Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's December 30th... in south Minneapolis. There's salt scattered on the half-chipped icy sidewalk, the relatives have gone home and all is right with the world.

So, yeah, we're all making fun of those end of the year lists, but you noticed almost everybody did one, right? I could be a smart ass and say "Yeah, and I'm going to milk the concept for TWO WHOLE WEEKS!" Really, though, what's wrong with a little time for reflection, a little time to consider what music really moved you, or expanded your mind, or changed your frame of reference?

Last week, I gave you a handful of songs that I just wanted to listen to over and over and over. Just great tunes, even if the rest of the album was nothing worth writing home about. This week I'm going after one album that changed my frame of reference and one series of discs that made me dance and shout and sing, that made me want to discover the history and that made me so very happy that there is a mighty crate digger out there unearthing these gems for the rest of us.

There have been an amazing number of great collections of 1970's African music coming out these last couple of years. Why now? Why all of a sudden? I really don't know. Stern's Africa, Soundway's stuff including the Nigeria Special series, the Africa Gold series, the Orchestre Baobab re-releases and I'm sure many others have put out some great music but for my money the Analog Africa series trumps them all.

Samy Ben Redjeb has done the legwork, the homework, the phone calls and the emails and the handshakes and and everything else it took to bring a ton of West African vinyl from the 1960's and 70's into our digital 21st century tweens. He's listened to hundreds, or probably thousands of tracks, tracked down the original artists or their surviving relatives, got their permission and licensed the stuff so the whole world can join the party. His respect for the work of these artists is so evident in the care he puts into the big fat booklets of liner notes that come with each release and the fun tidbits and extras and goodies he puts on his blog.

At the end of the notes for Analog Africa 6 - Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Coutonou -Volume Two -Echoes Hypnotiques, Samy writes about some vintage promotional material from 1979 in which Poly-Rythmo leader Melome Clement lamented the piracy and other troubles the band was having in those late days.
"Having a passion for music means that you also have an admiration - in this case, affection for the people who created it. This project had become something personal. I thought that if a Poly-Rythmo compilation were to materialize, I would have to make sure it was something special. I hope I did."

I bought four of the six discs in the series in 2009 although #s 3 and 4 came out in 2008. (the first two are out of print. Dang! I'd love to get me some of that Green Arrows comp.) Each one is stuffed with killer tunes and features hidden tracks with interviews and secret jams. The booklets have great photos, images of lp and 45 rpm artwork, interviews and Samy's stories of how he tracked down the artists and the music.

Here's a quick run down.

#3 African Scream Contest - Artists from all over Benin - still my favorite. A party album for the ages.

#4 Le Voudon Effect - Orchestre Poly-Rythmo's work for several small labels, some wonderfully lo-fi and deliciously raw stuff.

#5 Legends of Benin - highlights a handful of tracks each from four different artists. Made tons of "Best of 2009" lists.

#6 Echoes Hypnotiques - Poly-Rythmo's work for the Albarika Store label, recorded in the EMI studio in Lagos, Nigeria - cleaner sound quality, less raw.

#7 Mambo Loco is on the way in early 2010. It will feature Anibal Velasquez y su Conjunto. "QUE VIVA LA FIESTA !" as one of Velasquez' YouTube fans put it. I also read he is "El Principe Del Acordeon." Don't know who this guy is, although he or somebody in his band plays a mean accordion (bandoneon?), they have plenty of cumbias scattered around the web and I think he's Columbian. You know Samy will pick out the hot tracks and fill us all in.

Thank you, Samy and keep them coming.

How can I write about how and why I love the Kasbah Rockers disc after all that? I can't. Not tonight. I'll put it up in a couple of days.

Happy New Year! Please take some time to just crank some music you love sometime today.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Goodbye 2009

My next post will be in the new year, folks. Though I already expressed my frustration with compiling a year end music list, my position as a volunteer DJ for Radio K required me to do just that. I thought I would share it with you here. This is the list we were able to select from, which was pretty comprehensive for me, actually.
1. PJ Harvey and John Parish - A Woman A Man Walked By - Island 2. Julie Doiron - I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day - Jagjaguwar 3. Zombie Season - Our Living Funeral - Self-released 4. Amadou & Mariam - Welcome To Mali - Nonesuch 5. Fever Ray - Fever Ray - Mute 6. Curumin - Japan Pop Show - Quannum Projects 7. The Pines - Tremelo - Red House 8. Juaneco y su Combo - Masters of Chicha Vol. 1 - Barbes 9. Ceu - Vagarosa - Six Degrees 10. Zak Sally - Zak Sally's Fear Of Song - La Mano 21
Still to come: Top Cedar shows of 2009. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Good newspapers (e.g. The New York Times or the Yolo County Flatlander) are at their weakest in the last days of a year. Many of the op/ed columnists go on holiday, and those who remain write EOY retrospectives. Same story with the better websites (e.g. The Cedar Blog). Yawn.

So. What does Veronica Fever offer for her last entry of 2009? An EOY retrospective. Sadly, it can't be avoided: her integrity gene was found to be recessive at birth.

My 2009 was marked with several notable non-2009 discoveries. One was Steven Wilson, whose music in various guises (Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield, 'Insurgentes') was all over my heavy rotation; in fact, I can't recall such a dominant presence since the days when repeat-play automatic changers and medicinal inhalants conspired to create an inertia conducive to full appreciation of an artist's canon. Or one side of it, anyway.

Another late arrival was Bohren and der Club of Gore. If you don't know of them, they're a German outift that started out as exponents of death metal, but morphed into a sort of jazz-noir combo. This is great late-night mood music (albeit of the dark, troubled sort) which owes a huge debt to Angelo Badalamenti. Any of Bohren's music from this decade is worth hearing, but the place to start is 'Sunset Mission.'

As for was a very good year. The competition was fierce among Fever Faves. The list follows, with this caveat: I'm not here to make a case for any of these. They made the list because they reached me. I'll never be any good at parsing the whys and wherefores, so with little fanfare or embellishment....

1. The Decemberists -- 'The Hazards of Love'
Truly a long-player of the old school.

2. Soulsavers -- 'Broken'
Mark Lanegan is to my Top 10s as Juan Marichal was to the Cy Young Award.

3. Doves -- 'Kingdom of Rust'
Huge leap forward. The first several tracks are monsters.

4. Low Anthem -- 'Oh My God, Charlie Darwin'
My pick for Americana of the Year.

5. A Place to Bury Strangers -- 'Exploding Head'
This is the perfect 2nd album--a refinement of an already great sound, and with tunes to match.

6. Kinetic Stereokids -- 'Kid Moves'
Bursting with ideas, this thing isn't always focused but is frequently brilliant. My Grower of the Year.

7. Rocco DeLuca -- 'Mercy'
Produced by Daniel Lanois, updating the blues-rock sound from another Lanois-related production, Chris Whitley's career-defining debut.

8. Le Loup --'Family'
Another inventive album that might appeal to lovers of Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, or Fleet Foxes. This was a latecomer to the list, and might have been higher up given a bit more time.

