Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Kicking off the series will be Twin Cities septet, THE POOR NOBODYS.
The 'Pornos' as the band is often referred (amazing, I know) has released their debut record that is heavy on ensemble playing. Mandolin, Wurlitzer, violin, guitars, bass, percussion, accordion and vocals all shine separately but still support each other. What I like about the group the most is the dark side to their compositions. The music is best described as 'old world' but still has modern touches with occasional distorted electric guitar. Below is a clip of a recent performance at the 331 Club in Minneapolis.
We'll see you on the patio. Live outdoor music on the West Bank lives!
Monday, June 29, 2009
Okay, FOW -- come on these guys are Music Heads for Music Heads. Their albums are like scrapbooks of all the music they love and music fans love too. They digest every snap, crackle & pop of pop music and throw it into their own mix. And much like the best of smart pop, IMHO, Elvis Costello, their lyrics are dark, smart and funny. And Jon Auer of the Posies -- I mean could anyone get us closer to a Chris Bell/Big Star reincarnation?
Okay, that's it from Miss Hell, as I have to confiscate the Lego catapult from my children in the tub. Tell me all about the shows, please.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
(At this moment I would like to send kudos to the magnificent and truly independent record store Waterloo Records in Austin, TX, one of the only record retailers in the U.S. that never bought into the segregation of musical genres, and always stocked their general catalog alphabetically by artist, from A to Z. As a music enthusiast and retail customer, I always found this to be profoundly in synch with the real universe).
With the decline (and some feel inevitable demise) of record retail, and certainly the elimination of any clout that sector now has in the driving force of marketing music, it is becoming apparent that the entire structure of music genres is quickly becoming obsolete. This is actually a great, liberating development. Now the internet is the driving force of marketing music, so the artist's name is the only relevant category (hmmm... kind of like shopping at Waterloo, isn't it?). Isn't that really the way it should be? Shouldn't the only real category for Paul Simon's music be "Paul Simon?"
In the case of World Music, while originally designed in 1987 to liberate and modernize a genre that most people had come to associate with rather staid field recordings by old white guys of non-white (or at least non-western) "traditional" music in far off parts of the world...
...some would say that the creation of the "World Music" genre mostly made it marketable, even hip, for white musicians to take such sounds and techniques, and just make it more accessible to a mostly-white, more mainstream audience...
The marketing problem for something like this, even with the "World Music" identification, and creation of a section in every Tower Records (or wherever) to better place and sell this stuff, is that it was always too much of a challenge to find the actual CDs in record stores. Would this be (properly) filed under "Africa" in the World Music section? Would they go so far as to have a further sub-section for Cameroon? Did you need to remember that it was pygmie mysic from Cameroon? Because one thing was almost certain, unless you were going to be shopping at Waterloo, remembering the band's name, Baka Beyond, was definitely not guaranteed to help you find their CD, whether the store had it in stock or not!
Now, of course, just type the artist's name into Google, and the chances are extremely high that you can find lots of information, music and video samples of the artists work, and links to purchasing a CD or music downloads.
This means that now we really don't need to worry about whether something like this is "World Music" or not:
And with that I proudly announce that this band, BLK JKS from South Africa, will kick off the inaugural Global Roots Festival, on September 24, 2009 at The Cedar. This show is being co-presented by our friends at Walker Art Center.
Perhaps if there's one thing I'd like to accomplish with this and the other artists planned for the Global Roots Festival, it's to move folks away from the idea of "World Music" as a category with borders. Our full roster for the festival will follow in my blog next week.
And you know what the best thing is about the end of the "World Music" genre? There will be no meeting of "interested music professionals" to decide what comes next. Actual music consumers have already determined that.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Hello, I’m The Cedar’s air conditioner. You probably haven’t seen a lot of me, but there’s a reason for that. I’ve been trying in vain to keep this building cool, but the demands of 2009 are much greater than those of the 40s. Everyone complains about the poor polar bears being affected by global warming, but it’s affecting me too.
