Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Global Roots Aftermath: A view from backstage

PRe-festival, I really only knew the music of one of these bands (Watcha Clan) and just went into the weekend with an open mind, simply trusting Mr. Main Figurehead to have brought in some cool music.

So scratching my slightly fuzzy head early Monday afternoon (slept until 11:00!! I never do that!) I would have to say he delivered.

A few random thoughts.

South Americans are way more huggy and kissy upon a one evening's aquaintance than Scandinavians. (Yeah, duh, I guess.) I love all the Cedar's Nordic pals, but last week(!) was the first time Olaf Johansen(from Vasen) hugged me and I've been bringing his beer and dinner to the green room for how many years? The wonderful crazy guys in both Forro in the Dark and Bajofondo were my new best friends Friday night...maybe they liked it when I leapt into the green room screaming and started jumping up and down yelling "Otra! Otra! Otra!" Hey, there was so much energy crackling in the air at the end of the Bajofondo set - I was just surfing on those waves.

As a person who loves to turn people on to tunes I like (Duh again, Mama E , say my regular blog readers) it warmed my heart when some of the Brazilian guys were like "Whoa! What is this music?" when I was cranking some Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou (Analog Africa stuff from 1970's Benin) during Friday's truncated, but fun afterparty. Seems like nobody could text well enough at that moment to get the band name into their I-phone...I wonder what Forro ITD's triangle player thought when that paper plate with the album name fell out of his pocket the next day?

Sitting on the couch singing along to the Beatles with the gals from Os Mutantes - slightly surreal! But as with almost all of the performers this weekend, they were so friendly and gracious and just damned fun.

Seeing Watcha Clan on the video monitor and on the internet for months then having them walk in the room and have a beer Saturday was also slightly surreal. For so long they just seemed like one of those cool Euro-bands who would never tour to our part of the world, then they're booked, then they're shaking my hand! Another group of friendly and gracious folk, not to mention hard-working as all get-out. KFAI dj Blanche called their show the Watcha Clan Weight-Loss Plan because of how hard they worked (and sweated) up there as well as how hard we dancers sweated off stage. Wish we could've hauled in a bigger crowd for them, the critical mass wasn't really there for the hand waving and jumping up and down that their set demanded.

After some of the wild green room nights, it was nice to see the Watcha Clan gang sitting family style on the floor around the coffee table, quietly enjoying some vegies and rice as they chilled after their big work-out. We talked some politics and they asserted that the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy is "a disaster" and lamented that Left in France has no leader. They sounded a little jealous of our new president...

I heard at least five languages in the green room over the weekend...which beats an average Saturday afternoon at my neighborhood park by at least two languages.

It was a bit of a blur, but we helped several musicians celebrate their birthdays; keyboard wild man Suprem Clem of Watcha Clan and one of those friendly Bajofondo guys. Or was it one of the guys from Os Mutantes?

Best use of the green room turntable award goes to BLK JKS. Setting up the space was a blast Thursday night because every time I walked through the door with an armload of gear they were cranking something different - from Zeppelin to Madonna. I won't give them the best "abuse" of a staff member award (because they were such great guys), but I'll just say several senior staffers were suffering the next moring after their night out drinking whiskey with BLK JKS!

In the "What Was that Thing?" category, here's the dope on Bajofondo's unusual violin. Did you check it out Friday? It had a skinny wooden fretboard with a metal horn attached for a louder and more directable sound than the wooden body of a traditional fiddle.

I asked fiddler Javier Casalla and told me it was called a "STROH" and indeed, there is information out there about these "cornet violins".

They were popular in prior to the 1920s simply because they are louder and the sound can be aimed by angling the horn.
As electric microphones became more common artists switched back to traditional vioins for recordings, but the Stroh remained popular with some performers of traditional Romanian music and with some Tango artists.

Now that it's Wednesday, I think I'm finally caught up on sleep. Post-festival is always a slightly surreal time; but it's never to early to start that wish list for next year's bands!

Hope to post a few photos in a day or two.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Global Roots withdrawl

Not surprising that Julie Doiron says it best.

I'm living a life of dreams
I'm living a life of dreams
With good people all around me
I'm living a life of dreams

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Film Returns to 416 Cedar Ave.

This coming Tuesday, September 29, The Cedar marks a return, of sorts, to the original design of our building as a movie theater. Opened in October, 1948, the Cedar Village Theatre as it was originally named went through a number of owners and identities through the years showing movies, culminating in the early 70's as a porn theater before closing. It opened again in 1975 as the Cedar Theatre and mostly served as an "art movie" house for another 10 years.

On Tuesday we officially add a new program to the Cedar arsenal called Cedar Cinema. And we will launch it with a bang, as the opening night for the Sound Unseen Festival.