9. Spinnerette -- S/T
A Queens of the Stone Age-related project, this is a fun rock record featuring Brody Dalle's appealing mix of sauce and brass.

10. Pink Mountaintops -- 'Outside Love'
This was a good year for 'new psychedelia,' and this one tops my chart.

Honorable mentions: releases from Musee Mecanique, The Sleepover Disaster, Mulatu Astatqé, The Willard Grant Conspiracy, and Richard Hawley.


One last Christmas music bit:

We all have the ones we love to hate. For me it's Paul's 'Wonderful Christmastime.' But a close runner-up is 'Feliz Navidad.' My longtime co-conspirator just mentioned that she has recently heard a couple of new covers of that one. Her comment: 'Why would anyone bother? No one could possibly make it any worse.'

Happy Holidays from all of us at Feverland.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who needs the whole album...

Because how often, really, is the whole album a keeper? So seldom is it a complete work, without at best throwaway, and at worst, really frackin' annoying tunes, right? So this week in a "Best of" sort of deal, I'm going to pull out songs or suites of songs that really did it for me this year. Maybe I'll save the lp's until next week.

In a nod to the algorithm-ers we've been discussing lately, I pulled a bit of an at home version. Kinda dorky but interesting, too. I sorted my entire music collection by number of plays, then looked through the high end to see what had a 2009 date. Try it to see what you really listen to...and what makes it into all those play lists.

[Wait. Pomander break. (my family's version of Rum Ball - with brandy and orange) A gal has to keep her energy up.]

As I was saying...

Amadou and Miriam's Welcome to Mali hit me last spring. Those last two tracks...I believe I referred to the Edgar Winter-esque organ lines in a post when it came out. Can't argue with that. Here's "Batoma."

Later that spring Imam Baildi made me almost faint. Inspired me to new heights of mixtape-making ecstasy. Pulled stuff out of the vaults that HAD TO rub up against songs like "O Pasatebos" and "De Thelo Pia Na Xanarthis." Those vocal samples!! Well. Charlie Gillett felt exactly the same way I did here. Get me some of that rebetika... plus the Blue Monday-esque album closer "Sousta" is a great retro-techno dance tune. Oh my. Is it good, bad or maybe a little embarrassing when one Googles a band name and gets one's own blog post as the second hit? Well, actually I had to Google the band name plus the word "music' otherwise all you get are recipes for the eggplant dish that made the Imam faint. Sorry, no LaLa of the Greek boys.

I grabbed Speed Caravan off the Cedar's server because I wondered about the name. Yes, then I was "Galvanize"-d, to learn more about Mehdi Haddab and his massively rockin' oud playing, in this band as well as DuOud, and from that to the sultry vocals of Malouma. She SO does it to "Sable émouvant." That tune is going to be on every year end mix I make.

The Angel of Rock laid a great mix on me right during intense delivery season in May as I was spending many hours in a large truck. Among others, she turned me on to Nomo and Mexican Institute of Sound. Nomo's Ghost Rock sure rocked my summer and I don't know how many times I just needed a big ol' hit of "Rings". Yes, that was me jumping up and down while bartending during their Cedar show last month. Now, get after some of this "Para No Vivir Desesparado" from MIS, another one that will be featured heavily on year end mixes.

Kasbah Rockers merits the whole album nod; it sure can work as a complete piece. The mood is established, and although some grinding and head nodding is required, as a whole it's a massive slower groove. Until next week's column, here's "Shta." The 30 second sample really does not do this justice; where are my full length samples, Lala? Ahh, just go to their Myspace, linked above.

Also next week: a multi disc award goes to out to...well, the guy who turned me on to Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, for one thing. Not too hard to guess.

Maybe I'll also throw in some musing about what all the "big" global roots music websites put on their top o' '09 lists.
* * * * * * *
So that's why Lala is suddenly EVERYWHERE! OK, thanks for the scoop Main Fig. I like getting to hear the entire song, don't like that the entire album is often not represented and that you have to tell it to play the next song. Maybe there is a control I am missing but it's annoying. The drop down players are handy when they work. The amount of information on the artist varies WILDLY. With some of them you get the middle name of their firstborn child, with others you're happy to get the track listing. Work in progress? And when did they buy the top hit when searching for so many artists? Wasn't it just last month? Two weeks ago? About the time Apple bought them? Read the links at the Main Fig's post on the issue.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Cloud-y Future

We've spent some energy on this blog debating the strengths and weakness of the Apple structure of music retail. But no matter how you feel about Mr. Jobs and iTunes, there's no denying that Apple is the single most important player in how music is currently consumed. So the news last week of Apple's acquisition of the music streaming service called certainly got the "industry watchers" attention, and re-fueled widespread speculation about what the future of music consumption will look like.

One of the more thoughtful pieces on the subject was published Tuesday in The New York Times, which promotes the idea that the primary future model of music consumption will be one where all music will live "in a cloud," and through some kind of subscription model, all of us music consumers will simply access whatever we want, whenever we want it, through the internet and/or through the wireless phone networks.

This is an idea that has been around for some time, and has been advanced in Europe with a service called Spotify, who have both a pay model and a free version (with advertising). The U.S. record labels have balked at the free version, so talks have stalled for getting Spotify going in the United States. And honestly, I've been skeptical about this idea, probably because I'm of the older generation who is still attached to the idea of "ownership" of an "object" as it relates to my music collection, even if that object is only an mp3 file.

But I'm becoming more convinced that this is indeed the future. For one thing, I've personally already made a big psychological transition, away from having shelves filled with objects representing my music collection, to a computer that contains it invisibly. Now I tend to agree with industry critic Bob Lefsetz, who recently compared CDs to the longbox packaging which used to be used to house them in stores. Instead of throwing away most of what you bought before playing your music, as was the case with longboxes, we're now left with a piece of garbage (the disc itself) once the CD has fulfilled its role as a temporary transport mechanism to bring the music files to your computer.

It's not a very big step, then, for me to forgo ownership of those invisible files on my computer in exchange for easy access to a virtually unlimited selection of music files that live somewhere in a "cloud." Won't people still demand ownership of their music? That's the big question for this model. No doubt some will, and there will continue to be a demand for the objects in some form. This will likely fuel an extension of the trends we're already seeing: special, deluxe packages, boxed sets, even LPs will continue to be issued, and exist as a "niche" market.

Ultimately, I believe there will be a coexistence of multiple models. It is widely speculated that the addition of lala's technology to iTunes will allow you to upload your existing iTunes music library to the cloud, enabling you to access it from any web-connected device, anywhere. Perhaps, then, you'll have the option of "buying" new music, which you can then access for free anytime, while also paying a subscription (or per-use fee) to access everything else. So, if through your subscription you discover something you feel you may be inclined to listen to again at any sort of frequency, you may be given some incentive to "buy" it, and then it joins your permanent library (for which you are not charged for listening). However the structure, it's not hard for me to envision some kind of model like this that I think is very appealing, and would be received enthusiastically by the general music consuming public. Sign me up!

