Thursday, February 24, 2005

Q&A with MF Doom: The unedited transcript by Hua Hsu. You can find the article in the March, 2005 issue of the Wire.
posted by Jonathan

NOTE TO MUSICIANS: Go in the studio and work on a project. Preferably with a musician with of some notable success. Have a friend listen to the project. Choose a friend who has heard one or two classic albums. If said friend compares your project to a classic album, call the NME. This, believe it or not, is newsworthy, even if you aren't releasing the work.
posted by Jonathan

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I LOVE JAZZ . . . so tell me more about Louis Armstrong's dental history?
The New York Times ran an article on the jazz auction held on February 20, where wealthy jazz fans were given the opportunity to buy the original sheet music to Thelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser" (titled "Can't Call It That" to remove the alcohol reference), Charlie Parker's King alto saxophone and the sheet music to John Coltrane's "Love Supreme," with detailed notes in Coltrane's hand, among other things. Now these mentioned items make sense for a jazz auction.
What I find baffling is that someone shelled out $1,600 for a telegram from Louis Armstrong to his booking agent, Joe Glaser about dental problems and a lack of cash? Is this really worth owning? An astonishing $60,000 was paid out for one of Thelonious Monk's high school notebooks, where the 15 year-old Monk wrote a book report on A Tale of Two Cities. Granted, it was bought by someone who attended Monk's high school, but that's a hell of a lot of coin to throw around on someone's high school notebook. I'm not sure what the person hopes to gain from having it, but I hope it's worth it.
Sadly, the article mentions that some items didn't sell, like one of Wes Montgomery's guitars. However, it claims that the guitar was priced at $300,000, which is a little steep, considering the most expensive item at the auction was Parker's saxophone, which went for $245,000.
The article discusses the fact that some jazz scholars were concerned that these jazz artifacts could be bought up by private collectors, and would not be accessible to those wishing to study them. However, I assume that if someone with a scholarly background in jazz approached one of the buyers (who may, themselves, be able to study and learn from their purchases), they'd be allowed access to these items.
The article doesn't mention that any Miles Davis items were put up for the auction. Maybe most of his stuff has been sold off over the years (trumpet, sheet music, doctor's notes, power bills, restaurant receipts, etc). Seems that an ardent jazz collector wanting more than just the music also needs a high paying job to get their hands on a piece of jazz history (regardless of whether it seems significant or not).
posted by Jonathan

Farewell to the Jayhawks
Just saw this on ILM. I was never a serious fan (I only own one album), but I always enjoyed their music. Their 1997 album, Sounds of Lies, is a classic album worth owning.

However, they're also a band that I was surprised to hear were still going. I knew they put out an album a year ago, but would guess that their diminishing fanbase gave them a huge signal that it's time to move on.
posted by Jonathan

Have I been living in a cave, or is this album some sort of secret? I can't give Shout! Factory / Sony much credit for the promo of this album, as I haven't seen a thing on this new album until I checked the release date information at Icemagazine's site. The release date is March 1, 2005 and features Burke singing songs written by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Mick Jagger/Keith Richards and Robbie Robertson, among others. The tracklisting is as follows:

1. I Need Your Love In My Life
2. What Good Am I?
3. It Makes No Difference
4. Let Somebody Love Me
5. After All Of These Years
6. Fading Footsteps
7. At The Crossroads
8. I Got The Blues
9. Make Do With What You Got
10. Wealth Won't Save Your Soul

Considering the fact that Burke's last album, Don't Give Up On Me, was so well put together (both through his singing and the songs written for the album), I expect great things from this new one as well. Great cover photo, too!
posted by Jonathan

Friday, February 18, 2005

One more thing re Mojo and Reggae: The March issue of the magazine has a 15 track compilation called Studio One Selector, with tracks from various Soul Jazz Studio One reissues. With tracks by Jackie Mittoo, Lloyd Williams, the brilliant "Simmer Down" by Bob Marley and the Wailers, and even a track from the new Sugar Minnott compilation, this is worth buying even if you're not a fan of the magazine*. Also, if Soul Jazz ever attempted such a compilation, we'd be paying triple the price of a Mojo for it.
*(note: despite numerous criticisms I could raise of the magazine, I must admit that I continue to buy it and, for the most part, enjoy it, though the free CDs seem to be a great motivator for wanting it month after month).
posted by Jonathan