This is the 10th year of Sound Unseen in the Twin Cities, a festival dedicated to "films-on-music." And since the whole idea behind Cedar Cinema is to view films about music in a setting with a sound system actually designed for music, we felt it would be a great partnership. What it's about, from their website: "documentaries, rare concert footage, short films, animation, music videos, special performances, gallery exhibitions and dozens of live music events highlighting both local and national acts separate this festival from the usual outdoor mega concerts, film festivals and tours. What began as an underground film festival with 500 attendees has grown to an anticipated array of music, film, new media and art."

We will be hosting four films during Sound Unseen 10. And on opening night, we will host the world premiere of a new documentary on R.E.M. called This Is Not A Show:
Drive - Live at the Olympia in Dublin

On Sound Unseen 10's closing day, Sunday October 4, we are back with three more films... Non-Stop: Gogol Bordello, a doc about the gypsy punk band and its charismatic front man, Eugene Hütz:

...followed by D-Tour, which follows Pat Spurgeon, the drummer for indie rock band Rogue Wave and how he was placed on dialysis for a failing kidney:

...and closing the festival will be this year's Sundance Festival award winner for Best Documentary, We Live In Public, which reveals the effect the web is having on our society, as seen through the eyes of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of”, artist, futurist and visionary Josh Harris:

Finally, looking ahead to October 18 (long after the festival is done), Sound Unseen will co-present a documentary about the extraordinary Senegalese singer Youssou NDour called I Bring What I Love:

Maybe you're starting to feel like me... just set up a cot for me in the green room!

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Still buzzing from last night's unbelievable Global Roots Festival show with Forro in the Dark and Bajofondo. It definitely goes on my All-Time Top Ten Cedar Shows list.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

3-Dot Lounge

Has anyone else noticed how prolific Robin Guthrie has become? I count at least nine CD/EP releases since 2007. Each and every one is chockablock with his trademark guitar shimmers. It's easy to imagine him constructing all these soundscapes in the hopes that Liz Fraser will drop by the studio and lay down some vocal tracks. Same old same why do I find it necessary to collect the whole lot of 'em? Priceless sound...

Gotta love the British music reviewers: when an artist is considered an acquired taste, you might read of their 'Marmite factor.' Presumably Aussie writers reference the 'Vegemite factor.' Have yet to see Yanks mention a 'Vitameatavegamin factor,' however. There for the taking...

The most recent time I saw the foregoing was in a review of Amy Allison's latest. It applies. Amy is Mose's daughter...she recorded with Parlor James and has since released five solo albums, 'Sheffield Streets' being her latest. If you are unfamiliar, a loose description might make her a sort of female Jimmy Dale Gilmore, although her voice is even more nasal, somehow. But it's adorable, too, and she's a fine songwriter. Have a go here...

What a wonderful country we live in. Fish are jumpin,' cotton's high, and things in general are going so well that Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift at a third-rate self-congratulatory video awards ceremony constitutes real drama. Heck, I wasn't even aware MTV played music videos...

Sooner or later Mark Lanegan is gonna be due a lifetime achievement award. Every project with his involvement sounds great, and the latest Soulsavers album is no exception. Soulsavers is a British electronica duo that somehow roped in Lanegan to handle most of the vocals. Such timbre and grit...he seems to make everything his own when he's a part of it. Not many have that kind of consistent staying power...

Speaking of lengthy careers with interesting arcs, I got thinking about Scott Walker and tried to come up with other long-time performers with roots in mainstream pop who took their art to the outer edges. Walker is about as extreme an example as there is, but David Sylvian and Mark Hollis could be considered footstep-followers. Who else?...

Harkening back a bit to the earlier Robin Guthrie thread...why do certain limited styles hold such long-term allure? Another that never loosens its grip on me is that of the Jesus and Mary Chain. I enjoy all their records, but I always keep an ear cocked for the 'Psychocandy' influence. A very good recently-discovered exponent is a Swedish band called The Legends. If you have a similar soft spot for JAMC, you owe it to yourself...

A final word on the Beatles remasters: worth it, but I still find the earlier stereo mixes distracting. Mono seems the better way to go, pre-Rubber Soul...

The foregoing two lines offer a segue opportunity: the album that was most influential in signposting my future music tastes was produced by George Martin, but it wasn't the Fabs. It was The Paul Winter Consort's 1972 album 'Icarus.' What a lineup: David Darling, Paul McCandless, Ralph Towner, and Colin Walcott. Love of this record naturally brought me to Oregon, but it did much more than that. It led me to to ECM, early worldbeat, fusion, and eventually Windham Hill and the ilk. That one album feels like a whole library. George Martin has been quoted as saying it was the finest album he made. Now there's an encomium for you...