But it's also not hard to see the hurdles and challenges that will make this kind of thing difficult to implement. The first will be the major record companies, who own that big chunk of critical catalog that is popular music history of the last 70 years or so, and who have proven themselves to be both clueless and obstructionist when it comes to any technological advancement and model transition. And another big one gets back to our previous blog discussion of value. How much is a song/album worth, and, with this model, should that value be pegged to how many times you play it?

If those hurdles are overcome, then there will be an exponential progression in the problem many already face with the increased access we already enjoy: if you can listen to virtually everything, how do you choose what to listen to? The importance of filters, tastemakers, and effective recommendation algorithms becomes even greater. I guess that would make music blogs more important?

* * *

I'll be taking a family holiday to sun and beach beginning next week, so my next entry won't be until the 9th of January in the new year. I've never been into "Best Of" lists, so there will be none of that here. Overall, it's been a pretty extraordinary year for music. I feel honored to be a participant, in my own small way. I'll sign off for 2009 with but one of my favorite musical moments... and wish you all a pleasant holiday season!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eagerly awaiting...

tonight's show at The Cedar.

The last time I saw Skoal Kodiak:

Of course I always look forward to seeing Dosh. I have actually lost count of how many times I have seen him perform, and I have yet to be disappointed.

Also: I heard a rumor that there will be shadow puppets tonight. There is another rumor going around that The Cedar has folding chairs. I know this is a fact. I hope both rumors are true. Good Gravy!

If you can't make it down to the show tonight, you'll have another chance to see Skoal Kodiak at The Cedar on January 23, for the Modern Radio 10th Anniversary show. You can read more about it here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Strange Communion

As this prose experiences a clicky-clacky birth, its author is listening, for the very first time, to Aimee Mann's Christmas album, 'One More Drifter in the Snow.'

In my grade-school years, December 1 was a big day. That was when my modest collection of holiday music was dusted off and dropped straight into heavy (indeed, exclusive) rotation for a full month. The star of the show? The Harry Simeone Chorale's original version of 'The Little Drummer Boy.' Yep, still have it. I have no plausible defense for this.

Number two on the chart was 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' by Gene Autry. The album played during gift-giving was Mahalia Jackson's 'Silent Night.' After that the geeze alarm goes silent. Several holiday chestnuts have since rotted from the inside out due to overplay in retail emporiums, many of which start cranking 'em out on the PA at about the time my white pumps go into storage for the year.

Over a few decades some new favorites have emerged. As it happens, my current fave is an update of the old one: 'The Little Drummer Boy,' as interpreted by Low. The bolero has become a dirge. Is this a metaphor for something? If so, don't tell me. I won't listen because I'm immortal and I can go like this at full throat for a long time: LALALALALALALALALA!!!!

At Chez Fever exclusive holiday music play is limited to tree trimming, present opening, and Christmas dinner. What is the playlist makeup? Well, it goes like this (played randomly, of course):

Elvis' Christmas Album
A Christmas Gift from Phil Spector
The Blind Boys of Alabama 'Go Tell It On the Mountain'
Charles Brown 'Cool Christmas Blues'
George Winston 'December'
Mahalia Jackson 'Silent Night'
Raul Malo 'Marshmallow Nights'
Rostropovich & the Berlin Philharmonic 'The Nutcracker Suite'
The Vince Guaraldi Trio 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

Will there be a tenth this year? Well, I'm just now to the end of Aimee's album. It's nice, but does it qualify for the firmament? Perhaps it's time instead to admit a different newcomer: Thea Gilmore's new release, 'Strange Communion.' OK, I'm biased...when it comes time to hand out my end-of-decade awards, Thea will be announced as my Best Singer/Songwriter winner. And she can take as long as she wants for her acceptance speech.

What I love about this album is its complete lack of chestnuts, unless one counts Thea's cover of Yoko Ono's 'Listen, the Snow is Falling.' Here we have her performing 'That'll Be Christmas.'

Next week: Yup. 2009 Top 10. It's in the contract. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rebab baba baba

What is a spike fiddle and how can a 1000 year old instrument rock so hard? Think Juldeh Camara. (Well, actually his ritti doesn't have a spike because that would poke him in the belly, but it is the one string Fulani version, so I think it counts. )

The spike part: The spike sticks out of the bottom, so you can rest it on the ground or your leg or whatever.

REBAB : The spike fiddle is considered a rebab, which is part of the lute family, and typically has 2 or 3 strings. The word rebab is an Arabic term translated as bowed string instrument. It is closely associated with Islamic culture, and dates back to at least the 8th century. Its roots are probably in Arabia or Persia, and its influence has reached from Indonesia to Europe and Africa (it is thought to be the earliest ancestor of the violin).

There are two basic types of rebab: wooden fiddles with pear-shaped bodies, and spiked fiddles, named for the spike on the bottom of the instrument on which it stands while being played.

Spiked rebabs typically have no frets, but instead, the fingers of your left hand become movable bridges. ( I blatantly stole the above info from a website whose URL I did not copy at the time...sorry, don't sue me whoever you are.)

It can be a rather lo-fi instrument, as demonstrated by this article on how to make one out of a tin can. It's definitely one of those large, loosey-goosey instrument families. Read more at Wiki if you like - interesting history. Then there are people creating beautiful spike fiddles today.

I've been wanting to know more about that instrument for months, and finally got around to looking it up. OK.

* * * * * * *

Swagger is all I can come up with. I listen to the new Mahala Rai Banda disc, Ghetto Blasters, and it just struts. Like "we've got it and we know it." And they do.

"The mating of shamelessness and noise is one of the keys to this music’s charm," reports PopMatters . Or as the band's website puts it, "Mahala Rai Banda combines gypsy strings and accordion with a big brass section to deliver a high-speed, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners, no-remixed-needed session that reminds you of why gypsy music is the new punk rock." But hey, they have the chops to pull it off.
Dance, follow or get out the way! It's Mahala Rai Banda.

Edgier than their more established big Balkan brass compatriots like Kocani Orkester, Boban Markovich, or Fanfare Ciocarlia, the boys from the Mahala have put out another great party disc. I would hope fans of those artists who filter this genre through beats and samples (not that there's anything wrong with that!) like Shantel, the Balkan Beats crew, Beriut and Balkan Beat Box have prepped enough folks so there is a curiosity about and a market for the real thing. Wouldn't a U.S. tour be a wonder? Well, try this Romanian Mastercard commerical instead.

* * * * * * *

Hey Veronica Fever, would you please answer a question for me that lingers from your whole "one download is worth about 40 cents" discussion. Why do different downloads come in at different bit rates and what does that really mean? I am not intentionally ordering higher or lower quality downloads; hey, with the stuff I want, I'm just happy to find any downloads. What's it all about? Thanks!

* * * * * * *

Finally, in the who'd a thunk it category, I got a mailer from the JDUB foundation the other day, asking for money as so many organizations do this time of year. You know those guys? Among many other projects, they release Balkan Beat Box's discs in the U.S. Anyway, one of the new discs JDUB is promoting is Girls in Trouble, "a folk-inspired, indie rock song cycle that re-imagines the stores of the Bible's unsung heroines, brave and complicated women not always given voices in the text."

Wow. Huh. Being a music gal, rather than a lyrics gal, I'm not really interested in hearing this, but somehow I think it's rather great that somebody did such a project at all.