Reggae fans (or people interesting in buying more reggae) ought to check out Greensleeves homepage. The UK Reggae label devoted to Deejay classics and killer comps (see the Ragga Ragga Ragga comps for proof) is having a deal right now where the shipping is free, and for North Americans, no VAT! I know, lame that I'm promoting an online shop, but the label has introduced me to one of the best reggae artists I've ever heard: Dr. Alimantado. Employing rhythms from various sources (Horace Andy, Gregory Isaacs, and more) for his own productions, and bearing a unique gift of the gab, Alimantado adds humour and dread that, in the 70s, sold well to the UK punks. Sadly, his name doesn't seem to be mentioned as much anymore, and it was only through various searches on ILM that I noticed his name popping up here and there. His album, The Best Dressed Chicken In Town is essential to any reggae fan. I'm eagerly waiting to get Born for a Purpose, which Greensleeves reissued last year.
Also worth noting is that the February issue of Mojo came with a free CD called the Roots of the Sex Pistols, which included Alimantado's brilliant "Born for a Purpose/Reason for Living" track. The notes in the CD sleeve mention that Alimantado will be releasing a compilation of early singles on his label, Keyman Records.
posted by Jonathan

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Good . . . but not good enough
Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens' self-titled album should have made my top 2004 album lists. It should have on the basis of Gear's live shows and her television performances (she was one of the 2003 Canadian Idol finalists). Gear is blessed with a gorgeous and powerful voice. In the live setting, her voice ranges from a deep bass all the way up to the higher notes of the scale. Her strength is in jazz-styled songs, though live, one might think she could do no wrong regardless of what she's singing. Given the right tools in the studio and the right songs (this album sees her performing 11 songs by various Newfoundland songwriters), it's not hard to imagine that she could create something quite amazing that would rank her amongst other great female voices in music. Understandably, not all of the tools were at her disposal, as the album was recorded at her grandmother's house on a tight budget. However, one can remain hopeful that Gear would still exercise her vocal range to a similar degree as she does in the live setting.
Unfortunately, this didn't happen. Gear's choice in songs is interesting, but some of them just aren't that good (lyrically and otherwise). They don't demand anything of the singer other than a basic reading of the lyrics, and it seems obvious that Gear's focus was not on the voice, but simply trying to get the songs out as easily as she could.
The one saving grace on the album is the song "Away" by Newfoundland legend Ron Hynes. I have many complaints about Hynes' studio work (based on the limited recordings that I've heard). He should be a world renowned songwriter based on his lyrics alone (the guy seriously rivals the best with his storytelling abilities and perspectives), but sadly, he ventured into the new country field when entering the studio, and the albums I've heard are unlistenable. However, Gear's version of this song is stripped down to basics, and is one of the few times on her album where everything comes together beautifully.
Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens is an album that sees Gear and co. move through songs like any other folk singer, and if this was all you heard by Gear, you'd think she has a good, but not great, voice. The album is at times interesting, but overall it's inessential.

*** Note: for those who used the previous link to read the article, you'll notice that I gave a very glowing review both to Gear's talents and her album. I think the above criticism comes from hearing the album quite a bit since writing that interview, and also from thinking about the fact that Gear had the chance to make something really great, and instead made something good. Or to be more succinct, nice.
posted by Jonathan