Here we have a lovely rendition of the title track as performed in 2005 by Wolfgang Muthspiel, Slava Grigoryan & Ralph Towner:

If you love music that takes you on interesting global journeys, spend some time with Mamer. He is a dombra player from western China who sings and performs music that is a hybrid of regional folk and western country. His deep voice is easily accessible to rookie ears, and his sound is somehow familiar yet new. His album 'Eagle' was released on Realworld this past spring; you can have an introductory look at Mamer here...

Let us close with Terry Pratchett: "Of course, it is very important to be sober when you take an exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street-cleansing, fruit-picking, and subway-guitar-playing industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Global Roots instrument prep course

Global Roots Fest week, and it's time for more self-edification. Maybe you'll learn something, too.

So many names to learn, not to mention groovy instruments to check out. OK, I'm not even going to try with Bajofondo or Os Mutantes; I don't think I can get nine musicians plus support staff down in one evening, not matter how well my hostess mojo is working.

Quick and dirty then, here's a little bit of inside info on some of the cool instruments you'll see this weekend.

Martín Ferrés of Bajofondo plays the bandoneon, which is a member of the concertina family. Gotta love this quote about the instrument from the Totango site.
An inanimate object possessing a mysterious "personality" as it breathes in and out, it can sound like a choir of voices in a musician's hands. Arresting; powerful; very complex.

If you don't hear it in a certain way, you might not pay much attention. You might dismiss it as an accordian (it is much richer in sound and capability). You might even wonder why tango people like it - it's so ... different.
You know, it sure is awful pretty.
And what are those stringed instruments Huun Hur Tu plays anyway? Well, the one with two strings and the carved horsehead above the tuning pegs is an igil. It is bowed somewhat like a cello and is also known as the horsehead fiddle.

Bet you didn't know that 2009 has been declared the year of the igil in Tuva.

OK, so what's a doshpuluur? That's the more lute-like one that's plucked or strummed. Think of it a bit like a fretless banjo with two or three metal strings.

Check out the double-necked one! What's next, the flying V doshpuluur?

* All of these great photos of Tuvan instruments are swiped from the website of the band Alash, and include members of that band, not Huun Hur Tu.

The Pifano is a high pitched wooden flute from the Northeast of Brazil. You'll see Forro in the Dark play this one, and think of it like a small recorder.

Among the percussion FINTD will bring is the Zabumba drum has
both snare and bass pitches and is played standing up with both hands.

The Timbau is a lightweight drum made for playing while marching that looks a bit like this.

Neither BLK JKS nor OS Mutantes play too many instruments beyond the usual guitar/bass/drums, but WHOA! the things they do with those instruments! Hard to say at this point point which band is going to get further out there this weekend. All I can say is, lucky us.

I've been following Watcha Clan's touring progress across the Midwest via their MySpace blog. These guys and gal love to put up photos of every place they go, be it the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or a funky billboard in Chicago. Their comments in not-quite-textbook English keep it positive and have something good to say about every venue, every crowd. I am really looking forward to seeing Sister Ka, Suprem Clem, Matt and Nassim crank it up LIVE - and am of course hoping the Cedar green room makes that famous blog!

Like this tray of food did. I think those are really french fries, aren't they?
Somebody know what is the name of this meal?
"WATCHA CLAN'S SUSHI". The chief made it just for us!! (we 've ever been at this place in July and he remembers he made a present)

See you on the dance floor!

Friday, September 18, 2009


My request for fall jams was met with a very enthusiastic response.
In one day I received two CDs from a DJ friend that were filled with music specifically selected for running, and one very surprising CD (in the mail!) from a fellow blogger. Ms. Fever, someone must have told you how much I like getting mail.

But, I am ashamed to say that I have not given any of them enough attention. The running music has gotten slightly more as I have more and more days when that is the only time I listen to music.

Yes, really.

If I am not in the office, and ride my bike (wearing headphones while biking is DANGEROUS. DON'T DO IT.) between destinations I often go for significant periods of time without hearing any music. Or at least music I would like to hear. I'm not going to count anything pumped into a grocery store, elevator, etc.

My fondness of music also prevents me from listening as much as I would like. Let me explain.

While Ms. Fever mentioned how music can hang in the background, I have a hard time letting it stay there. I've never been someone who can listen to music while reading. I end up singing along, either out loud or just in my head, and lose track of what I'm reading. This is less true for writing, but sometimes the case. One morning last week I opened a Word document I had been working on the night before to find that the last two lines were unrelated to the bulk of the text, and looked suspiciously like song lyrics.

