Saturday, October 31, 2009

To Geem or Not To Geem

Staying on topic here, and the subject of collectors. I think there must be a collectors' gene, and I feel fortunate that I was spared (although I'd consider trading it for the one that predisposed me to eczema and migraines). Back in those old record company days, some of us at Rykodisc made up a word for compulsive collectors- "geemers," and a corresponding verb, "to geem." Back then one of our public slogans was "large enough to matter, small enough to care." Internally this was twisted to "large enough to spiff, small enough to geem."

Of course, not only did geemers make up a sizable number of our staff, they were also quite a critical consumer base for us. I have to acknowledge that I'm sure that a portion of my IRA can be attributed to geemers, and their willingness to shell out big bucks for things like the Yoko Ono limited edition boxed set in an Anvil case with a glass key and signed certificate from Ms. Ono herself. That's right, a six-disc boxed set collection of Yoko Ono's complete solo work from 1968 to 1985 housed in a white Anvil case. As though the $100+ retail boxed set by itself was not enough. Apparently it wasn't, because we sold all 500 of the special editions quite rapidly, as I recall.

So this fascination with 78's, Victrolas, rare vinyl LPs and singles? It's the same as stamp collecting to me. Sure, I'm often impressed by demonstrations of archaic technology in its effectiveness for reproducing sound. But if there's a rare Charlie Patton recording out there that's worth hearing, I'm perfectly happy to wait until it's available to download from iTunes for 99 cents. If it's the music he cared about, think about how much $8,000 could have bought that dude who spent it on the rare Charlie Patton 78. This isn't really a music discussion, is it?

* * * *

We are now in the throws of an unprecedented 20 events in 20 days at The Cedar. We've already had one sold-out show, our co-present of múm at Walker Art Center last Thursday. And I'm really looking forward to tonight's sold-out double-bill of Chris Smither and Loudon Wainwright III. We've already got another sell-out coming, another double-bill with The Mountain Goats and Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett) on February 7. And just a few tickets remain for the much-anticipated Dirty Projectors show on 11/11.

But here's one I don't want to slip through the cracks for y'all... a singer/songwriter I saw this past summer at the Winnipeg Folk Festival that blew me away with his lyrics and delivery, Joe Pug.

So I leave you with this... no collectable, just a simple video from YouTube that I suspect could bring you as much if not more happiness than an $8,000 Charlie Patton 78:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Echo Chamber

Great post from M.E. Dub the other day. If you haven't read it, have a go and then peruse this July New York Times article about 78s collectors.

The picture here is what my 1923 Victrola VV-105 would look like with a tassel and a much better finish. As for the player's software...there but for the grace of the angels go I. The idea of chasing down and procuring desirable 78 titles and labels is so seductive, and the reality so expensive. I am quite happy employing my O/C gene with the procurement and cataloging of music I discover and enjoy. If I dived into the 78s and cylinders hobby my familiarity with the sun would rival that of a St. Paul resident in February.

Oh, and here's a fun little bar-bet tidbit: the number of grooves on one side of a 78 and an LP is exactly the same.


More echo-chamber stuff: Mr. Fig's point about live music being the last commonly-found concentrated listening experience is right on the money. While I contend that as much (or more) good new music can be found now as ever before, extended situating between the speakers and zeroing in to the exclusion of all other external stimuli seems an ever-more bygone experience. And this is not merely a lament about the wacky ambiences bedeveling the upper kids have so many more distractions these days too. Not the least of which is constantly moving on to the next torrent before absorbing the last one.

Give me good acoustics, sound system, and seating, and I can be rapt. Last night for instance: Mondavi Center, Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, and a first half that included a Mozart overture and a Haydn Cello Concerto. Bliss. OK, so I nodded off a bit during the Schubert 9th, but come ON! The thing sprawls and meanders.

One suggestion for all live venues: in addition to the usual admonitions about cell phones, illicit recording, and brown acid, stage announcements could be amended to include a request that 'all overpowering perfumes and after-shaves must be neutralized at this time.' Last night's heady mix was omnipresent. Hardly anyone noticed my Vitalis.


