Monday, February 25, 2008

Same Train- they got the funk and the blues and...

Even though it skips around narratives as much as David Lynch, Levy Lee Simon's play Same Train holds together well on the strength of its individual stories and story-tellers.

Along with a raunchy, sexy take on Muddy Water's "Hootchie Cootchie Man" and snippets from Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, P-Funk, Grandmaster Flash and Rick James, there's also Mark Bruckner's original songs which blend gospel, blues and jazz.

The tunes float through tales such as a love story with a circumcised African female, a literal shaggy dog tale, a late wife who marched with Dr. King, time travel and hitchhiking (Douglas Adams would be proud). It's meant to cover the whole African American experience of the last century but anything short of a Robert Wilson or Angels in America extravaganza could really convey that. Still, give Simon and Bruckner credit for their ambitions and most of the stories come across well thanks to the force of the actors, especially Cedric Turner's country bluesman and Eddie Goines' cocky characterizations.

Same Train is playing at the Off Off Broadway (East 24th Street) venue Algonquin Theater through March 8th. Tickets are available at SmartTix.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Blues roots and R&B in the 60's

Green Bay Press Gazzette has two interesting, worthwhile videos on its site now, including Levett Biles' History of the Blues (including a nice clip of guitarist Johnny Jones) and R&B in the 60's from the Detroit Free Press (including thoughts from Amp Fiddler). Thanks for Blues Festival Guide for the tips.

Also see this other video from MySpace of Jones speaking about Hendrix and his time spent playing with him and going toe-to-toe with him in a musical showdown.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Downtown Music Gallery needs help seeking new home

I have a backlog of good music to blab about here but I also wanted to post something about one of my favorite NYC musical institutions. Please read below and let them know if you can help or have any leads. It would be a terrible to see DMG disappear. It's much more than a record store- it's helped to keep the whole jazz/avant scene thriving in Gotham for decades now.



At the end of this past January, our five-year lease ran out here at 342 Bowery. Our landlord has graciously given us another 3-6 months to find another place but, with 4 to 5 times the rent we're paying being offered by bar/restaurants ['cause we know you can't get a drink anywhere around here - NOT!] for the space our stay will come to an end soon.

We have been searching for a new location for the past 6 months, but if it's anything close to the 1500 sq. ft. we now occupy and need, no matter how far east we go, the realtors are convincing the landlords to hold off renting until they get a minimum of $ 60-75 per sq ft per year - which for 1500 sq ft means a monthly base rent nut of $7500-9400 - even on Ave D, where no one ventures to!

The only people who can afford that are banks that now make a tidy new-found profit off of people taking $20 out of their account every ten minutes [!] and national chains that take a tax loss to blanket NYC with their outlets. No merchant who deals in anything but items that have over 1000% markup [like drinks] can afford to stay in business here, not even groceries and supermarkets, which have all been closing rapidly. Just think: the overuse of debit cards has caused the price of all everyday goods and food to skyrocket - most of the increased amount just goes to the rent!

Anyone in NYC knows there are many spaces - in both prime and not prime areas - that have remained empty for YEARS due to realtors who have sold their bill of goods to landlords - when we've met those landlords, many have lamented the money they've lost due to the pressure from realtors, and were perfectly willing to talk lower prices, when beforehand the agent said they wouldn't budge [and wouldn't put us in contact directly, naturally]

We have many friends here in NYC, some 10,000 of you around the world receive our newsletter each week. What we would like is a basement, second floor or higher loft space [with elevator] with about 1,500 square feet for under $4000, hopefully in lower Manhattan - we don't really care what it looks like, or what some snobs might have to say about the neighborhood, just as long as it's secure. We'll do the rest.

We would love to stay in the Lower Manhattan, but we might have to move to mid-town or further uptown or even nearby in Brooklyn or Queens

If you know of a space for us to rent - especially where we deal with the landlord directly - please contact us immediately!

Our time here is limited. We may have to go with one overpriced space - that otherwise meets our needs - within two weeks, so we'd like to hear from you before then

Thank You

Bruce, Manny, Mikey, Chuck, Bret & all at DMG
Downtown Music Gallery

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Juno soundtrack- Kimya just being herself

It's relatively old news by now but... By now, Juno is the highest grossing film that's up for a best picture Oscar this year and now another indie breakthrough sensation like Little Miss Sunshine. And even after seeing the film a second time, I wasn't less enamored of it. I actually liked it better, picking up lines I didn't notice before and seeing the arches and changes that the characters go through.

And then there's the music, which as you know, helped make the film. And vice versa. It wasn't just that it helped to bolster the film's box office but also surprised many people by hitting the top of the album charts (a first for Rhino Records too).