I end up having to schedule listening time into my day, and unfortunately it is not top priority. As anyone who has seen my calendar can attest there's not a lot of blank space. If listening is part of my job/volunteer work it gets bumped up a little. One thing that I have gotten to hear, for example, is the new Forro In The Dark record, Light A Candle. Initially, I was disappointed, but after a few listens through, it has grown on me enormously. Lucky for me, FITD will be gracing us with their presence at the Global Roots Festival that starts next week. NEXT WEEK. Holy cow. I can hardly believe it. Because the first show I ever worked as a House Manager was during the Nordic Roots festival, it never feels like the season has really started until the festival is underway.

For a full rundown of the festival, head over here. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Random Regime

Recent exceptions noted (e.g. Woodstock and Beatles nostalgia wallowings), the most common subjects in non-review music writing these days have been the death of the CD and the new listening paradigm.

Mr. Fig's most recent posting got me thinking along those lines, so I scribbled down a few opinions that I sincerely hope will find a way of tying themselves together and forming an overall subject for this meander:

1) Random access has always been the digital era's biggest boon. I loved the CD changers when they first emerged: 6 discs, then 18, 50, 100...I once owned a carousel that held 300. Load the discs, hit 'random,' and let it go. The only downsides: the time between tracks while the mechanism was swapping discs, and thinking of all my other discs that weren't in the that would be excluded during this go-round.

2) The single song is the more enduring musical artform. Yes, there are full albums that are of and for the ages in ways that huge numbers of individual (and disposable) songs are not. But most of the albums we revere as such were not artistic concepts, but series of tracks that were sequenced for flow after recording. Some might say there was tyranny in unalterable track sequencing; I prefer to appreciate our new freedom to alter running orders or not to.

3) Multi-tasking while listening has generally been the rule rather than the exception for decades. This reality supports my contention that music is the greatest value in entertainment. Books and movies require our undivided attention and are (usually) consumed only once. Music invites (and sometimes requires) multiple listenings, which can have different effects because of the moods and activities we bring to the environment. We experience events as we listen to music, thereby bonding the two and scoring our soundtracks.

4) Music recedes into the background only if we let it. We all love comfort music, the pieces which trigger familiar and desired responses. Given our daily duties, it's all too easy to shrink our music experience to the known and the comforting. In order to keep things fresh, a little discipline might be called for: we must seek out the new, and sprinkle some of it into the day-to-day listening experience. Actually, Pandora is great for that, but we can do it ourselves by unearthing some of the under-utilized music in our collections and working it into the mix.

5) In the end, there is no 'correct' way to listen to music (analog vs. digital, single vs. album, sequential vs. random, familiar vs. unfamiliar, attentive vs. distracted). The important thing is to simply do it, one way or the other.

The foregoing beliefs inform my way of listening, which is essentially neuroses-driven. Call it a feature or a bug; the following is a part of my operating system software. File under TMI:

Every month, I create a large playlist. It is comprised in equal measure of recent material and randomly-chosen library tracks. I add a sprinkling of sure-fire comfort music, blend it all together, and hit 'random.' The key is to never know what is coming next. Anything is possible. I do not play to mood (with one big exception: I favor Steve Roach when I write), and I do not play albums from front-to-back (except when first auditioning them).

This randomness regime works for me because it addresses a few peculiarities:

I grow impatient when staying too long within a single genre or artist's work.
I can be haunted by the knowledge that there is music in my collection sitting long-dormant due to habit. Back in the day, I purchased a lot of albums that I eventually dispensed with because of lack of familiarity. What did I miss?
I want to be surprised. This drill assumes I will be multi-tasking: which music pulls me out of my current chore and makes me pay attention? This is my ticket to spontantenous transporting, anytime.

Home-made serendipity. That, and farrrrm living, is the life for me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lots of news and it's not about the damn Beatles

Sometimes don't you just feel magic? I mean really. I seem to be having a string of "just write a wonder-what-ever-happened-to "blogs and the next thing you know the artist in question reemerges. Last fall I reintroduced the younger generation to Cornershop; they came back with their first disc in ages this summer. I wondered what happened to Vilddas last month and they're in the recording studio and putting new tracks on their MySpace. Earlier this summer I wrote a post fantasizing about the ultimate brass band festival and wondered what was up with Bucharest's Mahala Rai Banda. Hey, guess what? First new disc in about five years due out next month. So I'll take credit for that too.

OK, not really, but listen up because these guys have a little different offering than the standard old school Balkan brass band. (not that there's anything wrong with that, either. ) The guys in the "Noble Band from the Ghetto" (a rough translation of their name) have a special synergy that erupts from the interaction of older generation traditional horn players and techno savvy hip youngsters on clarinet, fiddle and vocals. The two distinct kinds of rockin' energy propel each other to the next level. Their self titled debut from 2004 was a great party disc and the track "l'est Sexy" made into onto every mixtape I did for the next three years. So I'm super pyched to check out their new one Ghetto Blasters, the minute it drops! (Do I even have to put in the obligatory Mama E Dub whine about when do we get it over here in the U.S....) Oh yeah, and there's a free download of stuff from the new disc right here.