If I could be granted one wish in this blogging enterprise, it would be to offer up a single playlist of, say, a half-dozen songs and have them all be playable on a single site. I wanted to do this with Rhapsody (to which I am subscribed), but in order to hear 'em you gotta sign up for the 14-day free trial. I love the service, but I'm no shill.

But I like the idea of an occasional 'Thursday Random 6-Pak' thing, so let's do it the old-fashioned way: with MySpace and YouTube. The only common factor with all six is that I like each of 'em a lot. Please keep in mind that your host is a deep-middle-aged 3-minute-pop-tune-lover. I hope at least one of these brings you the inspiration to dig deeper...

Let's start with Robert Gomez. His indie pop is all understated charm and would appeal to Musee Mecanique fans. When you get to his MySpace page, try 'Hunting Song.'

Wovenhand, anyone? This has been David Eugene Edwards's project since 16 Horsepower disbanded. Edwards is at once scary and entrancing. Try 'Winter Shaker' to start.

And...oh, let's see: how 'bout some ska? Here is Andy & Joey, doing the 1966 Studio One original of 'You're Wondering Now,' since covered by The Specials and Amy Winehouse.

Spinnerette: This is a Queens of the Stone Age-related group fronted by Brody Daille, formerly of The Distillers. This is 'Impaler' on YouTube, with only the album's cover art as a visual.

Time for another journey with Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Here is Be Bop Deluxe from 1976, with 'Crying to the Sky,' as posted on YouTube, also without motion visuals.

Finally, Celestial. They are a Swedish jangle-pop outfit. Just good, clean, throwaway fun. Try 'Dream On.'

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spinning Fast in the Slow Lane

Maybe it was the lure of the old gear, when I heard there were a bunch of ancient turntables set up. Certainly it was the fact that I had not yet missed the set of vintage Turkish music. It probably didn't hurt that I knew a couple of the djs. Well, I just thank the powers that be for whatever serendipitous combination of factors dragged me over to North East Mpls in the wee hours Saturday night to the First Annual 78 RPM Summit.

Featuring "six nonstop hours" of 78s played by "eight different shellac jockeys" the Summit got together people who like old records and old gear. The man behind the Summit is DJ Pepper Patriot. Hopefully we'll have an interview with him in an upcoming blog. The guys behind the gear are the Vintage Music Company team. The djs that I saw were all very much in love with the old time gear.

I must confess I just like antiques. I was raised in the '70s by people who were constantly refinishing old furniture, so I headed right over to the wax cylinder player. ( Another confession, I also really wanted to check out the cylinder player because on the liner notes for Karelia Visa, Hedningarna talked about learning old tunes from wax cylinder recordings.)

Mike from Vintage Music Company in south Minneapolis graciously answered all my questions about the 1904 Edison cylinder player they'd brought over for the event. The guy is the mother load of information about old turntables and music systems and really explains them well. I must confess, I have often walked by the Vintage Music Company shop (it's right there in my neighborhood) and imagined it being run by some seventy year old guy with Einstein hair in a ratty cardigan. Well, Mike is slender 30-something with hipster glasses and short dark hair, so he is certainly not that guy. Maybe the owner is? I never met him...anyway, I hope to do a future post on Vintage Music Company and walk over there and take a few photos. Thousands and thousands of 78s in stock?! One of the "shellac jockeys" Saturday says the Vintage guys are so good with their inventory of disc that they can pretty much just point you to the right section of the right shelf.

KFAI's Greg Carr ("Dig Up the Roots") was pretty much jumping up and down as he showed me his double turntable 78 rig from about 1950. It's even portable (sort of - like a big suitcase), but the best part was the typewritten note from the manufacturer taped inside the cover with yellowing cellophane tape. The unit has three tone arms and with a bit of knob twisting; one can do some primitive mixing on it.