I have a lot to be proud of. I’ve been cooling this building since before some of you were born. Back then it was a movie theater, you know.
In my old age, I’m no longer able to function properly when temperatures reach the 80s and 90s. When it gets to be that hot, everyone should be at the beach anyway! The Cedar staff keeps me around for my good looks, though. You youngsters have never seen such a find piece of machinery.
Anyway, when I face the facts I know that my time at The Cedar is running out. I am 60 years old after all. I’m comfortable retiring early. This means, however, that The Cedar will be looking for my replacement. Finding an appliance of this caliber is not going to be cheap. These are hard vents to fill.
Kids these days are so reliant on air conditioning, or AC as they call it, and we want to keep you cool at The Cedar, even in the summertime. Your support will help fill the void left in my absence. They tell me you can even donate on the World Wide Web at www.thecedar.org/donate although I’m not quite sure what that is.
Thank you for your time,
Thursday, June 25, 2009
In popular vinyl's heyday, an LP or 45's label was part of the package artwork. It added an identifying characteristic: this is an Epic album, a Deram single. It could even bring its own cachet: the double-sided Apple label, for example, is one of the coolest ever. One could even read a label's track listing as an LP was meandering around at thirty-three and a third. (For some of us, in fact, such an activity sometimes took on an unaccountably outsized importance.)
The label started to lose its value as soon as playback became a private matter to be carried out in a sealed compartment at 500 or so RPM. Even having one of those see-through players meant little: the novelty wore off quickly, and trying to read a label on a disc whizzing around at that rate was sorta like attempting a diary entry in a centrifuge.
And now? A 'label' is a word or two of information accompanying release date and bit rate data on a download interface. Yet right this minute every basement glitchmeister in creation is dreaming up a name for her very own label.
Which active independent labels still have celebrity outside of specific microcultures? Even if you're a decades-long music nut who keeps up, drawing up a lengthy list is tough...sorta like trying to come up with more than 20 catchers who belong in the Hall of Fame. You can tick off a dozen or fifteen pretty quickly, and then the steam starts to run out.
One indie already enshrined in Cooperstown is ECM, founded 40 years ago in Munich by Manfred Eicher.
Way too many of my college library hours were spent poring over back issues of Downbeat. Through wallet-draining trial-and-error exercises (yep, as Main Figurehead reminded us, that was our only choice back then), I came to learn that I wasn't yet ready for Sun Ra and was too snooty for Bob James. But ECM struck a chord that still resonates today. That label's catalog of genre-agnostic introspective exploration sounds as fresh as ever, from top to bottom.
Here we have back-to-back-to-back samples of ECM through the years. First up is John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner from their 1976 collaboration, 'Sargasso Sea.' Next is a track from Minneapolis' own Steve Tibbetts and his 1987 release, 'Exploded View.' And we finish up with a live snippet from Nik Bartsch, a pianist whose band is a sterling example of ECM's modern-day vitality.
One final note about labels: another type that has gone the way of the buggy-whip is the fruit crate label. For most of the first half of the 20th century, farmers affixed these carefully-designed labels to the boxes of produce they hauled to market in order to personalize their wares and encourage customer loyalty. Now? A label is just a word or two of information accompanying harvest date and net weight data as your fruit cocktail streams its way through the internet's series of tubes. Which can get really icky without proper maintenance.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Now I'm gonna brag and say the Cedar has the best sound on the West Bank. Sorry, we just do. Our crew and our new speakers and 48 channel board...we just do. "It ain't braggin' if it's true," was supposedly said by Cassius Clay once upon a time. So give Chris , Eric and Ray some love next time you see them back there at the sound board.
All that's not to say that wandering up and down Cedar Ave checking out live music in a bunch of different locations would not be a fun thing. There are quirky things going on all over Cedar Avenue, not to mention the occasional bit of free food.