* * * * * * *

Whoo hoo! New stuff from mighty Central-Euro mixmaster Shantel (aka the Bucovina Club guy.) Planet Paprika comes fully equipped with stories of mean border guards who don't like that disko boy/brass band combo. Check the samples in the link above for a nice slinky version of "Usti Usti Baba!" Glad he got rid of the curly comb-over, too. By the way, Mr. Hantel produced the first Mahala Rai Banda disc and did the kick-ass remix of "l'est Sexy" to which I referred a moment ago.

* * * * * * *

Balkan Beat Box
has a little promo film about the making of their new disk. The album's due next January; the film's on YouTube now. A bunch of the sessions were in Belgrad. Cool. I'm pretty sure I see Uri Brauner Kinrot and his blue Stratocaster there at those sessions. Even cooler! (Kinrot tours with BBB sometimes and plays on some of their best tunes, and his complex surfy wanking takes everything to the next level. See the huge post I wrote last spring about Kinrot's band Boom Pam if you don't believe me! (Don't forget, it has that link at the end to the classic vid Hashish: Drug of a Nation )

Bet you didn't know Tomer Yusef is Romanian. Uhhh, not! Hey, me too, Tomer. I hope BBB will be the soundtrack for peace in the Middle East, too. So blessed Eid and happy Rosh Hashanah to all your fans this weekend!

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They rarely leave Ireland, but Kila is probably still my favorite group from that magic isle. The O' Snodaigh brothers and pals enlisted help from Irish critic Colm O Siochan to pick out 25 tunes from their back catalogue for a double sized best-of disc. They're calling it Rogha, Irish for "choice."
Subtle political commentary in a very Catholic nation, anyone?

Kila is and has been for over a decade the only Irish band from whom I will always pick up every new release...and actually pay for it! Famous for their over-the-top stage events with crazy costumes and dancers, their innovative arrangements of percussion with trad Irish instrumentation (way before and WAY better than AfroCelt Sound System, thanks), and their repeated cancellations of U.S. tours in their glory years early in this decade following a big showing at WOMEX in '97, Kila remains one of the more idiosyncratic bands out there. Longtime Cedar artistic director Bill K. used to love to repeat the story of how Kila was scheduled to play the Guiness Fleah in the late '90's in a slot between Richard Thompson and Van in who would even think of even giving up their seat to go grab a pint...and they blew it off!

So they never did play the Cedar back in the day when they actually used to leave Ireland. I did roadtrip to the Milwaukee Irish Festival in 2002 to see them. Dee wasn't along for the trip, so they went fiddle-less, but one of their three sets I caught that weekend was over the top amazing. I remember having to kick a little chatty-kathy ass when the idiots in front of me wouldn't shut up. Something like "I didn't drive 300 miles to listen to you fools, so shut up or leave!" and turned around to high fives from fellow fans. Kila-heads knew what a rare treat that show was.

This could and should be subject for a new post, but don't mix Kila from Ireland up with Kiila from Finland. Kiila's disc Tuota Tuota was handed to me by Operations Manger Dave P. last week and I'm really enjoying with swim through its dense warm waves.

Both very cool bands with great creative arrangements, but not the same at all!

OK, enough of all this chattering. The Chicha Libre show was lots of fun Saturday night. Loved the electronic accordion covering all those Farfisa solos! The COWBELL wasn't bad either.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sean Taylor

Sorry for jumping the queue, but I felt compelled.

In my latest round of needle-drops, one stood out: Sean Taylor. He is a Londoner who operates in the folk-blues realm. I just spent some time with his second album, 'Angels,' and was riveted. ('Calcutta Grove,' pictured, is his third.)

In his own words: 'I’ve been compared to John Martyn, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.'

Well, a Dylan comparison is a curse, and a Waits one a stretch, but John Martyn? A darned fine reference point. Sean Taylor seems like an artist that Joe Boyd would have done wonders with, or that Ryko would have snapped up back when that label meant something. He would have looked good on the roster alongside Kelly Joe Phelps.

Take a minute and go to Sean's website. It will be worth your while.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Real Sea Change

As fellow poster Veronica Fever pointed out, the Beatles remasters have spawned a good amount of discussion about the demise of the CD format, quite possibly making this release and its campaign a marker for the end of the CD era. But what's happened to recorded music is so much more than just a format change. With tongue firmly implanted in cheek (which is quite possibly its permanent location in Veronica's oral cavity), she describes the process of listening to the new remasters as such:
There I was, loading an actual compact disc into a player and then, after a bit of furniture-to-speakers alignment, pressing 'play.' Whereupon tracks proceeded sequentially and I paid real attention. It was all quite novel.