Drew Miller (long ago KFAI alum, now usually thought of in conjunction with his bands Boiled in Lead and Felonious Bosch) whooped and hollered as he put on a 78 of "Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women," then got even more excited as he explained the Pathe' set up there. More on the Pathe' label later.

Between Drew and Mike, I think I got the 78 thing down. It's wider grooves, thus not as many of them on a disc equals one tune per. OK. While the old discs did have a certain percentage of shellac in them, they were mostly a thermoplastic blended with lots of of other ingredients in formulas that were closely guarded, according to the very informational page at the Wolverine Antique Music Society. You had to replace the needle after every play because they were very soft steel and the discs were fairly hard plastic. One or the other had to take the wear, and needles were a lot cheaper, was how Mike explained it to me. He also talked about all the different needles available, from novelty ones made of natural materials to specialized weights that gave you the ability to vary the sound in a primitive way, sort of an eq effect.

The needle moves back and forth within the groove on most 78s, just like it does on 33 lps and 45 singles. The unique thing about the Pathe' discs mentioned earlier is that the needle moves up and down in the groove on their discs. Obviously, you can only play Pathe' discs on a Pathe' player. Perhaps more uniquely, many of their early discs started playing at the center hole and went toward the outside. The Pathe's also used a different type of needle, sapphire tipped, (I think) which could be reused hundreds of times.

I love this kind of nerdy trivia stuff. I love that people came through all evening and were singing along to the wax cylinder recording at 12:30 in the morning. (And they all stopped talking so we could hear the thing!) I think it's totally cool that people are into 78 RPMs all over the internet and all over the world.

It's the anti-MP3.

The anti-instant download.

It's a bit like the Slow Food Movement, only at 78 RPM, everything's spinning faster.

* * * * * * *

I would urge anyone who missed it to check out the link to the New York Times article on Pandora's Music Genome Project in Veronica Fever's post last week. An interesting discussion of that, as well as one of the lyrics vs. music debate made for a great post. Thanks, Fever!

Of course I come down on the side of the music. As I once explained to a younger co-worker who was trying to sell me on some really great emotional lyrics, "I could give a #%&* about some youngster singing about his relationship. Give a grizzled 65 year old who's being playing his instrument since he was twelve any day!"

And on the Pandora thing, while I ordinarily would cheer anything that gave employment to a roomful of musicologists, I do find the system a little creepy.

* * * * * * *

I'm very psyched for Warsaw Village Band Thursday night at the Cedar. Hope I'm not the only one who finds the combination of dark fiddles and close vocal harmonies alluring. Also hope I remember how to say "Dobry wieczor, panstwu!" (good evening, ladies and gentlemen)

They rocked Glastonbury this summer, they made the cover of the August/September issue of Folk Roots and they're opening their first North American tour in four years at our place tomorrow. (OK, I thought my son was a little bitty kid the first time we saw them together...sheesh, four years...)

Anyway, the band says "After almost 4 years of silence at last we will back to Unites States and Canada! Hope that You will support WVB during the tour (Maja and Wojtek will have to leave Lena for so long for this first time...) and this 8 gigs will be great adventure for all of us! Come people come and be a part of this whole!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Music Therapy

Here in Minnesota, this was the week that many of us dusted off the light therapy boxes, made adjustments to our anti-depressants, and/or started doing whatever we feel we need to do to ward off the onset of S.A.D. It was cold, rainy, and dark. It's the beginning of a long season of dark and cold, so we're trying to prepare ourselves. After such a week, it was nothing less than nourishment for the soul to be at The Pines CD release show last night.

There's something particularly life-affirming to go into a warm, intimate venue on a cold, rainy night and experience an acoustic ensemble play a gorgeous set at the top of their game. The Cedar's original and masterful sound engineer, Chris Frymire, helped create the masterpiece, dialing in the perfect balance of instruments and vocals to complete the experience. A fixed-camera video of a sky-plains scene where the clouds moved almost imperceptibly for the duration of the set on our new full-sized screen behind the stage really enhanced the ambiance.The band played their entire new CD, Tremolo, and it's a great one.