Starting at the bridge and walking south, you could hit the Red Sea, which sometimes features DJs but often has hip hop, Latin or world music artists. Head down the block and across the street to Acadia Cafe with their awesome yummy beer selection and eclectic selection of artists who play original music (and fit on a tiny stage.) Run kitty corner across Cedar and Riverside to catch alterna-rock or alt country at the 400 Bar, a West Bank institution. (Sorry their website URL goes right to Ticketweb, so no link, OK.)
Jog back across the street to the Cedar, or keep on the left side and check out what's up at the Nomad World pub, usually local artists on weekends but goodies like Monday night trivia contests, reggae on Tuesdays and dub on Wednesdays. Don't forget their double patio double whammy.
Palmer's is just across the patio from the Cedar, back on the west side of the avenue, and they also have that "have to fit on the small stage" rule. Their Sunday night Cadillac vs. Cornbread nights are becoming a Minneapolis barhopping must-see, according to Cedar Operations manager Dave Paulson. They also have a big spread of food in there fairly often; I'm not sure waht this is about or what the schedule is for the chow.
Pop around the corner to the Bedlam Theatre, which has a really ecletic selection of live and dj'ed music, as well as cabarets and performance art, not to mention the Dreamland Faces on Wednesdays in case you need your musical saw fix. Come on, who else has a Purim party with live music in spring? But do they really still have the "Polish-fusion" cuisine? Not sure their web site is up to the minute...
Ready for more? Change into black clothing, jog down a block and cross back over to hit the Triple Rock. Free bacon on Wednesdays and Surly specials on Thursdays. What else do you need? Well, OK, lots of metal, punk, garage, grunge and those padded-looking walls. The bar side is a classic old long bar (the Old Blondie's building) with lots of booths and nice happy hour specials.
Ready to sober up and walk a couple of blocks? Keep going south until you see the bright light of the Whiskey Junction. Their live shows are generally in the blues and jam band genres, and they serve slices of pizza from a walk up window. Supposedly they also have two-for-one Jack Daniels shots over the lunch hour. (!!) After those rows of motorcycles (look but don't touch!), you'll find yourself at another West Bank institution, the Cabooze. Live music ranges from big outdoor reggae parties to ...well, big outdoor Gogol Bordello parties. Not to mention their usual run of blues and alt-country and local artists.
OK, so that's how many live music venues within about six blocks? Ten, right? If you're too tired to walk down to the Junction and the Cabooze, that's eight live music spots in a four block range.
Makes a person wonder why all those people wander around the Warehouse District barhopping, when there are only two or three live music clubs down there.
Also makes a person wonder when the West Bank Clubs will band together and have West Bank bracelets or wristband nights or something that will count as a cover charge in all the clubs that night. Of course, it couldn't work for the Cedar on a night when we have a sold out show or something really expensive, but for some of our nights, like maybe a 416 club, it would be just right. Maybe a once a month West Bank promo night for everybody? What do you think neighbors?
Saturday, June 20, 2009
But in the context of music discovery in the modern age, I have to respectfully disagree. The reason why most of us don't buy music anymore unless we've heard it first is, well, because we can. Before the internet, most of us were willing to take the $ leap directly from recommendation (or intuition) to buying an album. If you were lucky, you were actually able to hear something first. But it just wasn't very easy to hear things before buying. Believe me, many of us have large collections of mostly unplayed CDs because of this!
Now virtually every musical artist in the world has a MySpace page with streaming audio, so sampling anyone's music recommendation is just an internet connection away (which most of us now have in our homes and at our workplaces- in other words, what, 90% of the time?). So, these days, why would you NOT listen to music before you buy it?
Further, it's a bit ironic that this idea was presented in a music blog. I feel that music blogs are one of the most important new ways that folks seek out "gatekeepers" that they actually trust to lead them to new music discovery. I trust the folks at NPR Music, but that does not mean I'm going to love (or buy) everything they recommend. But I visit their blogs and download their podcasts because they've earned a level of credibility that can accurately be described as having built my trust.
Really, when you think about it, the only sensible way to discover music is through listening. So, you could say that we just have more appropriate tools now as music consumers than we used to, and trust has nothing to do with it.