Chuckle as we may, Veronica has actually hit upon the more dramatic change in music consumption over the past few years with that very observation. This morning I went through the same exercise in order to listen to a few of these new Beatles discs, and was similarly struck by how truly rare it was for me to go through such exacting, solitary measures, and give recorded music listening such focused, undivided attention.

Ultimately, this has lead me to conclude that buying this new set of Beatles CDs when I already owned the previous generation was actually a waste of money. After A/B'ing these new CDs against my mp3 versions of the old CDs, I can say, yes, there is greater definition between the instruments, and yes, often the instruments and vocals are more life-like. But to be honest, it's really not a dramatic difference, and more to the point, I'm only going to be hearing that difference when I'm completely focused, listening to the music on the best system in my living room with no other distractions. Frankly, that just doesn't happen much anymore.

Portable mp3 devices such as iPods have made music consumption not just fully mobile, but they have also contextualized music as just another in a wide range of competition for time and attention, often from things on the very same portable device. Perhaps as a direct result, these days when I've got music on in the living room (or anywhere in the house), I'm almost always multi-tasking, and rarely giving the music my complete and undivided attention. For most of us, the days of sitting in a dark living room listening intently to music with no computer, cell phone, TV, newspaper, magazine, book, etc. are largely past. It does still happen for me, but it's rare.

Yes, the CD format is very much an endangered species. So is the "long form" album format, and maybe, now, the endless "re-mastering" of albums folks have already bought 3 or more times over.

(Interestingly, this may be another way that live music has role-reversed with recorded music... it seems more likely now that a person would invest an hour of their full focused attention listening to music, cut off from all other stimuli, at a concert in a quiet venue such as The Cedar, than they ever would by listening to a recording in their living room. For rock and pop music, the live concert used to be the more social experience of the two, but I can't say, for example, I've ever seen either of my teenage children make it through listening to even 30 minutes of music listening at home without texting or taking a phone call).

And so... while I'd love to go into the finer points of the differences between "Taxman" on the new re-mastered Revolver CD against the old mp3 on my iPod, I'm afraid I just blogged through it...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

November 25, 1968

Gotta take a mulligan on this one. No excuses. I had a whole 'nother subject in mind for after I hurtled through the obligatory Beatles bit. Instead, just look at this mess. And no, fourteen straight mulligans do not preclude the possibility of an eventual well-struck ball.

Yep, lots of Fab Four ink lately. The two primary angles seemed to be 1) commentary on the sonic upgrades and 2) the passing of the CD era. Some of the articles had a valedictory quality. Here is a good example.

Beatles Day at Chez Fever was unusual. There I was, loading an actual compact disc into a player and then, after a bit of furniture-to-speakers alignment, pressing 'play.' Whereupon tracks proceeded sequentially and I paid real attention. It was all quite novel.

The kickoff choice was the White Album. I'll whittle the observations down to one: Ringo is the big winner in the remastering derby. His drums sound like drums, and we are reminded that he was pretty good at bashing on 'em.

The White Album had its US release on November 25, 1968. That was a red-letter day in this reporter's life. Two distinct memories:

The first is 4th-period freshman Spanish class. The teacher was of a stereotype: in her late 20s, she wore short skirts and taught while perched on top of her desk. I was not aware such a category of teacher existed outside our school until I was introduced to Miss Dolores Panatella in the National Lampoon 1964 High School Yearbook Parody.

That day, two seniors (smart guys who were taking the class as an elective) spent their lunch hour at the K-Mart across the field from our high school, and returned armed with the brand-new White Album. At the time I did not own a current-release pop album (save for a two-year-old Paul Revere & the Raiders record and a whole lot of Herb Alpert) and didn't even like The Beatles all that much.

The world changed that Monday afternoon. Our instructor cut short her normal transmission, put Side 1 on the classroom record player, and played it straight through. As class ended she flipped the record over to Side 4, and as we filed out I was left with the indelible memory of Miss Suzanne Read dancing alone to 'Revolution 1.'

The sight so moved me that by the end of the day I had The White Album in my possession. Which led to memory two:

At the time, there was no device in our house which could both play and amplify stereo records. I had a kiddie portable on which to play my growing collection of 45s (for instance, I had 'Hey Jude' and couldn't fathom why it hadn't been included on the album), but standard (mono) needles were death on delicate stereo grooves, so that was a no-go. In the living room was an old tube console which, in its prime, had put plenty of miles on show soundtracks and Jackie Gleason LPs, but was then kaput with a blown amplifier.