Sitting there in the dark with 400 people focused exclusively on music got me thinking about how live concerts have become the singular way that most people now experience music at such a level of focus and intensity. The days of sitting in a living room with or without friends, quietly and exclusively listening to music, appear to be behind us. Much has written about the demise of the album, usually focused on how iTunes and downloading has brought emphasis strongly back to single tracks. But more than the method of consumption, it's been the increased portability of music as data files which has truly altered our relationship with it.

As a direct result of that portability, recorded music now mostly accompanies other activities. We listen as we work, drive, walk, or while doing something else in the living room (for those of us who still have a "stereo" in the living room... as more and more folks just listen to music on their computers).

So, it appears that live concerts are where folks are most willing to tune out the rest of the world and focus exclusively on music. That reality puts even greater responsibility on a "listening room" like The Cedar to present as much that is worthy of undivided attention as possible. It's a responsibility we proudly accept... and I think the coming weeks of shows may be among the best line-up in our 20 year history.

This coming week we have two "sleeper" shows. The first, as mentioned by the Angel of Rock, with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, paired with the Portland Cello Project, could really be special:

The other consists of a trio of teenage siblings from Tupelo, Mississippi who play the blues in a manner that belies their brief years. Well, almost teenagers... the sister, Taya, on drums, is only 10! Check out the Homemade Jamz Blues Band (and notice their homemade instruments- from auto parts!):

Come chase away those seasonal demons and let the healing properties of music feed your soul!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quick update

Being busy with school, I haven't been getting to all that many shows lately. But I am pleased to say that I will be at every Cedar show (excepting for Gustafer) from now until Tuesday. Not only that, a couple are shows I have been looking forward to for weeks!

The weekend starts with a CD release by local group The Pines. And what's more, they'll be joined by The Spaghetti Western String Company. Both bands have become household names for my family - Mom claims The Pines as a favorite band. My sister keeps me updated on where she saw "the cute one" last. I think she uses this to refer to more than one person. Gets to be a little confusing, kiddo. In any case, if you like folk and string music that has a little edge, a little mystery, and maybe a little something tragic or sinister to it, we'll see you at The Cedar.

The other show I have been eagerly anticipating comes next Tuesday: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down with the Portland Cello Project. Ms. Thao has definitely been in my heavy rotation. It's gotten to the point where a couple coworkers asked me whether or not I was going through some kind of phase... 'fraid not guys. That would mean I would have to stop listening to her, right?


I've been invited to a soul dance night next month. There are a few major problems with this. The main one being that I don't really dance. At all. So blogger friends, if I were going to practice, what should I listen to? Any suggestions?


I work for a magazine. Today in the office someone tried to put music on. He stopped. Laughed. Then said: "Pandora must be signed in to your account. The only stations listed are for Low, Balkan Beat Box, and The Meat Puppets."


Thanks E Dub for playing along. Maybe we can keep this going?

Albums (mostly) without lyrics for listening while reading (for those of us with concentration issues):

Erik Satie - After the Rain
Nomo - Ghost Rock
Spaghetti Western String Co. - all
The Album Leaf - Into The Blue Again, In A Safe Place

Your turn.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


It's my favorite guilty pleasure just lately.

Example: being a Giants fan as the Dodgers are sent packing. Or: the faux strokes being suffered by book publishers over the price war being waged between Amazon and Wal-Mart. You can read about it here.

Love this quote: 'If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over.' Sir, have you not been noticing the sea changes in media? The packaged music industry is in tatters. The video side is trailing right behind. Newspapers are endangered. Publishing as you know it is over.

While the larger issue is really digital vs. analog, there is a pleasurable nostalgia in reading reactions to these sorts of skirmishes, as content-holders attempt to prop up perceived value and re-barn those escaped horses.

A similar battle is being waged on the video side right now, over those Redbox vending machines that rent new release movies for a buck a night. A few of the major studios (Universal, Fox, and Warner) are choreographing delayed placement in the Redboxes until the regular sales and rental markets have slowed down on given titles, as they fear devaluation of their products in the consumer's mind.