Like The Red Tent meets Mateli.

So here's a fun older interview with Tellu, one of the architects of the Mateli project, for all you old Hedningarna fans.

Mateli Kuivalatar 1771-1846 >>>>

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Local Props

Having just come through a week with a major snow storm immediately followed by "dangerous" cold temperatures, it feels like a particularly good time to sing the praises of living in the Twin Cities. Since you are reading this blog, the odds are already fairly strong that high on your own list of reasons as to why this is a good place to live is the depth and quality of the arts and culture here, especially as it relates to live music.

Two weeks ago, singer Haley Bonar remarked from our stage, having just completed a short tour mostly in the upper midwest, that "there aren’t a lot of cities that care about music like Minneapolis does." We like to think that The Cedar represents the ultimate epitome of that.

What's so great about the situation here is that the audience and the venues tend to feed the cycle of talent, and vice versa. So, really, great artists like Haley are a huge part in cultivating that culture of appreciation; the reason we all care is that so many great local musicians give us so many reasons to care. Which then encourages other great musicians to contribute, and so forth.

I followed the Angel of Rock by one night to the Andrew Bird church show. I could echo her complaints, and add a few of my own (like a message to photographers: if you're not using a digital camera which can be fully silenced, you should not be shooting a mostly acoustic show at a church. And if you are using a digital camera and don't have it in full "silence" mode in that setting, someone should just take the damn thing away from you forever). But ultimately, Andrew's skill, talent, and humility always shine through in intimate settings, which will always make this kind of show compelling.

While Andrew Bird is not a Minneapolis-based artist, his entire band is from here (which makes us all feel like he's a homeboy), and are among that talented core group who can be credited with cultivating an appreciative audience. Mike Lewis and Jeremy Ylvisaker joined Bird last night, and also played with Haley on her recent tour. And coming to The Cedar this Friday is the remaining Bird band member, drummer and keyboardist Martin Dosh, for his annual end-of-year Cedar extravaganza:

As if that alone were not enough, other local shows coming in the next ten days to The Cedar: hands-down the funnest family show going with Bunny Clogs next Saturday morning, followed by the adult configuration of that band, local legends The Honeydogs that night; homegrown Americana stars Romantica, celebrating the release of their new recording with one of the best titles ever conceived: Control Alt Country Delete; and on the eve of Christmas eve, the annual holiday show by the enormously talented Roma di Luna.

I'll speak for myself: this is exactly why I live here, windchill be damned!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Bird

I was one of the lucky people able to see Andrew Bird at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral last night, the first of three Bird performances at the venue this week.

Every winter, there is one concert on an ice-cold night that leaves me a little stirred, and I think this was the 2009 edition.

I've seen Andrew Bird perform a number of times, and to be perfectly honest, I didn't care much for the gimmicks of the show; the cathedral's impressive pillars blocked too many views of the stage, the sound was fine (unless you wanted to hear anything that was spoken) but not stellar, the pew seating allowed folks to take up too much room, pushing big ticket holders into the cheap seats, and the staff was all too eager to push people outside after the concert into weather-advisory-level cold.

All that aside, I left the concert feeling uplifted, relaxed, rejuvenated, and in a weird way kind of cleansed.

Bird seemed pretty nervous and uncomfortable - he restarted songs frequently, something I haven't seen him do. Instead of sounding sloppy though, this somehow made it seem a little more real. It's hard to say why exactly, but I felt he really connected with the audience. Maybe the natural sound had something to do with it, maybe not. Maybe he really was able to "just play" rather than perform. I guess the reasons why are not too important.

It didn't hurt that he played some older tunes that are some of my favorites, either.

But here's the thing: I'm totally spoiled. I wish this show would have been at The Cedar, and seeing him perform there will probably always be my favorite Bird incarnation. So although it was a pretty magical experience, a little something was missing. At least I know what it was.


It's year-end list time, isn't it? I used to look forward to this time all year. Today it seems kind of annoying. Hopefully by next week, I'll have changed my mind. Has anyone prepared theirs already? Maybe I just need a little inspiration...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hit-Bound Sounds

Just finished a round of new-music auditioning. Dropped the needle on about sixty releases, culled from around 400 reviews and recommendations. How do reviewers do it? Keep it fresh, I mean. How do they express enthusiasm over and over again, while drawing from the usual genre-and-influences well? I'd go mad if I tried to do that.

While I don't always share their enthusiasm for given acts, my appreciation for their work runs wide and deep. So, as a form of homage, here are the ten releases from this go-round that will make it into regular rotation for awhile around here, along with excerpts from the reviews that inspired me to take the music out for a test drive.

Caveats: These are not all hot off the presses; in fact, a couple aren't even the given artist's latest release. Also, I'm not here to say this is music for the ages; I might not still have 'em in my library by this time next year. The unifying factor is that they all caught my ear and made me want to know more.

(Note: the links will take you to sites that permit streaming of some or all of the music in the reviewed album.)

Hush Arbors -- Yankee Reality

Kevin 'Hush Arbors' Wood has impressive avant-folk credentials. His second full-length for Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label, however, finds Wood blending his experimentation with classic songcraft, delivering an album clearly in love with that moment when rock, folk, and country began to cross-pollenate. -- Steve Chick, Mojo

A.A. Bondy -- When the Devil's Loose

Its lush instrumentation and Southern Gothic lyrics give it a melancholic mood, one that Bondy handles beautifully. Draw a line between Bon Iver and the more reflective side of Ryan Adams and that's where you'll find Bondy. -- Paul Rees, Q

Northern Valentine -- The Distance Brings Us Closer

Here's five long, ambient, metallic drone soundscapes by a Philadelphia husband 'n wife duo. Admirers of Seefeel, Silo, Roedelius, and Brian Eno's ambient work will find this a ripping spin. -- Mark Suppanz, The Big Takeover

Brett Anderson -- Slow Attack

This being [former Suede frontman] Brett, chilly conditions prevail, though the music's overt dreaminess provides warmth. As the title warns, 'Slow Attack' takes time to bed-in, but it's a valiantly single-minded and frequently gorgeous record. -- Martin Aston, Mojo

Floorian -- More Fiend

This Columbus, OH outfit plays ominous, trance-inducing space-rock, with hints of metal, psychedelic, and Eastern influences. Like the soundtrack to a nail-biting, suspenseful horror flick, the LP's dark, creepy ambience makes for an ideal late-night listening experience. -- Mark Suppanz, The Big Takeover

Veronica sez: The player on this site is a bit might find it worthwhile to jump ahead to the second track.

Tim Easton -- Porcupine

Midwesterner Easton's aim to put some grit back into his music has been achieved in spades. The gristly blues of 'Burgundy Red' and 'Stormy' belt along, while 'Stone's Throw Away''s front porch strum reeks of last night's whiskey. -- Andy Fife, Q

The Dodge Brothers -- Louisa and the Devil

Can a middle-class English film critic play the upright bass in a rockabilly band? Why not? The Dodge Brothers trade in pastiche, but it's energetic and witty pastiche. -- Andrew Mueller, Uncut

Veronica sez: Start with 'You Can't Walk Like a Man' to get the idea.