To me, what was even more remarkable was that other than Ellen Page, the not-quite-unsung star of the film made it after being in the biz for several years and (this is important) not changing her tune. I've heard Kimya Dawson's music described as "lullabies for adults" and that's peachy with me- who doesn't need a lullaby now and then? The fact that Dawson could have her tunes (some of them a few years old) become a central part of the soundtrack (along with cult rock faves Mott and the Velvets and 90's indie heros Belle & Sebastian and Cat Power) AND not having to change her style to fit the film AND still be part of a hit album is a wonderful, inspiration thing. Any longtime fan of hers not only feels vindicated now but also hopefully feels a sense of pride that a larger slice of the pop world now appreciates KD also. She's touring now, wisely taking advantage of her larger, new found audience and it's hard to wish her anything but more good news, and hope that her popularity doesn't dissuade her from writing the charming songs that she does so well.

A quick tally of KD's songlist shows that the soundtrack provides a nice mini-mixtape of her solo career (wonder if Moldy Peaches will ever do a new album again though one of their tunes is included here, "Anyone Else But You"):

- "My Rollercoaster," "Loose Lips" and "Tire Swing" from Remember That I Love You (2006)
- "So Nice So Smart" from Knock Knock Who? (2004)
- "Sleep" from I'm Sorry That Sometimes I'm Mean (2002)
- "Tree Hugger," a new song
- sadly nothing from Hidden Vagenda (2004), her best album

As is usual in Hollywood, don't be surprised if you see the formula repeated and we're treated to other whipsmart teens who might be pregnant. If we have to suffer through these crappy imitations, let's at least hope that they pick someone as big-hearted and sweet as Dawson to help push along the celluloid.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Signal to Noise- now a blog

While it's sad to see great publications like No Depression and Resonance disappear, Signal To Noise magazine is now expanding its online presence with a new blog. Describing itself as a "journal of improvised, experimental & unusual music," that's what it aims to cover in its blog too. Admittedly, I've signed on as one of the contributors there but I'd recommend checking it out regardless as you'll see a variety of voices, postings and ideas there from the group of STN staff who will be regularly adding material there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Raveonettes- the brighter side of feedback

Stephin Merritt is the kind of songsmith that writers love because he's essentially one of them- he was a music scribe before the Magnetic Fields, after all. His songs and more importantly his album concepts are the kind that scribes drool over. That's why 69 Love Songs was a 'masterpiece' which I thought was overrated while the more modest follow-up (simply called i), was more my speed. And now his latest concept is right up front on his album title- Distortion. While it's not Merzbow material, he goes in the direction of Jesus and Mary Chain. It's a cute idea and for me, it would be even better if the songs stuck as much as they did last time. Nevertheless, it's loved by many writers because SM is so damn clever, even though he still won't (and probably will never) match up to the level of a great New Yorker short story as well as the even-smarter John Darnielle (the Mountain Goats), who also does better with album concepts- Heretic Pride is one of the best records I've heard in the last few months.

But if you want to hear that distortion used to cloak ultra-catchy tunes, you don't have to go back to Psychocandy as the Raveonettes thoughtfully provide that for now you. While you could make the complaint that their high-echo sound makes all their songs sound alike (and seem a little retro), at least they're writing catchy, memorable songs, which beats a merely brainy tune in my book. I used to be skeptical of them too but their four and latest album, Lust Lust Lust (on Vice, released in the UK in November but out in the States just today), has at least three killer tracks and the rest goes down your earhole nicely.

The powerful, sweeping, sweet "Dead Song" is an early contender for my list of top singles of the year and you can even grab it for free from Amazon (after you install their downloader). My other favorites on the album, "Blush" and "Blitzed," are more low-key (less grander) but still sound like great forgotten girlgroup standards gone garage. Judging by the disappointing non-distorted show I recently saw the reunited Jesus and the Mary Chain do, they could and should definitely take tips from this Danish duo.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ginsberg's first Howl and free Angie Stone single

A piece of literary history is being made public today. It was long thought that Allen Ginsberg's first reading of his earth-shaking poem "Howl" was in California but there's an earlier version of him reading the piece in Portland that was recently dug up- from February 1956, a few months before being published. Now you can hear this amazing document through the good people at Reed College (where the original recording was made). You'll be able to hear this starting at 12 Noon EST today. This link takes you straight to the material and you can see more of his other readings here (note some of the laughter that occurs during his reading).

As if that wasn't enough of a treat, there's also a really nice old-school R&B/soul joint courtesy of the good people at Soul-Patrol. They're offering a free Angie Stone/James Ingram single there- "My People," in honor of Black History Month. You can download it here at the SP site.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pete and the Pirates

There's scant info about them on their own website but this UK five-piece not only has a fun Brit-pop single (from their debut album which comes out next week) but also a fun video to go with it- love the xylophone teeth, alt-perspective verses and lyrics scrawled on the bodies. Also, how can you not dig a group named after one of the all-time classic kiddie stories?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

McCain, like hope but different video

Inspired by the Obama "Yes We Can" video comes this mash-up of McCain's speeches and artists who support him. One problem though- after hearing his words and having to repeat them, these same artists start getting nauseous. Pretty hilarious.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sound Opinions on Conan

What happens when two rock critics go on the Conan O'Brien Show? Well, they insult the Doors and the Dead along with drummers (right in front of Max Weinberg no less) and reference Kraftwerk and phone calls from Bono. It might be a first for network TV to have on rock crits like this (which they can thank the writers' strike for) but Sound Opinions commentators Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot chatted about all of the above and more on last night's show. In case you missed it, it's archived online at (chose the Monday, Feb 11th show- they're in the third segment).