This fits with the author James Patterson's quote at the end of the fore-cited article: 'Imagine if somebody was selling DVDs of this week's new movies for $5. You wouldn't be able to make movies. I can guarantee you that the movie studios would not take this kind of thing sitting down.' Yessss...Universal would surely boycott Amazon and Wal-Mart if a similar war broke out on their hot titles.

The over-arching dark warning is that predatory pricing tactics will result in fewer listening, viewing, and reading options for enthusiasts.

No. It will result in fewer middlemen and less-frequent big-budget publicity cramdowns. The quantity of both have no correlation to the quantity or quality of choices we have.


Last week we were musing about Pandora and which music makes the cut and why. Days later, this article appeared in the Sunday New York Times Magazine section. Interesting reading.

The article's author took his time getting to the key question: as Pandora's library is about 5% of iTunes' (which itself is merely a subset of all available music), who decides? And while the claim is that Pandora attempts to apply objective science in its Music Genome project, an a-ha comes in this telling quote from Pandora's founder: 'We struggle more with making sure we're adding really good stuff.'


Still more good reading in this Wall Street Journal review of music critic Robert Hilburn's new memoir, 'Corn Flakes With John Lennon.' The reviewer makes a few good observations and offers his take on the age-old music vs. lyrics debate.

For what it's worth, this reporter stands firmly on the music side. Well-surrounded moon-June lyrics can result in gorgeous, involving listening. Insightful lyrics with indifferent accompaniment is all too often merely sung poetry, altogether better-suited for boho coffee shops.

There. That should make 'em forget the whole cowbell miasma.

Finally...Nick Hornby is on something of a roll. He wrote the screenplay for 'An Education' (number one on my wish-list for if and when our local art house ever finishes its remodel), and he has a new novel out, 'Juliet, Naked.' For anyone who found his 'High Fidelity' the perfect mashup of music obsession and everyday banality: you gotta read this. It is cotton candy on the pop-culture midway.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Politics of the Blues, the Wizard, Riff on the Rut and Aris San

In the "Who Knew" category:
I saw two of the yard signs in less than an hour the other day, so it must be true. Papa John Kolstad is running for mayor! The old school West Bank blues man (and father of Cadillac Kolstad, famous for the Sunday night Cadillac vs. Cornbread piano blowouts next store at Palmer's bar)
"Remember, I am running without party affiliation. I have the best interests of the people of Minneapolis in mind. Individuals across the spectrum of political thought are supporting me in my effort to bring clarity and honesty to Minneapolis city government."
Rock ON, Papa John!

Just in time for Halloween...
Comes this reminder of Halloween at the Cedar in 2008. Remember how tickled these guys were about their outfits, and that they had smuggled them in from Winnipeg?
You're not in Massachusetts any more, Crooked Still!

A month or two ago, I wrote a post about how ouds work and some groovin' recent tunes featuring that ancient instrument. Jules Gilchrist from Cannonball PR caught the blog and contacted the Cedar with some links and more info about Speed Caravan's disc Kalashnik Love . Thanks Jules! I am finally posting your stuff including this great interview with oud player Mehdi Haddab. In which, among many other things, he tell us:

The oud comes from the desert, where water is precious." Haddab's voice softens. "It looks like a water bowl. It's shaped like a teardrop. There is no instrument for me that is better." He flashes a grin. "Soft or loud," he says.

Jules liked this vid of the band at Womex 2008.

I like this vid of the band tearing up "Galvanize" in Cairo, even if the quality isn't as good. Yeah!!! Notice the Marshall tube amps?

Now, just for fun, I feel the need to riff on the Angel of Rock's rut playlist criteria of last week.

An album to dream to? Hmmmm. I don't fall asleep to music; I read myself to sleep. My sister did share her dreamy psychedelic mix with me on my recent visit down Milwaukee way, and I must say I am needing a daily listen to The Dandy Warhol's "Mohammed" ever since. Not my usual type of thing at all, and yet...