The Ettes -- Look at Life Again Soon

Take a cup of Nuggets, add two tablespoons of early 60s Rolling Stones, a teaspoon of Shangri-Las, a pinch of Wanda Jackson and a dash of Nancy Sinatra, and you've got the batter for the Ettes. The band massages the garage rock framework with sensual hands. -- Michael Toland, The Big Takeover

Veronica sez: The Ettes have since released another album and an EP.

Nosound -- Lightdark

This Italian ensemble hangs mostly percussionless ambient soundscapes on a jazzy prog/pop backbone. Melodies unfold over subdued arrangements for a late-night tone that commands attention. A soothing, occasionally sublime hour of lush tuneage. -- Michael Toland, The Big Takeover

Veronica sez: On this MySpace player, the track 'Places Remained' is from this album. Nosound has a brand-new album as well, released last month.

This is another in a large number of Steven Wilson-related releases I have stumbled upon this year. Elsewhere in the band's linked MySpace player is a piece called 'Together We're Stranger,' the title track from an album by No-Man, which was formed by Wilson and Tim Bowness. The latter sings on this edition of it as well.

Bomshel -- Fight Like a Girl

Midlife arrives without crisis on the country duo Bomshel’s charming first album. “I lose my keys, and I’m constantly late/I’m comfortable a couple of pounds overweight,” Kelley Shepard sings on “Love Me for Me,” one of several songs that preach inner comfort while the outside world looks on skeptically. -- Jon Caramanica, The New York Times

Veronica sez: This might appeal to the Miranda Lambert crowd as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snowstorm Thoughts

In honor of the lovely snowstorm out here this week, I'll post the Unthank sisters singing a lovely acapella New Years song "Tar Barrel in Dale." Check out the Allendale Baal Fire, a tar barrel parade; it really happens in their hometown each New Years! (Take THAT, Holidazzle!)

By the way, our favorite Geordie lasses are getting big love from the British press. Their 2007 disc The Bairns was listed in The Observer's top 50 albums of the decade, being the only British folk album to make that list. The album also made Uncut's top 150 releases of the decade.

* * * * * * *

Turning our thoughts to warmer climes, there I was with the boychild watching one of those Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation holiday specials from when I was a kid the other night and a fun commercial of kids playing soccer comes with a soundtrack by...Os Mutantes! Who knew? Well, everybody actually. It came out last year for the summer Olympics. Still, though. Fun to hear "A Minha Menina" on the TV at Grandma's house. All of which goes to show you how often I watch actual TV. It also caused me to musicians make enough dough from a MacDonald's commercial to buy really fun tour clothes? Because they sure had the really fun tour outfits last fall.

* * * * * * *

Just got back from the David Rawlings Machine show. Although we had to split before the encore to get back for the babysitter, wow. Whew. DAMN!

What a pleasure to watch musicians have SO much fun playing together. I think they could've gone on like that all night. Maybe they did. Somebody else will have to write about the encore. David's guitar playing was as amazing as ever, one tune strangling his little archtop and the next his fingers were flowing up and down the frets like water over smooth stones. The vocal harmonies were, of course, out of this world and given the extra jolt by the bass lines tossed in there by Ketch Secor from Old Crow Medicine Show. Willie Watson from Old Crow handled lead on an incredible version of "CC Rider," then pulled one of the fiddles off the table to go twin fiddle with Secor on one of the tunes from Friend of A Friend. Was it "How's About You?" Not sure, but they went nuts with Rawlings' banjo playing.

The band played most of the tunes from A Friend of A Friend, augmented by a couple of Gillian's songs from Soul Journey. David took a nice turn at lead vocals on "Elvis Presley Blues" from
Time (the Revelator) and choice covers abounded as well. I heard some Neil Young, some Woody Guthrie and some Bill Monroe for sure.

Anyway, special night. Special artists. Special venue.

The Cedar.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Next Big Thing

I've been waiting for some time for The Next Big Thing in music. A few years ago, the hope was that a Next Big Thing would arrive in time to save the recording industry. Guess not. On a macro scale, you could say the last Big Thing in all of music was rock 'n roll, which you can date back to the 50's. Or, if you don't consider it a sub-genre of rock, you could say that the last Big Thing was hip-hop, which still dominates pop charts today. Even still, hip-hop is over 30 years old now. It's the music of the parents' generation, heading quickly towards becoming the music of the grandparents' generation. Grandmaster Flash, who had the genre's first breath-through hit in 1982, is 51.

I'm not suggesting that there are no new innovations in rock and hip-hop, or any other category of music being produced these days. And one of the things I find exciting and refreshing about a lot of new music now being produced is the trend towards a willingness to explore all aspects of musical expression and a distinct lack of concern as to how the music will be categorized.

But there has not been a new style of music which can be considered "game changing" since those early rap records in the 70's. Now I'm wondering whether that's even possible in the context of current culture. Consumption is so accelerated, and attention spans are so contracted. Honestly, it's hard to imagine a new music style coming along that can ignite a mass market and have a long term (30+ years) arch. Is that no longer even possible?

Now it's all about short-term trends. Maybe that's just fine. If there's one trend that I hope will continue to blossom, it's one I touched upon in my previous post: using video to produce a long-form narrative in music, ideally in a performance setting. Most of my favorite Cedar concerts so far this season have had this element, the most recent being last Tuesday's great show by The Books. When this clip was posted on Pitchfork a few weeks back, I didn't realized that it represented how their entire performance was presented. It was a delightful set, leaving me wanting more of this kind of thing:

Maybe there will be no Next Big Thing in music, and we'll just have to settle for a series of Next Big Trends...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two Movies

Visited the local art house Sunday and took in 'Pirate Radio.' Verdict: save your time and money. Still, I have to wonder whether my opinion was overly colored by having done time in both the radio and music businesses. Perhaps I couldn't enjoy it for being on the lookout for errors of liberty-taking, sort of like how some golfers despise 'Tin Cup.' It is tough to watch a 1966 deejay spinning a platter that sports an A&M label that wouldn't be designed and used for another ten years.

Earlier in the week, an hour-and-a-half of home viewing was devoted to 'Empire Records.' This movie had no aspirations of greatness and presented itself accordingly. It did, however, capture one whiff of essence: for about three decades, a good record store could be thought of as an island of misfit toys. The employees, I mean. So when I allow myself a bit of nostalgia for the good ol' days, I choose to long for what is both lost and missed: my cohorts on the record store sales floor (especially 1982-84), and maintaining racks of LPs with their widescreen cover art...taken for granted back then and all but forgotten now.

My misty-eyed reminiscences rarely extend to those LPs' contents, however. Main Figurehead's uncharacteristically lucid post about the disappearing art of long-form recording was right on the money; in fact, I will likely anoint the top spot in my 2009 Top 10 to that same Decemberists album, which is well and truly an old-school long player. However, when I think back, how many albums from my youth demanded that I listen to all sides straight through? One handful? Two?

If you grew up with elpees, then you know: you listened to a whole side mostly because you got to hear twenty minutes of music without having to fiddle with anything.