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

2004 . . . is it too late?
I've always been a fan of year end lists, and have read numerous lists over the past two months (interesting how so many year end lists actually get published before the end of the year, but it makes sense with deadlines for magazines, not wanting to seem out of date, etc). However, I never got around to doing any sort of year end list of my own, and instead of doing up my favourite albums/singles of the year, I figured I'd just list (with some descriptions) some albums and songs that I loved from 2004. I will also be throwing in some reissues from last year as well, because I was more excited by many of these releases than I was new albums.
Air - Talkie Walkie (Astralwerks)
Keren Ann - Not Going Anywhere (Blue Note)
- a collection of folk songs on the French singer's first English album that displays her gorgeous voice and songwriting talents. "Sailor & Widow" is the standout track, telling the story of a dark and depressed murderer and backed by one of the best basslines of the year.
Adem - "There Will Always Be" (from the album Homesongs)
- A brilliant yet sad song directed at a friend who appears to have lost it, sung by a friend who cares too much to let go.
Howie Beck - Howie Beck (True North)

Yesterdays New Quintet - Stevie (Stones Throw)
Howard Tate - Get It While You Can: The Complete Legendary Verve Sessions (Hip-O Select)
- Hip-O Select answered my prayers, and reissued this album on CD in April of 2004. They likely saw that the 1995 reissue was going for $80 on Ebay, and realized there were some people desperate to own this album. However, this release has 28 tracks (the '95 version has 17). Tate fans should jump on this before the 5000 copies are gone!
Tom Waits - Real Gone (Anti)

Kanye West - College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella)
- an album found in almost every best of 2004 list, and completely deserving. His rapping abilities and lyrics are as good as his production, which is exceptional. "Two Words" kills it with the Mandrill sample, but J. Ivy's part on "Never Let Me Down" is the best moment on the album.
Morrissey - "Irish Blood, English Heart", "Come Back To Camden" and "You Know I Couldn't Last"
- You Are The Quarry is, to me, a good album. If you just queue up the even numbered tracks, and then add track 11, it's great. But the other tracks on the album really drag it down. However, these three tracks are classic Morrissey filled with self loathing, loneliness and sweeping strikes at England. A welcome return.
Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre)
- Stevens is, to me, one of the best new singer songwriters around. A year ago it was rumoured that he would make an album per state (which was started after the release of Michigan). However, this detour with songs about life, love and his religious beliefs. Amazing songs from a man with an amazing voice.
Can - Tago Mago, Monster Movie, Ege Bayasi*(Mute)
- all critics are glowing about the new and improved sound (all releases are hybrid - SACD and regular CDs). Believe the hype. The sound is exceptional. *Soundtracks is not on this list because I haven't picked it up yet - this is not a judgement on the quality of that album.
Various Artists - Nicky Siano's The Gallery (Soul Jazz Records)
- this was release weeks after I finished reading Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, which has a section on Siano and a larger section on the origins of disco. Not a dud in the set, but the Pointer Sisters totally stand out with their version of "Yes You Can Can". Hopefully Soul Jazz will put out more Siano compilations.
Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice/Atlantic)
- I remember the first time I heard the album. I paid such close attention to the lyrics, knowing it was a "concept". I think I had a burned copy of the album, and though I found a couple of songs to drag a bit at first, I've since decided that every track is perfect for this album, along with the "Fit But You Know It" b-side, "Soaked by the Ale", which gives us more of the holiday portion of the story. I still find myself getting a little emotional at the end of the album. "Empty Cans" is so good it hurts (emotionally, that is).
Stars - Set Yourself On Fire (Arts & Crafts)
Dizzee Rascal - Showtime (XL)

Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks (Fat Cat)
Norah Jones - Feels Like Home (Blue Note)
- a gorgeous album that contains the best Tom Waits cover I've ever heard ("Long Way Home").
Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters (Universal)
- is it new glam? nu-Elton John? Are they serious? Who cares. Killer songs! Loads of fun!
Girls Aloud - "The Show" and "Love Machine"
- The best pop group around. Their lack of success in the US is incredible.
Fiona Apple - "Extraordinary Machine"
- This is such a new direction for her, with an almost showtune feel. Sony NEEDS to release her album!!
The Divine Comedy - "Mutual Friend" (from Absent Friends)
- I'm a DC completist, but this release just didn't have the impact of previous albums. However, this track is a gem. One of Hannon's best written songs.
The Roots - Tipping Point (Geffen)
Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (Shanachie)
- my reggae collection increased considerably this year. I picked this reissue up early in the year, and am now very excited to hear more dub (which I've been doing with albums by Lee Perry, Horace Andy, and Burning Spear).
Fabolous - "Breathe"
Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing In The Hands (Young God)
- a unique voice singing quirky words, but an album I continued to pick up over the year. "This Beard Is For Sibhan" is definitely one of my favourite songs of the year.
MIA - "Galang" and "Sunshowers"
- these two songs should have been massive hits. Hopefully the world will succumb to the brilliance of her forthcoming album, Arular.
Bettye Swann and Candi Staton s/t reissues (Honest Jons Records)

