Sunday, September 28, 2003

I created a mix CD with some of my favourite songs of the year. The tracklisting is as follows:

1. Kardinal Offishall w/ Neptunes - Belly Dancer
2. Outkast - Hey Ya!
3. Buck 65 - Wicked and Weird
4. LFO - Freak
5. Blu Cantrell feat. Sean Paul - Breathe
6. Kylie Minogue - Slow
7. DJ Shadow feat Roots Manuva - GDMFSOB (UNKLE mix)
8. Missy Elliott - Pass That Dutch
9. Electric Six - Gay Bar
10. P. Diddy feat. Kelis - Let's Get Ill
11. R. Kelly - Ignition (remix)
12. Beyonce feat. Jay-Z - Crazy in Love
13. REM - Bad Day
14. Mad Anju - Cellular Minutes
15. Blaque with Missy Elliott - Ugly
16. Ludacris feat. Shawnna - Stand Up
17. Ryan Adams - So Alive
18. The Flirtations - Nothing But A Heartache
19. Black Eyed Peas - Where Is The Love
20. 50 Cent and Beyonce - In Da Club (Matt Steele mix)

A couple of things to say about the mix. First off, The Flirtations song at number 18 is a classic northern soul song that I only heard about this year (plus, all compilations should have one classic song along with all of the current tracks) and I'm not totally sure when the Mad Anju track came out. The more I listen to the comp, though, the more I'm thinking that the Mad Anju is going to be one of my top 10 favourite songs of the year. Classic reggae dance track wherein our hero complains about the cost of cellular minutes. heh.
Also, the more I listen to the 50 Cent/Beyonce version of In Da Club, the more I think it's far superior to the original version. Having her on the track just takes it to another level. Of all the songs on here, the only one I find myself getting a little bored of is "Where is the Love?," but that's likely cause it's on the radio EVERY 10 MINUTES! I still think it's a great single for the year.

A new compilation is in the works this weekend, and when done, I'll post the listing. I'd say that one, along with a different comp I made earlier this year, will contain all of my favourite tracks of the year.

posted by Jonathan

I'll likely have more to say about Steve Mancha and Darrell Banks later, but right now am obsessing over Barnes' material.
posted by Jonathan

I feel the need to say more about J.J. Barnes, whose raw, southern soul flavoured vocals are just too good to ignore. Aside from his classic cut on A Cellarful of Motown, seven of his songs are available on the CD The Sounds of Detroit, which is a two-fer disc featuring the J.J. Barnes/Steve Mancha split album Rare Stamps, and the Darrell Banks album Here to Stay. This album, put out on Stax/Volt, is essential for fans of the southern soul sound.
J.J. Barnes belts every one of these seven songs out with such fierce passion, by the end of his last song you're left desperate to hear more from him. It's a crime that Volt didn't give more attention to this artist after putting out Rare Stamps, which concluded his stay with the label.
The album opens with "Baby Please Come Back Home" (mis-titled here as "Come On Back"), which begins with whopping drums and a piano rhythm that takes us into "Heard It Through the Grapevine" territory, until the strings come in, which moves away from the Gaye hit and leaves us with an upbeat and gorgeous single. Originally released in 1967, mentions that this was a hit at the ice rinks, but does not comment on it's actual chart success, if any.
"Easy Living" contains a melody reminiscent of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There," and is dedicated to a girl with whom the song's author travelled the world to find. Promising easy living in the sunshine, it's surprising that this track didn't become a summer smash in the when released in the late 60s.
Barnes' first five songs are produced, arranged, and co-written by Dave Davis, a Detroit producer who worked with a number of artists, most notably Johnnie Taylor and Carla Thomas on Stax.
Unfortunately, the music accompanying Barnes' work is often too similar to other, more popular songs, but Barnes' vocal talent is what makes his work on Rare Stamps so important. Motown may have considered him too similar to Marvin Gaye (though this only really comes out on "Got to Get Rid of You" and "Snowflakes" (both featured here in mono)), but Barnes vocal talents rank up there with many of the southern soul artists who are still talked about today. Hopefully more of Barnes' work will be made available in the near future, as this is a talent we should not ignore.
posted by Jonathan