* * * *
Last night we were fortunate to celebrate World Refugee Day (which is today, June 20), with a great dance concert by Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars. Their story is extraordinary, if you are not familiar with it check out the DVD of a documentary film about them. Here's the trailer:
So it's a good time to remember that so many of us are here in the U.S. because of a former refugee plight of parents, grandparents, or great grandparents. My own four grandparents fled from Russia around the turn of the last century. Last night's show was sponsored by The American Refugee Committee. They do great work, and if you'd like to know more about how you can help with the many worldwide refugee crises currently in need, this is a good place to start.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
For some, it's tracking what's popular, which provides conversational currency with au courant offspring or at social gatherings, but doesn't offer much in actual listening pleasure. For others, it's getting a handle on what's out there in the music atmosphere, which is deep, seemingly endless, and daunting.
To me, there is no 'keeping up.' There is only pushing forward. Rewards abound for the intrepid explorer, now more than ever. Consider this timeline:
Monday: Read review of Low Anthem's 'Oh My God, Charlie Darwin'.
Tuesday: Streamed album on Rhapsody. Liked it.
Wednesday: Purchased album. Loved it.
Thursday: Initiated viral publicity process (or VPP):
This versatile trio offers a variety of rustic atmospherics that should appeal to followers of Ray LaMontagne, Fleet Foxes, or, at times, Tom Waits. Oh, and the review that started this? Saw it in the New York Times. Yep, analog media that will only be pried from my cold, dead, ink-stained hands.
Another bit I particularly liked in Angel's post was her excitement over discovering PJ Harvey. As one who has a framed photo of Polly Jean hanging on the wall to his left, I surely understand. But it's also just plain fun to happen upon and explore any artist with a long and diverse CV.
My most recent such experience was with Porcupine Tree. If, under duress, I were forced to hang a two-syllable summary on 'em I'd croak out 'Prog-lite' and hate myself for it because their sound runs sweet / bitter, digestible / complex gamuts and oops, you probably already know this. Yep. Latecomer.
Anyway, I came to Porcupine Tree via No-Man, as the two bands share the same guitarist, the multi-talented Steven Wilson. No-Man's sound often features a wistful reflectiveness, and I'm a sucker for it:
So. A years-long interest in No-Man led to Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson. The point is clear: the more you hear, the more you want to hear.
Not yet finished with 'Ripped,' but I love this quote from a modern-day music consumer: "...we're in a day when nobody buys music unless they hear it first. Because we don't trust anyone, really."
Perhaps the week's most exciting new release is Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara's 'Tell No Lies.' The one track I've heard is a Saharan blues with a Bo Diddley beat. I'm in. Cheers!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
It's a sweet little festival, with all the traditional food and customs someone who loves their Nordic heritage could ever wish for. My ancestors were of the more Celtic persuasion, but I did chow several servings of that Norwegian rice pudding! As one of the tireless organizers pointed out, all the Americans are the ones running around in traditional outfits and the European musicians are just there in their jeans, or as he said "the ones who look like rock stars."
Cedar pals Esko Jarvella and Tuomas Logren, who we know from their many appearances with Frigg, held up their end of the rock star deal and really stole the show, as far as this fan was concerned. They cranked out a number of complex and speedy polskas and waltzes, mostly from Esko's Master's degree cd project, which he just completed over at the the Sibelius Academy department of Folk Music over there in Helsinki.
All the sets at Nisswa are short, about half an hour, but most of the artists play at several different stages during the day. There are some super-intimate performances and workshops in the little log cabins there at the Pioneer Village, too. We caught an acapella set during a brief rainstorm by Finnish expats Saana, five women who now make their home in the Twin Cities and do traditional singing together. About 20 people squeezed into the folding chairs in the "Summer Kitchen" cabin, with about that many on the porch trying to listen and stay dry. Beautiful harmonies on old hymns had me referring to the building as "that little church" the rest of the day. A very timeless feel, perfect with a little thunder outside. They closed it up with a spritely version of an old Varttina song, I think from Aitara, so it was fun to sing along.
lags (groups of musicians) up from the Cities, featuring Hardingfeles, Nyckelharpas and all those traditional wool outfits. In true small town Minnesota fashion, the festival ends with a Saturday night dance at the local American Legion hall, with each band playing for about half an hour. That was the perfect juxtaposition of two cultural worlds, past and present, old country and new. A huge circle of dancers swirled on the floor to the calling of a petite Danish fiddler while we wall flowers drank our beers under the stern gaze of the photos of generations of Legion and and Auxiliary members.