So, there was only one thing for it: I put disc one of the White Album on the console's changer and, after the robotic mechanisms had done their respective duties, let it play without amplification. I put my right ear up as close as I could to where the stylus met the groove, and I imagined...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crooked Pirates vs. Tender Heathens

Well, here we are at my day job, blasting the remastered Revolver while we load trucks. Was the release yesterday? How is it that teenaged Russian pirates already have the whole works online, and my co worker got the link from somebody who got the link from somebody who... Far be it for me to comment here on the morality of online music piracy... it is the Beatles, after all. Anyway, "Tomorrow Never Knows" sounds pretty damn good.

I give a pretty damn good as well to the Beatles media campaign. Was the release of Rock Band- Beatles the above-the-fold headline on every major newspaper last Thursday? Every one that I saw. Main Figurehead called that one.
* * * * * * *

Main Fig. calls the Crooked show tonight right on, too. It's not bluegrass, or new grass or old time. It's damn fine ensemble playing by young players not afraid of anything. Too bad they won't have on their Wizard of Oz costumes this time. ( as they did at the Cedar on Halloween 2008) I never did get a photo of that for the blog. Anybody got one you could email us? It was a classic moment. As their website notes:
We'll start things off in Minneapolis, MN at the Cedar Cultural Center on Wednesday, September 9th. The Cedar is one of our favorite venues and we're so excited to be back. Last fall we had a very memorable gig there on Halloween where we dressed up as characters from the Wizard of Oz. Probably no costumes this time, but the show is sure to be great.
Shucks. "One of our favorite venues." Bet you say that to all the concert halls.

* * * * * * *

The Unthank sisters are letting fans know their new disc, Here's the Tender Coming, is available in England as off September 14. Preliminary review are positive, as in ""Absolutely exquisite. A real work of art. I will be playing it at least forever." according to British music journalis Paul Morley. Racheal Unthank herself calls the album "a warmer shade of sad." (Compared to 2007's The Bairns ..)

Uncut magazine says "There is a wintry elegance to much of Tender . It's an often exquisite mixture of light and dark, instinct and artistry that honours both the power of old songs and the stoicism of the lives that shaped them. Rarely has the deep past sounded so stirring, or so modern. " (For a link to a PDF of the complete review, check out the Unthanks website, above.

The Unthanks let some boys in this time, but the girls still wear the frocks in the band.

All I really want to know is, when do we get it in the U.S.??? (Isn't that the eternal Mama E Dub question?)

* * * * * * *

Finally, just because there is something twisted in me that loves to juxtaposition quiet eerie English folk with loud rocking Pagan metal, I've got the news that my Swiss faves Eluveitie are headlining the Heathenfest U.S. tour this fall and will be stopping at Station 4 in St. Paul on November 9. Hmm, that's a Monday night.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Joy of Crooked Still

If you have not experienced Crooked Still live, this coming Wednesday's show at The Cedar should not be missed. Forget about whatever preconceptions you might have about "bluegrass" music and prepare to be wowed.

It would probably be enough that these are four tremendous players and an extraordinary singer. But sometimes there's just an alchemy with ensemble playing, and this band has that in spades. And that singer is really more than extraordinary... Aoife O'Donovan has one of those voices that soothes like a magic balm. I'm a sucker for lovely, clear-toned female voices fronting high-octane playing, especially when it is acoustic instruments that seem to generate their own electricity. That's what Crooked Still does.

My first encounter with them was in 2006 at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, when they were asked at the last minute to fill-in for a "tweener" performer that had canceled. "Tweeners" are 2-3 song sets by a smaller, acoustic act on the side of the stage while the mainstage is being changed for the next act. Their short set won over the crowd so much that within the next hour all 250 CDs they had brought to the festival were sold!

* * *

Due to a denial of their visas, the Ethiopian singer Minyeshu and her band have had to cancel their U.S. tour, and thus their scheduled 9/26 appearance at the Global Roots Festival, where they were going to open for the legendary Os Mutantes. It may be too late to find a suitable replacement, so we are preparing a 30-minute music video presentation featuring other international performers scheduled for The Cedar's new season. More about the absurd visa process in a future blog...

* * *

Finally, my YouTube moment of the week. For those of us that lived through MTV in the 80's and the rise of the over-produced over-blown rock video, there is this little piece of genius (stick with it, it just keeps getting better):

Friday, September 4, 2009

Autolux review

Went over to 7th Street last night to catch the infamous Autolux. The band has one album that was released 5 years ago, and a new one, Transit Transit, due out in 2010. I needed to see the band after a coworker played "Audience No. 2" in the office one afternoon. Another selling point: Carla who plays drums for Autolux is the drummer on PJ Harvey and John Parish's album, A Woman A Man Walked By. Other than that, I really didn't know anything about them.