Nowadays, the song's the thing. This brings us back to the Cedar blog's November scrum: the differences among digital music sales methodologies.

Let's pare it back to the original question: What is a song worth? Here's one person's answer: 40 cents. I'll come back to that, but let's take the scenic route past Robbins' barn to get there.

I like Lavender Diamond. The 'Cavalry of Light' EP is my favorite release of theirs so far. The opening track, 'You Broke My Heart,' is a fine introduction to their sound. You can find it at Amie Street for 26 cents (not a special price), eMusic for about 45 cents (depending on your subscription plan), as a track on the used disc at Amazon for about 79 cents (pro-rated, and including P&H), and at iTunes for 99 cents. This is not an isolated case.

I like Talking Heads' 'Fear of Music.' I like it so much, in fact, that I have purchased and repurchased it as an LP, an 8-track, a cassette, a CD, and a DVD-audio. In my last days in music retail, the CD typically sold for $8-9 when advertised. It is an 11-track album. The last track on side one, 'Memories Can't Wait,' is sold digitally on iTunes for $1.29. The only saving grace in paying the highest price yet for a 30-year old track I have bought over and over again is the ability to break it out from the album. A nice convenience, to be sure, but not compelling.

This post is not intended as another assault on the iTunes model. I have a pretty good understanding of what they're doing and why. My feeling is simply that iTunes pricing is often not reflective of the varying needs of content holders (whether artists, licensees, or owners) or music consumers.

Gobs of music being produced nowadays is available for one purpose only: as a marketing tool for nascent and/or touring artists. The needs of those content holders are entirely different from those who own or license niche music (legacy artists, say, or a specific subculture). Further, some music lovers are explorers who will willingly gamble, but not extensively at a buck or more per track. Their needs are entirely different from the convenience-oriented customer. (And yes, intrepid explorers can jump around among artist sites and streaming services, but without proper training one can easily contract hyperlink exhaustion.)

Apple's one-size-fits-all strategy works well for some, not for others. To my mind, the real winner will be the retailer who can offer a true one-stop music exploration and shopping experience, catering to the full spectrums of music creators, holders, and end-users. The trick will be in getting folks used to the idea that not every song has the same value and can range in price from free (or, let's say, a dime) to whatever the market will bear. Uniform pricing is an anachronism in digital-music commerce.

As for me...well, in a typical month I'll spend about $80 on music. The outlay is spread among retailers offering sliding-scale pricing, subscription pricing, and cheap used CDs. (That last category is important to remember, by the way. My experience shows a rapidly depreciating value for older or forgotten music on used discs. The Amazon Marketplace, for one, is essentially a CD rental operation for those customers willing to schlep their resales to the post office several times a week). In that typical month, I'll amass 15-20 CDs worth of material, or about 200 tracks.

The blended cost? About 40 cents a track.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No congnative dissonance here

Let's catch up with some old friends and make some new ones this week, shall we?

Can one watch Sunday night football with a soundtrack of Bulgarian mashup provided by Kottarashky without experiencing cognative dissonance? Rotating in some slinky Balkan electro-brass dub from La Cherga (former Yugos now in Austria.) Those sites include some free downloads from each artist if you're interested. Great clarinet and sax work on all fronts.

* * * * * * *

In the somebody ought to pick this one up department, a bunch of our Swedish pals are featured in a new book about the folk music and dance scene there. Passion - om folkmusic och dans has interviews with artists including "guitar king" Roger Tollroth (Vasen), "Nickelharpa virtuoso Johan Hedin (Bazar Bla), composer Mats Eden (Groupa), "World musician" Ale Moeller (Frifot plus a million other collaborations), Ellika Frisell who "plays polskas with Indian and African touches," "folk rock musician" Kjell Eric Ericson (Hoven Droven), vocalist Lena Willemark (Frifot), and singer/arranger Ulrica Boden (Ranarim) among others. Not to mention Benny Andersson, yeah , the Abba Benny, more known for his accordion and his big band these days. Oh, but it's in Swedish. Which is why my translations of the artist descriptions are quite rudimentary. But the exclusive cd which comes with works in any language, right? Something about the days getting so short makes Nordic music sound really good right now anyway.

(Psst... Ale Moeller is booked for a spring show at the Cedar with Bruce Molsky. Two amazing cool with that be?)

* * * * * * *

The Euro World Music charts rather friskily put out their top recordings of 2009 list Tuesday. Regular readers will recognize many of the usual suspects in the hot 150 that I linked to here- Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara(#3), Tinariwen(#6), Dub Colossus(#4), Kasbah Rockers (#63), DuOud(#8), Shantel(#11 ), Amadou et Mariam(#7 ), Imam Baildi (#24), Speed Caravan(#42 ), Orchestre Poly-Rythmo(#59), Mahala Rai Banda(#36 ), Alamaailman Vasarat(#35 )...Well, yes, it's true, I am on the email list and do peruse the top 25 every month. Is the opinion of a multinational panel of 30 or 40 DJ's worth as much as some algorithm or musicological data analysis? Sure, why not? It's that elusive musical community we keep writing about. Anyway, the charts are usually a good way to learn more about the artists, with all the usual links in place. (The top of the year disc is a searchable pdf file if you're looking for your faves.)

African music is, as you'd expect, most common near the top of the list, and while I might wonder at the relatively lower percentage of South American music, to this chart watcher the list of origin counties grows more diverse every year, and there is a small, but growing trend with stuff from the Middle East being easier to find. It would be interesting to compare this list from one say, ten years ago.

Then there are the discs that never got in the monthly top 25 that I need to get after. Who knew Boot put out a new disc last year? (#66) Main Fig, are you holding out on us? Totte and Ola are still fiddling and mandola-ing, but Samuel Andersson has replaced Bjorn Tollin on Soot. Cedar Nordic roots fans have seen Samuel perform with various incarnations of Hedningarna and Hurdy Gurdy over the years; you'd remember the guy. No engelska on the Caprice records site, so the link's to an English distributor. Rootsworld dug it too, but the link to the longer review isn't there, so sorry. They called a "debut", however. Sheesh, guys, do your homework, wouldja?!

* * * * * * *

Apologies for last week. Gillian sings to David "You be Emmy Lou and I'll be Graham," not the other way around as I wrote. Yeah, we listened the Gillian and David for hours in the car on the way to Milwaukee Wednesday. Such fine, fine road music. Can't wait to see them next week.

* * * * * * *

I keep trying to get to that elusive space of pure listening we all keep writing about. But most semi-concentrated listening usually happens in the car or while cleaning the house or such. Had one of those true moments the other day while trying to really pay attention to Analog Africa 5: Legends of Benin. I was jamming along with all the wonderfully off-kilter brass bands when out of the blue, the simplest chiming guitar line started to repeat. A warm clear voice told me "La musica, en verite' la musica" over and over, alternating with some understated fuzzy organ lines, backed by just a touch of percussion. Gnonnas Pedro was singing me over into dreamland. So, so sweet. Simple, elegant... and elegiac.