While in Toronto a few months ago, I walked into one of my favourite used CD Shops, Second Spin. When I walked in, one of the clerks was putting on a soul compilation. I was likely in the store for about thirty minutes, all the while falling madly in love with the songs from the compilation. The double CD compilation, which I ended up buying, is titled A Cellarful of Motown, and it's just that. The liner notes inform us that Motown recently found these forty tracks just sitting in the cellar. All but one track, being "Riding High on Love" by Jr. Walker & The All Stars, are unreleased.
Now keep in mind, these songs may have been released at some point in the past, but these versions, aside from the aforementioned track, are unreleased. Most of the tracks were recorded in the cellar at Motown's home office/studio, and somehow went missing for years. Don't conclude that these songs aren't up to Motown standards. Many of these songs could have been smash hits, and this double disc could stand up to many Motown greatest hits compilations. The songs have all been remastered, and all have high quality production.
Just so you know what we're talking about, the tracklisting is as follows:

Disc 1
1. Baby a Go-Go performed by Barbara McNair
2. All Your Love performed by Brenda Holloway
3. He Was Really Sayin' Somethin' performed by Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers
4. Danger, Heartbreak Dead Ahead performed by Contours
5. Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) (alt mix) performed by Chris Clark
6. Baby Hit and Run performed by Contours
7. How Can I performed by Brenda Holloway
8. I Like Everything About You performed by Brenda Holloway
9. All I Do Is Think About You performed by Tammi Terrell
10. Lucky Lucky Me performed by Jimmy Ruffin
11. On the Avenue (In the Neighborhood) performed by Jimmy Ruffin
12. My World Is Crumbling performed by Brenda Holloway
13. Poor Little Rich Girl performed by Marvelettes
14. Save My Love for a Rainy Day performed by Marv Johnson
15. Tell Me It's Just a Rumour Baby [instrumental] performed by Funk Brothers
16. If You Ever Get Your Hands on Love performed by Gladys Knight & The Pips
17. Are You Sure Love Is the Name of the Game performed by Stevie Wonder
18. Until You Came Along performed by Carolyn Crawford
19. Before It's Over performed by Sammy Ward
20. Long Gone Lover performed by Velvelettes
Disc 2
1. My Sugar Baby performed by Frank Wilson
2. Here Are the Pieces of Broken Heart (single reference mix) performed by Gladys Knight & The Pips
3. There's a Definite Change in You performed by Temptations
4. Who You Gonna Run To performed by Brenda Holloway
5. (It's Easy to Fall in Love) With a Guy... performed by Martha & The Vandellas
6. The Touch of Venus performed by Patrice Holloway
7. I Wish I Liked You (As Much as I Love You) performed by Marvin Gaye
8. Trapped in a Love Affair performed by Brenda Holloway
9. I Know How to Love Her performed by Jimmy Ruffin
10. Riding High on Love performed by Jr. Walker & The All Stars
11. Why When Love Is Gone (single reference mix) performed by Originals
12. If This World Were Mine (single reference mix) performed by Fantastic Four
13. Don't Let Me Down performed by Kim Weston
14. Don't Put Off Till Tomorrow What You Can... (extended mix) performed by Monitors
15. (Tell Me) Ain't It the Truth performed by J.J. Barnes
16. You Made Me Feel Like (Everything Is... performed by Syreeta
17. A Weakspot in My Heart performed by Isley Brothers
18. Don't Make Me Live Without Your Love performed by Lewis Sisters
19. It Must Be Love Baby performed by Chuck Jackson & Yvonne Fair
20. Ain't No Place Like Motown performed by Velvelettes