And no matter what Blanche tells you, it's really only about a two and a half hour drive up there.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
The band is Caravan Palace from France, and they take French swing and combine it with dance-floor electronics. Could this be the first signs of the next swing revival? Or just one really fun band to see live? Here's to landing an early 2010 Cedar gig with these guys.
Meanwhile, here's a unique mash-up already on the caledar (September 12, 2009):
This one's called Chicha Libre; CHICHA is the name of a corn-based liquor favored by the Incas in pre-colombian days. Chicha is also the name of a South American music craze which started out in the late 70's in the Peruvian Amazon. Cumbias amazonicas, as they were first called, were loosely inspired by Colombian accordion-driven cumbias but soon incorporated the distinctive sounds of Andean melodies, some Cuban son, and the psychedelic sounds of surf guitars, farfisa organs and moog synthesizers. Check out more tunes on their MySpace page.
This is the new cool, folks.
Friday, June 12, 2009
The past few weekends have been jam-packed with music events in the Twin Cities. On May 31, I was able to catch some gypsy punk, dreamy boy-girl vocal pop, and some local “morbib pop” all in the same night.
Last Thursday it seemed as though every beautiful woman making indie rock was visiting Minneapolis. I was lucky enough to see both St. Vincent and Julie Doiron. If you’re unfamiliar with either or both of these musicians, I would suggest taking a listen.
While the previous link shows off Ms. Annie Clark’s musical talent, her stunning good looks are better exemplified here with photos from Thursday night’s show by local photographer Jon Behm:
But while I was thrilled to have seen these shows, I was disappointed to miss both Laura Gibson and Musée Mechanique at The Cedar. Just to rub it in, everyone who did make it to the show gave it a glowing review.
This weekend is shaping up to be music filled as well. From a sold-out performance by Iris Dement, to one of my favorite local groups The Orange Mighty Trio, The Cedar will be a hot spot
But of all the weekend’s festivities, I might be most excited to see PJ Harvey. Though I was just recently introduced to her music, I’ve quickly become a fan.
Hearing artists like PJ for the first time (when they've already had long successful careers) makes me wonder what else I've been missing...
Thursday, June 11, 2009
1) I am a lifelong music lover, and
2) I lost a bet with Main Figurehead.
The specifics of Qualification 2 are inconsequential. I was given two options for payment but was not about to be filmed as I was grocery shopping in a Snuggie. So here I am, Olivetti unsheathed. And lo, the 'e' key sticks. I'll try to limit its use.
No log cabin story, just one random bit of personal history: the song I have played most often in my lifetime is 'I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman' by Whistling Jack Smith. A word to the wise: do not play the following clip.
This record averaged perhaps five spins a day for the second half of 1967, until my dog chewed my 45 to bits on Christmas Eve. I haunted squalid record stores for nearly two decades before finding another. Now you can buy it from dozens of sellers on GEMM. Tell me: where's the fun in THAT?
A couple of hours ago I was in a Starbucks ordering up a flamboyantly unnecessary venti iced white mocha, when on the box came The Headless Heroes' lovely cover of 'Blues Run the Game.' A moment's enjoyment gave way to two thoughts:
1) Starbucks had a real shot at being a music tastemaker. When they bought Hear Music they then owned a template: listening stations featuring expert-chosen albums, new and old, with editorial-based shelf talkers on spinner racks. Shop retrofits and existing company cachet would have made Starbucks a force in artist development. However, Wall Street thought otherwise and the rest, as they say...