Of course all Analog Africa discs come with extensive notes, so I then read about Pedro's untimely demise from cancer a few years back, in part because he couldn't afford health care until it was too late. Rest in peace Pedro, and thank you. That's why we all do this, the music, in truth the music.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Long Form

For the past fifty years, by far the most dominant form of music creation has been a 30 to 75 minute construct which we call an "album." This is directly due to the wildly successful technological invention of the "long playing record" (LP), first introduced in 1948. The compact disc merely provided an extension to the album format (in more ways than one). But one of the great questions (and debates) around the emergence of digital files as the preferred format for music reproduction surrounds the future of the album, and ultimately what shape the "long form" of recorded music will take. (An aside here: it's curious that technology seems to have a stronger impact on our relationship with music than with any other art form).

Live music may be a major factor in the equation. As I posited in a previous post, going to a live music show is quickly becoming one of the only examples of when we commit our undivided attention to one band or artist for a significant amount of time. Concurrently, the model of touring to support a recording has been turned on its head; tours are now looked at as the more reliable revenue generator for many artists, and increasingly recordings are released to promote tours and to generate merchandise income at the show.

In fact, we're seeing a new trend recently, especially with our more popular local bands, which for now is being called the "EP Release Concert." Instead of waiting to complete a "full-length album" before staging a show, bands are now more commonly putting together 4-8 tracks of new or re-thought material, which gives them something new to promote to the media, and provides the fans with something new to buy at the merch table. Further indication that what was once the tail (the live show) is now wagging the dog (the recording).

Aesthetically successful albums have tended to fall into two general categories: those with such a strong critical mass of individual tracks that the entire album stands up to repeated listening as a whole, and those with some sort of unifying concept which holds the whole thing together. Unfortunately, even the most ardent lovers of the album format will admit that only a tiny percentage of records released over the last 50 years accomplish either of these two things. However, I venture to bet that most of us "older" music lovers would grieve the loss of the album format based on the enormous satisfaction and gratification derived from that tiny percentage!

Personally, I'm a bit of a sucker for the "concept album." I can't say that I was a huge fan of The Decemberists before the release of their most recent release, The Hazards of Love. But this "rock opera" hooked me hard and fast, with the usual concept album trappings of continuous flow, recurring themes and musical segments, and a storyline narrative. Then the band followed through with a full worldwide tour in which they played the entire album from start to finish, only furthering my respect (and, admittedly, bringing me back to my youth, and my personal halcyon days of long-form progressive rock concerts).

Now the band has taken it a step further, and commissioned four interesting and inventive animation artists to "visualize" the album non-literally. The final work, titled "Here Come The Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized," premiered in L.A. two months ago (behind a live performance), and is being offered exclusively on iTunes beginning December 1st. The Cedar has the distinction of being the only venue that I'm aware of (anywhere in the world, actually) which is having a theatrical screening of the film, on Thursday 12/3, with an admittance price of only $3. I've previewed it... it's very cool, very trippy, at times with spectacular imagery. I'm really looking forward to seeing it on our big screen while the full album plays through our great sound system...

Probably not a trend here, but another imaginative reason for someone to spend an extended period (nearly an hour) listening to a long form music creation... this time, in my opinion, one of those rare, worthwhile ones.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Musically giving thanks

I am thankful for too many musical things to list here, though initially that is what I intended to do in this entry. Instead, just a few things from the last week or so:

Thankful for:

-Parties at The Cedar put on by local brass band The Brass Messengers complete with stilt walkers, roller girls and costumes.
-Nomo's existence (check Mama E Dub's report on their Cedar appearance that she wrote just days ago)
-Seeing Russian Circles with coworkers who dance the polka afterwards
-Listening to a friend's punk record at hyper speed while dubbing tapes
-Being asked to teach someone to read music
-Being asked, "Is this Burl Ives [playing]?!" while watching Fantastic Mr. Fox and being able to answer, "Yes, I believe it is."

In a couple days I may be able to ad "seeing Fool's Gold and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros" to that list, but will be for another entry.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Take My Advice

There are any number of different ways in which a concert becomes a truly memorable night. There are the "I don't really know who this band is but somebody told me they were really good so here I am" nights that blow your mind. The Pixies in the Entry on the Surfer Rosa tour comes to mind, after a new friend had played one tune for me and I'd checked out their in-store at Northern Lights. Oooh, dating myself with that reference, eh? Don't even ask me what year that was? '88?

Or there are the nights when you're just there working, and the synergy of the music, the crowd, and the personalities of the musicians make for a really fun night. The Bajofondo show at Global Roots last fall was one of those in recent memory. Very professional show, interesting and diverse crowd got way into it and the band was just very fun to work with in the green room.

Then there's the "I know every note of this band's repetoir and I want them to play all my faves." NOMO came close to that for me the other night at the Cedar. Damn, that was fun. I got so psyched during the sound check I had to call my sister and let her hear some of their "Rings" intro loop. Whoops, I was supposed to be working right then, wasn't I? The expectations were high and NOMO exceeded them. Plus they were nice guys, too. Hung around all night and graciously received a lot of high fives from strangers and brand new fan converts.

I know I've linked to this vid before and it's several years old, but it's the only halfway decent thing out there of these guys. Plus they closed with "Nu Tones" here Friday, heading down into the audience while people gathered around them and sang along. Yes, all their songs are instrumental, thus the italics.

The first time David Rawlings and Gillian Welch played the Cedar was one of those memorable nights where a friend had put a couple tunes on a mixtape, then gathered a posse to check out the show. They sold out the place on a Monday night, a rare feat in this town. Hell Among the Yearlings was freshly out and Gillian's banjo playing was this precious novelty, simple melody lines that were so haunting and true with songs like "One Morning" and "The Devil Had A Hold Of Me." It was one of those coulda-heard-a-pin-drop kind of nights.

Another time they were part of an Ani DiFranco tour along with Greg Brown. I remember hiking up three flights of stairs to the dressing rooms at the Northrup to pick up dirty dishes, and finding a rousing session jamming away up there, David and Gillian leading the charge with some local pals of theirs. Ani sat on the edges, clapping along and grinning her head off. (I believe Greg had a bottle of whiskey at that point - hey, it was pre-Iris Dement for him, y'know.)

With those two it was always the synergy. David's high harmonies as a foil to Gillian's amber alto. David's complex flat picking to Gillian's solid rhythm lines. His gentle humor to Gillian's more serious stage demeanor. His baggy suits to her vintage dresses. His herky-jerky motion to her lanky elegance. Not for nothing did he sing "I'll be Emmy Lou and you be Gram" on "I Dream a Highway" from Time (the Revelator.) The first three discs they made together were touchstones for a generation of younger Americana/new grass musicians and those tunes have been covered by artists from Joan Baez to Crooked Still.

Here a very vintage (1996) clip of "Caleb Meyer" with a classic Gillian intro about having to play at least one "killin' song."

So when Gillian's first disc without as much of David came out, it just wasn't the same. Sure she had a bunch of Nashville sidemen and probably a big budget for Soul Journey, but the edge was lost somehow. David kept busy in the years that followed writing songs for folks like Bright Eyes, Robyn Hitchcock and Ryan Adams as well as producing bands such as Old Crow Medicine Show.