They were a band of few words, but when they spoke they were very gracious and thanked the crowd repeatedly. Their lo-fi shoegaze sound was soothing, but the song structure and arrangements were unusual enough that you couldn't get too comfortable. I heard a number of comparisons drawn to the new Portishead album, Third. Spacey, haunting, a little bit disconcerting, but entirely beautiful.

After the show, I ran into a friend who clearly couldn't control his glee.
"That was the best show I have seen in a LONG TIME," he said.

I guess I've got a start on collecting fall jams.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dear readers,

I need to apoligize.  There is not really a post from me this week.  I made it happen every week for over a year, but alas, this week I logged hundreds of miles of deliveries at my day job, thus being away from my desk at critical times like break or lunch, when I usually blog and surf.  No internet at the farm plus a full-up family time  schedule - yes, we're taking the boy child to the Fair tomorow -and the net result is no blog.

I did have this query, though, as a result of long hours spend piloting a big diesel rig all over the place. Does the metro area have a new techno station?  Somehow I logged onto some great. LONG techno jams way down at the low end of FM dial the other day in the truck and I could not catch what station it was.  KMOJ with a techno show?  I don't think so, but could not find any info about it anywhere online, or find it again.  Perhaps a space/time continuum blip?

I have caught and enjoyed the "Do You Party" show on Radio K on Thursday evenings, but this seemed like an entire station of techno.  A cool idea if it really exists.

Whoo hoo. Next week is back to back to back to back at the Cedar.  Crooked Still>>>17 Hippies>>>Ralph Stanley>>>Chicha Libra.  Almost to good to be real!

Hey, and it's a BBQ night for Ralph Stanley fans.  If you like the pulled pork sandwiches we had a the Bloodshot Records party in August, line up for more of the same next Friday.  But they won't be free this time.

Gin Goggles

The other day, my Facebook friend Freddi filed this status update: 'Why bother with new music when untouched classics are everywhere?'

The line stuck in the ol' craw, so much so that I was compelled to visit my 'friend' Reggie, who would be dead to me were it not for his fab dirty Sapphire martinis. We talked:

Reggie: I agree with Freddi. There's nothing new under the sun anyway. Everything these days is pastiche.

Veronica: What's wrong with pastiche? We can draw from 100 years of American music since Jelly Roll Morton, as well as countless forms of indigenous and popular musics worldwide. Add modern technology to the mix and the possibilities are endless.

Reg: Yeah, but where's the magic? What are the unexplored frontiers? It's hard to capture imaginations by reigniting the space race just to revisit the moon.

Vee: So you're happy with simply watching footage of the original landing over and over? And why must all leaps be quantum? I find it amazing that, for all that's gone before, imaginative musicians can still string notes and words together in ways we have not yet heard.

R: What's this really about, V? Worried that if you stop keeping up you'll die?

V: Hmmm. I'll have to drink about that.

R: Really, what of interest has happened musically since 'Raw Power?'

V: Are you serious? How about new wave...

R: An outgrowth of punk, itself a reversion to a simpler rock form as a reaction to bloated prog and stadium bands.

V: Hip-hop...

R: Talk about pastiche. Like you'd understand anything about it, white girl.

V: Grunge and Britpop...

R: You're not even trying.

V: Worldbeat...

R: An overused placeholder term, but okay, I'll give you that one. But c'mon: where is the new Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart? The Coltrane, Mingus, or Davis? Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, or John Lee Hooker? Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, or George Jones? Chuck Berry, Beatles, or Jimi Hendrix?

V: Well, if we're back to your original assertion that there's nothing new under the sun, I'll say this:

Their inventive spirits live on in the likes of Michael Tilson Thomas and Mason Bates, in Nik Bartsch and Mulatu Astatke, in Tinariwen and Joe Louis Walker, in Paul Burch and Dallas Wayne, and in the guitars, laptops, and imaginations of kids we haven't even met yet.

R: Sounds like the toonies are weaving their spell again. But why the olive juice, Vee? You might as well be swigging Gordon's.

V: Well, before I start slurring and you start looking good to me, let me say this: the only thing I miss these days is the globally-shared musical experience. We'll never again see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan or hear a radio hit that spans four different genres at once. Tastes and the music serving them have split into fractions.

R: But that's the beauty part, Veronica. We have become sophisticated free-form DJ's. And the sheer volume of musical history, along with what is being added to it every Tuesday, is liberating. We need no longer be the first kids on the block; that anachronistic challenge can be left to the echo chambers of Stereogum and Pitchfork.

Every one of us is a micro-culture unto ourself.

V: Y'know, Reg, I reckon if I were to respond to Freddi's original post, I'd say this: Why not both? It's new if you've never heard it before.

Now fix me another and let me loosen your old-school tie.