A.C. Newman - A Slow Wonder (Matador)
- since the demise of Zumpano, I've been waiting for Newman to do something really amazing. The New Pornographers are great, but for me, never lived up to the songwriting pop craft of Zumpano. Finally, Newman comes out with an album that equals (if not tops) his earlier work.
Beck - "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes"
Portobella - "Covered In Punk"
- brilliant nonsense song about punk, candy and drag queens. What more could you want?
J-Five - "Modern Times"
- more artists should sample Charlie Chaplin.
Nelly - Suit (Universal)

Junior Boys - Last Exit (Domino/Kin)
- an album inspired by the synth pop of the 80s, yet nothing about it seems dated. With the MP3s of the groups EPs, I was convinced that their best song was "Birthday." Then I heard "Teach Me How To Fight," which seems not more complex than the other tracks, but seems leagues ahead of the other album tracks. I'm very excited to see what they put out next.
The Hold Steady - The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me (French Kiss)
- bar band ramblings and riff rawking = my new favourite band. I could listen to this guy tell singer/lyricist Craig Finn tell stories all day long.
Geroges Gurdjieff Ivanovitch and Vassilis Tsabropoulos - Chants, Hymns and Dances (ECM)
- Boomkat is renowned for blowing smoke up the ass of everything they sell. For some reason, their over the top praise of this album intrigued me. I'm glad I tracked it down.
The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightening, Strike
- "The Power is On" is the most exciting song I've heard all year. Possibly in the last few years. Every time I hear the song, I smile. This album blends chanting girls, rapping, funk and drums. Excellent.
Madvillain - Madvillainy

Donny Hathaway - These Songs For You, Live! (Rhino)
- I picked up Donny's Live album a couple of years ago. It's essential, but this collection further shows what an excellent showman he was. This is an essential soul reissue!
Estelle - "1980"
Strictly Kev - "Raiding the 20th Century"
Amp Fiddler - Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly (Genuine)
Anyone who criticizes nu-soul or modern R&B hasn't heard this album. Brilliant.
Various Artists - Midwest Funk: Funk 45s from Tornado Valley (Jazzman)
- Jazzman is doing for funk what Dave Godin and Kent did for rare soul with this compilation and the Texas Funk comp. Jazzman is trawling through record stores all over the US (though hopefully they will stretch out and do other countries as well), and the results on Midwest Funk are 23 fabulous funk joints.

I'll have more to say about last year's releases, but I'll stop here for now. Obviously I've left out loads of singles that blew me away in 2004, among other things. Hopefully I'll have this all done before December.
posted by Jonathan

Honest Jons Records began reissuing Capital sides by great soul artists in 2004. To date, they have put out self-titled collections by Candi Staton, Bettye Swann, and most recently, Willie Hightower.

Hightower is a raspy voiced southern soul artist whose vocal delivery recalls Sam Cooke's style. Hightower wears his Cooke fandom on his sleeve with covers of Somebody Have Mercy, You Send Me (and having heard this, I'm tempted to say it rivals Cooke's version, but that's subject to change at any time) and most noteably, he wrote "Time Has Brought About A Change," a response to Cooke's greatest song, "A Change Is Gonna Come." What is both interesting but also sad is that Hightower only released one album, along with various singles through his recording career. He continues to perform live and the liner notes claim that he's planning a second album. For now, fans of southern soul should pick up this collection, all of which were recorded in the late 60s.
posted by Jonathan