Note the 60's boomer references about bands ("what do you think of the Dead... the Doors?"). I guess that's COB's demographic but I was hoping he'd ask about some later stuff too- would have been hilarious to see JD and GK pile on the Eagles or question Nirvana's greatness. Just be grateful that they didn't have to discuss Britney's latest disasters...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Goblins- the greatest band never

Here's a righteous documentary about the greatest band that you should never have heard of, the Goblins in I Am Trying To Take Your Cash (from 2003). See how the bassist is literally tormented by his musical ideas and tells the drummer to play his beat the exactly same way each take but with a different time signature and see the singer/song-reader having an spat in the studio that ends with: "We can go on like this all day but this is a $15/hour argument!" And when are they gonna get into the RnR Hall of Fame?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Jesse James and Western noir

In other movies, he was portrayed by his own son as well as Tyrone Power, Roy Rogers, Robert Duvall, Kris Kristofferson, and Colin Farrell, with his brother portrayed by Henry Fonda and Johnny Cash among others. Even the lengthy title about the latest (but surely not the last) movie about him is very revealing- not just that we know that an outlaw/cultural figure is going to get killed but also 'assassinated' (as in JFK, MLK and Lennon) and that his killer ain't no hero, at least according to the legend. Maybe it was that long title that threw audiences off and that's a shame because one of the best movies and soundtracks from last year was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (recently out on DVD).

To start with, each of the leading men are riveting in their roles. Pitt gives one of his best performances as James, showing him to be alternately generous, scheming and psychotic. Casey Affleck's Ford is a green little toadie who first idolizes James and then grows disgusted and angered by him- after collecting books and newspaper clipping about James for years, he's sorely disappointed by the man he actually meets and befriends (and eventually kills). Both characters are always on the edge and mistrustful of each other so that even for over two and a half hours of the movie, each scene is gripping, even when you know how it's going to wind up in the end. Even after the murder, the movie doesn't sag as we see the extended regret and conflicted emotions that haunt Ford later on.

The music is equally memorable, matching the range of strangled emotions in the film. Written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (a long-time collaborator who worked with Cave in the Bad Seeds and now Grinderman), the music provides subtle, dark instrumental themes throughout the movie, epitomized by a four-note-motif that begins with a disturbed, sad cello sound and then gets balanced by a sweet sweep of strings- the same piece appropriately follows James and Ford as they take their fatal journey.

One of the most moving scenes pits Cave against Affleck. It's over a year after the killing and Ford has been in a theatrical production where night after night, he dramatically recreates the murder in front of packed houses alongside his brother (who soon commits suicide in regret). In a tavern, Cave plays a minstrel who sings the famous ballad named after James which repeatedly calls Ford a coward. Ford stands at the bar, stewing in anger until he fires a shot at the floor and announces to a stunned crowd who he is. He corrects the song in that James had two kids and not three, before he drunkenly stumbles to the ground and the bartender tells him to get lost.

That brings to mind another great, tortured Western, John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and the famous quote at the end, especially noteworthy after Ford's disillusionment of James the man and James the legend: "If you have to chose between the truth and a legend, print the legend."

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Obama's oratory = pop song?

Next time someone asks how America can elect an African American or a woman as president, ask them back how, other than voter fraud, America could put Forrest Gump into the oval office for the last two terms? In the present election season, it's a toss-up about what's more pathetic- Bill Clinton trying to destroy his wife's campaign, "real" conservatives hating on McCain, Romney failing again and again after spending millions of his own dough.

When it comes to public speaking, the only one who gets high marks nowadays is Obama- everyone else pretty much sounds like they're reading from cue cards to the forced enthusiasm from their crowds. In the primaries, he's been the one who's swept up the young-un's while Hilary's taken the older crowd.

As such, it's not much of a surprise to see that he's been props from a group of Gen XYZ musicians, including the video above, which features... "Jesse Dylan,, Common, Scarlett Johansson, Tatyana Ali, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Kate Walsh, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Adam Rodriquez, Kelly Hu, Adam Rodriquez, Amber Valetta, Eric Balfour, Aisha Tyler, Nicole Scherzinger and Nick Cannon." Not that Herbie's a youngster or Kareem's a musician (Johannson's coming out with a Waits cover album though, remember?).

It's touching to see one of his best speeches turned into a song but truth be known, if you were just hearing the tune on your MP3 player or radio or in a bar, you probably wouldn't fall in love with the song itself. It's just not very good. The real point is the words, which are echoed by the musicians, and that's what they wanna convey- Obama's message of hope and unity. For that, it does work but you'd wish they could craft a real song to put across the message better. Supposedly, the Obama campaign has nothing to do with the video (it was masterminded by but you gotta admire this kind of online campaigning. As Mavis Staples said, "
Sometimes people want to hear a song, not a speech!"