Brenda Holloway fans likely fainted at the news of this 2002 compilation, as five of her songs are uncovered here. The Contours, who you may recall brought the world "Do You Love Me," have three songs on here. Jimmy Ruffin has three songs here as well. Aside from these artists, who had incredible work hidden in the vaults, many songs here will become instant soul favourites. Tammi Terrell's "All I Do Is Think About You" sees an incredible range to this smooth flowing gem, whose co-writer, Stevie Wonder, would include on his 1980 Hotter Than July album.
Two Isley Brother's songs appear here, only one actually featuring the band. The first, performed by the Funk Brothers, is Tell Me It's Just a Rumor Baby, which displays the phenomenal techniques of this Motown house band. The second is "A Weakspot in My Heart," which proves that the Isley's were amazing vocalists.
"If You Ever Get Your Hands On Love" by Gladys Knight & The Pips did its rounds on the Northern soul scene on low quality tapes, but only here do we get a crisp, high quality, northern soul masterpiece. Martha and the Vandellas' recording "(It's Easy to Fall in Love) With a Guy Like You" would have been a hit had it not been misplaced in the cellar.
Kim Weston's song "Don't Let Me Down" has similarities to the Supremes' hit "Baby Love," and it's just as catchy. Sadly, Weston's period with Motown was cut short in 1968, when she left the company. But with a gem like this, it's unfortunate that the company didn't find more success with her gorgeous voice.
And then there's J.J. Barnes' song "(Tell Me) Ain't It The Truth," which is like finding platinum in a bucket full of gold. With energy comparable to Otis Redding, Barnes gives this recording everything he has, and comes out with a killer recording. Unfortunately, Barnes never released anything for Motown, as they preferred his songwriting abilities, and as the liner notes tell us, his vocal similarity to Gaye limited his career. This song shows that Barnes' was more than a Gaye clone, and could have been a huge success, had he been given the opportunity.
Last but not least, the Velvelettes close out both CDs. The all girl vocal group never released an album for the label, overshadowed by the Supremes, but on the first track, "Long Gone Lover," they cover this Supremes' tune but make every bit of it their own. "Ain't No Place Like Motown" was likely chosen as the compilation closer the second it was found. This should be the unofficial label theme song, and though it's a little cheesy, it's hard not to smile while hearing the Velvelettes' giving props to the Detroit label.
As if all of this new material wasn't exciting enough, the liner notes mention on a couple of occasions that other unreleased tracks were found in the cellar, but are not included here. The thought of future releases of similar quality is too exciting for words. Hopefully Motown has realized that while the label's greatest hits compilations are big sellers, there are many fans out there who have most of those songs, and now want to dig deeper, and hear unreleased tracks by their favourite artists. A Cellarful of Motown provides just that, and is essential for any soul collection.
posted by Jonathan

Saturday, September 27, 2003

I bought the new Hawksley Workman CD Lover/Fighter today. Though I haven't even listened to it yet, I already feel the need to tell you about my purchase. First off, it was only $12.99. Secondly, inside the CD is a mini CD with snippets from the album, and a message on the mini CD saying "share new music from Hawksley Workman by passing this on to a friend so they can experience some of the songs from Lover/Fighter." Say what you want about this, but I think it's not only a great idea, but shows respect to the listener, while also attempting to combat the P2P sites (though the price alone is good enough to prevent me from downloading the album). The album is not copy protected. Universal has also recently announced that they would be cutting the prices of their new CDs. I'm not even sure if this policy is in effect at this time, but clearly $12.99 Cdn for a new album is cheap!
EMI has also attempted to combat the P2P sites, but has chosen a method which shows NO respect for the music fan, and in fact, admits on every CD sold that their product may not even work on all equipment. Well, if the CD doesn't play on my stereo, what's the point of having it? Who wants to buy something that may not even work? Unfortunately, EMI's roster has a number of great bands on it, most importantly for me, Radiohead. So of course I'm going to continue to buy EMI CDs, but recently realized that my players are not good enough to play copy protected CDs. I purchased the recently released Radiohead two part Go To Sleep singles (which EMI Canada stupidly released three weeks apart), and decided to take the first one for a walk on my walkman, a Sony Sports Walkman (the 2003 version with MP3 player). At the 9 second mark of "Go To Sleep" the song stopped. Dead. So I pulled the CD out, blew on it, and tried it once more. And again, only heard 9 seconds of the song. This walkman is brand new, so I won't accept any sort of suggesting that my player is faulty, since I have NEVER had a problem with any other CDs.
Luckily, the CDs played on my home stereo, but I really don't see that as the solution. The problem is that for me to listen to these songs on my walkman (which is definitely the most used player for me), I will have to burn them onto a CD. Imagine that, combatting P2P sites but forcing people to burn the music (after downloading it from P2P sites, since you can't actually rip the Copy Protected CDs). Good job, EMI.
What's even more offensive is that after you purchase this shoddy product, aside from not getting a free sampler to share with your friends, you get a little note reading "Thank you! On behalf of the creators of this recording, we thank you for making this investment and hope you enjoy the music for years to come!" EMI also printed on the CD case "Playback problems may be encountered on some equipment." Do these two quotations work together? Is it just me, or does EMI seem to throw blame on the equipment as not being incompatible with the CD, and not vice versa.
Though I buy many CDs every month, I think when it comes to EMI artists, I will prefer to download the albums first, and give them a thorough listen to decide if they are worth purchasing, since I will always be limited as to my abilities to play back the CD.
In a Q and A with Roger Kuah, the products manager for EMI, he said as follows:

"Nobody expects the anti-shoplifting steps that retailers take to completely eliminate shoplifting, but they do keep it to keep shoplifting at the minimum level possible. Copy control technology is similar and it means that anyone wanting to crack this technology and illegally distribute copies of the music for free has to make a conscious decision to do so."

An interesting, but completely illogical comparison. Did stores start bringing in lower quality products to prevent people from wanting to steal them? EMI has done this. But, in doing so, have forced some people to go online and steal the music just so they can hear it. What did stores do to fight theft that actually forced customers to steal in order to get the product? I'm stuck on this one, but any answers EMI may have to offer would be greatly appreciated.
In the recent issue of Wired Magazine at p. 53, they have the results of a poll they conducted on readers asking what would stop them from downloading music. 39% of the people polled said cheaper CDs, 23% said iTunes for the PC, 5% said nothing, ever, 22% said other, and 11% said being sued by the RIAA. The same issue also shows at p. 58 that the prices of CDs have risen from 1999 to 2002, while sales have fallen in the same period. Seems Universal is actually taking the music fan into account, whereas EMI is taking . . . well, what the hell ARE they taking into account with copy protection? Wake up EMI, and start selling us reasonably priced CDs, instead of these shoddy products which aren't even CDs (as Kuah admits in his article).
For loads of information on the Copy Protection problems, go here.

posted by Jonathan

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Sun Kil Moon is Mark Kozelek's new project. I've spent the day listening to they're debut, Ghosts of the Great Highway, and it's beautiful. Many elements from his past work appear on this album, but never enough to suggest it's simply the Red House Painters with a different name and backing band. More on this album soon.
posted by Jonathan

It only seems appropriate that I begin this new blog by discussing a song by Tom Waits, since my blog's title is nicked from his song "Take It With Me" from Mule Variations.

Tom Waits - "Kentucky Avenue"
Imagine a camera shot that begins overhead of a neighbourhood, and then drifts down onto the street, giving enough of a wide angle for you to see the characters that inhabit both sides of the street. As the piano soundtracks the scene, Waits introduces us to Eddie Grace's shot up buick and Hilda playing strip poker, among others. The listener soon realizes they are in fact listening in on two kids sitting around talking about the goings on in their neighbourhood, while also trying to figure out what kind of trouble they can get into. Waits' friendship is so strong that he offers to buy his buddy a skull and crossbones ring, or to tattoo his own arm with his buddy’s initials. It’s the childhood friendship that most boys either had or dreamed of having. Only then does this story take the twist of telling us that Waits’ friend is confined to a wheelchair. With strings building in the background, Waits considers taking the spokes from the chair, and hacksawing the braces from his friend’s legs. It’s this desire to make his friend feel normal and to join him on an adventure that is so innocent and so touching. The song, which is featured on 1978's Blue Valentine, has such beautiful music that even an instrumental version would stand out as a highlight in Waits’ catalogue. But with the commentary from Waits, it becomes one of the most beautiful and tragic songs I’ve ever heard. It's not surprising that this piece has reduced me to tears. Unless you are opposed to Waits voice (which understandably turns many people off), it would be surprising if this song didn't generate a similar reaction.
posted by Jonathan