You know I will be right in there to check out David's new project when they roll into town next month. The David Rawling Machine will feature Gillian on harmony vocals as well as members of Old Crow, so we'll get a bit fuller sound. Hope we get to hear their Guit-jo. Surely we'll get to hear the warm tones of David's little 1935 archtop Epiphone. Other than that, I'm not sure what to expect other than I know it'll be a special evening

Look for David and Gillian as the proprieters of the "Exotic Ladies" booth at the circus in Old Crow's "Wagon Wheel" video.

You can just count this as one of those "A friend told me I'd better check out this show" pieces of advice, then, OK?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Going Local

This is the time of year where we expect to see an increase in our local music offerings at The Cedar. From about mid-November through mid-February the mix of local artists, which generally runs at about 30% of our overall programming mix, tends to spike a bit. It's not just because national and international touring artists wisely stay away from Minnesota weather at this time of year... it's also because winter touring in the U.S. in general is fraught with weather risk, so our best local talent also tends to stick around.

It was a happy coincidence, then, when I was asked to appear on The Current's Local Show by host David Campbell for last weekend's edition. I got to play a wide sample of local music tidbits, and talk up some upcoming shows. For those who missed it, here's a stream of it:

Next weekend also tends to be a big one for people going out... after Thanksgiving there's a need to get out of the house (maybe to escape the extended family staying there?), and socialize with friends around for the holiday. So we've arranged to have two of our most popular and talented (and our personal favorite) local acts double-bill Friday and Saturday night. They will take turns headlining each night, and each have picked different special guests to open as well. So, the two shows will be different enough that you may actually want to consider both, but the advice would be to at least make sure you don't miss one or the other:

* * *

I will now attempt to move my iTunes/Steve Jobs debate with Veronica Fever towards a conclusion, but she may have actually immortalized the new handle Fevers by replicating the exact symptoms of an annoying virus that keeps re-appearing...

There's simply too much to rebut in her last post, and I suspect folks are getting more tired of the debate than even I am... but I do need to correct one of her misrepresentations: I am, in fact, not a content-owner. Almost everything I continue to represent on my two record labels, ESD and NorthSide, are licensed from other content owners. And in the handful of recordings in which I actually do have some ownership, in no case am I the majority equity holder, it always being shared with the artist themselves.

I say this because "content owner" has become code for greedy corporate interests, thanks to the major record labels, which have only promoted this image by predictably acting like greedy corporate interests since the invention of the record industry. But this makes "content owner" an easy target, which can then be substituted in these discussions for consideration of any actual value placed on the content itself.

For example, the logic used to be that CD prices were too high, because after all, everyone knew that the cost of the materials for the disc, artwork and jewel box were well under $2... so a $15 retail price, the argument went, was nothing short of outrageous. The easy extension of this thinking to a music download is that $10 for an album of 10-15 files is even more outrageous, since you've now eliminated even the $2 materials cost, to say nothing of shelving, inventory management, warehousing, middlemen and shrinkage.

What is conveniently lost here is the content itself... both the cost of making it, and what its actual value is for someone buying it. The cost of making it has its own problems in any discussion like this. Since technology has made the minimum cost of producing a decent recording within the reach of virtually all musicians, there's an assumption that the cost of producing music content now should then be fairly minimal. And it can be, if an artist makes the kind of music that will sound good enough when recorded at home, produced, mixed and mastered by themselves using basic equipment and software. But usually, if you want a great sounding record, you have to spend money on at least a couple of those items, and then it's easy to start spending money fast. In today's world, it's still not at all unreasonable to expect to need to spend, at the minimum, $5,000-$10,000 for a very good ensemble recording.

So I think it's relevant, whether I'm a content-owner or not, to weigh-in to this discussion the context of the real math involved. iTunes will pay the content provider 70 cents of each 99 per track that they sell. Emusic uses pro-rating, and when I talked to them a few years back it averaged close to 25 cents to the content provider. About 9 cents of that (either income model) goes to the songwriter(s). The rest is what goes to the content provider... which may be a licensor, or the actual content owner. Under a best case scenario (content provider is an artist who is both the owner of the master and the songwriting copyrights), the Emusic model brings in a total of $2.50 to $3.00 total per album download (as opposed to $7 from iTunes). If you had spent any money making that record, unfortunately the odds are stacked heavily against selling enough at those prices to recoup your costs. Spending more money on marketing only makes the odds longer.

But really, here's the bottom line of this debate: what is it worth to the consumer? At the end of the day, wearing my hat as a heavy music consumer, I'm pretty happy with the 99 cents per track / $9.99 per album price model for a good quality, non-DRM download. Fevers apparently is not. Ultimately, the market will likely decide. The jury is still out, as while the iTunes story is one of great success for the parent company Apple, it certainly has not yet provided enough of a turning point for the record industry, and conservative estimates are that five times more music is still downloaded for free (illegally) than is sold through music download stores. Would anyone else out there like to weigh in on this?

Next time: many experts seem to agree with Fevers that a subscription-based model is the future of music retail. But I see many problems with that model, probably too many to make it work as the dominant structure...

Friday, November 20, 2009

hardcore happy

I was really blown away by the Vic Chesnutt show we had here at The Cedar last night. Similar to seeing Mount Eerie at The Bedlam not long ago, the evening was a collection of soft, staggeringly-intimate moments, and rib-cage-rattling power. Before Mount Eerie, I was scoffed at when I mentioned forgetting my ear plugs. I was sorry I had. I didn't forget them last night.

A coworker asked me to describe what the Vic Chesnutt show was going to be like. Our conversation went like this:

"Does he play guitar?"
"Yes. There is a clip on the video screen in the lobby."
"So, it's folky? Kinda quiet?"
"Yes. But he is playing with members of A Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed! Both of which are post-rocky bands. So overall, it sounds much louder and more...epic."
"So, it's right up your alley, then?"

I think I just responded with a shrug and a smile. This conversation happened only a few days after a friend said "cute" in response to the fact that I liked to attend hardcore shows in high school. Cute? Puh-lease.


One of my friends that lives in Brazil visited about a month and a half ago. We sent her home with a Forro in the Dark record, that she already was adoring. Wish I could have sent a copy of Céu's new record, Vagarosa, with her as well. Really getting into that record again.


And speaking of music I've gotten really excited about, Nomo will be at The Cedar tonight. Yep, you read that correctly. The band I've been all in a tizzy about for months and months is going to grace my favorite stage. SO EXCITED. And I'm not the only one. At least two other coworkers told me they were glad I gave them the heads up on this one. Sort of wish I could have the night off to enjoy their set (as well as that of locals The Brass Messengers, who might be the most fun band in the Twin Cities) but, if I had the night off I'd be torn about not heading over to The Acadia to catch "Wake Up." This event is sponsored by the U of M's campus mag, The Wake and it sounds like it is going to be pretty wild from start to finish, including a performance by Dance Band, three comedians, and an acoustic version of local favorites Zombie Season. They'll also be adding cello, banjo, french lyrics, and some guest performers. And that isn't the half of it. More information at

Another weekend where the West Bank is the place to be. See you there!