2) 'Blues Run the Game' is a treasure, as is its writer, Jackson C. Frank. The song opens his lost classic eponymous album from 1965. He was an American expat in London at the time, a contemporary of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham. The album was produced by Paul Simon, who recorded a version of the song with Art Garfunkel at about the same time. It was also performed
by Jansch, John Renbourn, Nick Drake, and Eddy Reader. If any of these artists are favorites of yours, know that they were all influenced by Mr. Frank, who deserves a look-see by the uninitiated:
Just started the book 'Ripped' by Greg Kot. The author provides an overview of the past 10 years of music industry travails. If the Whistling Jack Smith debacle didn't get me fired, I'll return next Thursday to comment on the book and maybe about some music that doesn't trigger the geeze alarm. Cheers.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
To get psyched up for their show in a couple of weeks (Friday June 19) , I was listening to the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars' Living Like a Refugee the other day and marveling at how well they achieve that balance. The tunes are hummable and catchy, the message is delivered in a low key but upbeat way and you know these guys have totally walked the walk. Here's some background on their story if you haven't heard. I t would be fun to screen the documentary about the band here at the Cedar once we get our movie screen hung, wouldn't it? I like to image the music movie fests we may host someday...but that's the subject for another post.
Here's the trailer for their film.
While the politics really do matter, the tunes need to measure up and they do. Mostly reggae with a few South African-style Afro-pop numbers, the songs are simple and stripped down. Plus I love those old school backing vocals! Say, when did this come out? They have a collection of B-sides available now too.
Should be a good night on the Cedar's fine dance floor and I'll bet it'll leave you feeling like you can change the world for the better, and you know, what could be better than that?
And to continue that changing the world for the better, Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops had A GIRL! Here's what they say.
Well, everyone, after an action packed weekend, the newest Droplet was born!
n May 30, 2009, at 9:47 in the morning, little Aoife (ee-fah) Armentha Laffan was born, to the tune of 7lbs, 10oz. She's gorgeous and thriving, and I'm doing well. She'll be along when we start touring again, so you just might meet her in person! (Mommy knit the hat..)She looks a little like this! Congrats 'Drops!
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Although I have not yet heard the latest release from Samy ben Redfeb at Analog Africa, I'm just going to guess that Legends of Benin will make for some good summer listening. Released in Europe May 15, looks like we will be able to get our hands on it over here sometime in late June. I'll wait for the actual physical object, because his compilations always have wonderful thick booklets of liner notes, interviews and groovy old photos. He calls the new one "A collection of super rare and highly danceable masterpieces recorded between 1969 -1981 by four legendary composers from Benin: ANTOINE DOUGBÉ, EL REGO et Ses Commandos, HONORÉ AVOLONTO, and GNONNAS PEDRO & His Dadjes Band.
I'm sure we are all over many bands' MySpace pages, but look at the photo slide show on Rachel Unthank and the Winterset's page. Does that green room and all those posters in the background look familiar to any of you? Yep, it's our own little Cedar!
Yay! My new Alamaailman Vasarat album came in the mail this week. Review will be forthcoming,( after at least three listenings!) It jumped from #74 to # 11 on the Euro World Music charts released June 1st and just look at what they said.
Outrageously brilliant stuff from the trombone, cellos and drums of Alamaailman Vasarat. Like a Scandinavian Viking posse playing the music of Frank Zappa, it’s perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but who needs the faint-hearted in these times of global collapse, impending apocalypse and endemic stupidity? Adding to the sonic soup is ghostly theremin and the mighty tubax, evidently a contrabass sax built specially for the band. The album is inspired by the long-dead and almost entirely unknown Finnish explorer/botanist Huuro Kolkko. Essential.Did you get that "essential"?? Martin Gordon ( the guy who writes the descriptions for the world music chart) doesn't call anything essential. He must really like this disc. Can't wait! In the meantime, here's a photo of their mighty Tubax player Stakula on tour in Japan. And he does look a little like Totoro, doesn't he?