the guitar above his head, plays it with his teeth and generally shows that what we love from others, he considers child’s play.

NO LONGER WITH A MAJOR LABEL, Big Head Todd & The Monsters have recently self-released Rocksteady, their 9th studio album. Since emerging from the Colorado mountains more than two decades ago, Todd Park Mohr & The Monsters have shone the brightest when they move their sound to the fringes, either stripping it down to create the warmth and intimacy that enamored many on Midnight Radio or diving full bore into arena-rock guitar riffs that suffuse “Broken Hearted Saviour.” Unfortunately, much of Rocksteady plays it safe and rides the carpool lane, never veering for long into the areas that cause longtime BHT fans to salivate. There’s a strong cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” that quickens the pulse but for the most part Big Head Todd’s latest never emerges from the realm of tepid guitar rock. It’s irksome because they are capable of much more compelling rock and roll than this.

SPEAKING OF COMPELLING ROCK, The Black Keys recently came to Central Park’s SummerStage for a pair of shows and a midnight gig at Terminal 5. Evolving beyond The White Stripes formula of guitars and drums, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney added keyboards and bass for half the set, transforming their basement growl into a more finessed purr. The material from Brothers, their latest, shows off a breadth of tastes without straying too far from the rawness that suits them well. Even if they need to add a couple extra musicians, it translates well on stage, especially in the humidity of a New York summer. Oddly, the offbeat Akronites have struck a mild mainstream success with “I’ll Be Your Man,” which now accompanies Thomas Jane’s casual strut through Detroit at the beginning of Hung. They included in their set list but it seemed to lose a bit of its luster, like a tamed wild animal. The Keys are expanding into different areas but there’s enough of Auerbach’s raw guitar and Carney’s feral drumming to soothe the savage beast.

I’VE BEEN REVISITING MGMT’s sophomore effort, Congratulations, trying to listen to it with fresh ears. Even with many weeks having elapsed since the hue and cry that followed the release of their very un-oraculary spectacular follow-up, it still sounds like the death rattle of the most befuddling attempt at career suicide since Cat Stevens proclaimed himself Yusuf Islam. Leaping backwards into the era of sparkly psychedelic pop, MGMT dredges up an era of music for which no one seemed to feel the strong tug of nostalgia. MGMT might have been better served if they released Congratulations under a different name, kind of like when Donny Osmond withheld his name from “Soldier Of Love” so that people would actually listen to the songs instead of wondering where the hooks went. At the very least, people wouldn’t be prejudiced by what they want the album to sound like and give zany fluffery like “Brian Eno” a fair chance. In the end though, MGMT tries to go a prog-rock route without fully committing to the necessary conceit of dedicating the entire album to the cause. Moving from three minute off-kilter tracks like “It’s Working” and “Flash Delirium” to the circuitous jumble of “Siberian Breaks, ” Congratulations isn’t worthy of the plaudits inherent in its name. On an optimistic note, when they get around to cutting their third album, all of the crushing expectations will have vanished.

GREIL MARCUS, who has penned some of the most literate and thoughtful meditations on history and relevance of rock and roll has turned his critical eye towards Van Morrison. In his latest, When That Rough God Goes Riding, Marcus predictably praises his 1968 epic Astral Weeks but bravely calls Morrison on the carpet for numerous substandard releases that fail to align with the irascible Irishman’s reputation as an unparalleled genius.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!