I still don't know this Portuguese language, but as stated last week, Os Mutantes are cheering me (and lots of other folks) up on these grey days. Yeah, it's a little goofy, bordering on cheesy sometimes, but I just close my eyes and picture them all singing those harmonies with their eyes closed. Then I want to sing along, too. In my non-existent Portuguese.

Cooking and cleaning music these last few weeks has definitely been Nigeria Special: 1970-76. Ooh, there is some fine stuff here plus it's a double album, so it just goes on and on while you keep sweeping. Take a listen here, if you like. Sterns Africa keeps up the great work.

Do I have any friends making albums? Huh. Well, I like the new Vasen disc a lot, and they are of course friends of the larger Cedar family, even if some of the band and I just got to the hugging stage rather recently.

How's that, A of R? Anybody else on the blog squad going to rise to the bait?

Last but never least, I downloaded some original Aris San tracks the other day. I thought, hey, I'm a big Boom Pam fan, and they were very much influenced by him, so what the heck?

Whee!! His classic"Dam Dam" is so great!! Get through the "opah" at the Greek restaurant section and you're in for several minutes of primo wanking. Oh yeah! There's not any video, but you can listen up here.

Then look what I found! It's Balkan Beat Box attacking "Dam Dam" at a concert last year in Tel Aviv! Again, not the greatest quality, but still. Love the vj's rotating Aris San heads in the background. Well played, guys. Nicely wanky solo by guest Berry Sakharof, here, too.

So that's where we'll leave it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Music rut town

I'm in a rut, musically speaking.
It isn't so bad. Really.
It just means I keep listening to the same things again and again.
They are things that I like. But it doesn't give me much to tell you about.

Or does it? Maybe you'd like them too!

Here is a list of what has been in heavy rotation, so to speak.

1) An album to help me fall asleep, to help me dream, and for enjoying the first snowfall of the year (even if it comes a little too soon): Mount Erie and Julie Doiron - Lost Wisdom

2) An album (well, it's really only an EP, but it FEELS like a full-length) for dancing while also working around the house and generally having fun: Liam Finn and Eliza Jane - Champagne in Seashells

4) An album my friends made and that I like so much it's sort of embarrassing: Zombie Season - Our Living Funeral

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


The following was inspired by Ms. Dub's most recent contribution.

In a prior life this reporter held a position of responsibility with a large specialty retailer that prided itself in carrying the widest range of available music, purchased locally by store employees. This worked well until the following trends converged: the volume of recorded musical history expanded beyond the ability of a single store's walls to contain it, and the help tired of having to choose between eating and paying rent. Institutionalized objective funneling became necessary.

This writing could easily turn into a screed about profit motive. Instead, let's concentrate on the word 'funneling.' Pandora is a good starting point.

The basic concept is this: a team of experts ascribes certain characteristics to songs, such as instrumentation, tempo, mood, harmony, tonality, atmospherics, and so on. The subscriber seeds a listening experience with one or more favorite artists and/or songs. The Pandora system then takes over, combing its database for songs with similar traits. One could call this a form of directed serendipity, derived from data created in as objective a way as possible. That's the theory.

The execution is pretty good. As a random-play lover, I find that by creating a few dozen 'radio stations' with single songs I consider to be crucial examples of favorite mini-genres and then asking Pandora to blend them, I can replicate my usual listening experience with a whole lot of stuff I haven't yet heard. Nice.

The sticking point is this: wayyyy more music is being produced than is being added to the Pandora database. Admittedly, this is a necessity: without some funneling, the system risks dilution while choking on gobs of lesser material. The question: who decides what will be added or not? The answer: tastemakers. The followup: Do I buy in?

Tastemakers are necessary. A modern-day luxury is the surfeit of these experts, starting with, crucially, our friends. The sheer volume of music and its ready availability creates legions of micro-cultures and their resident experts. Add to this the ocean of online and old-media editorial opinion, and we all find ourselves playing a game of 'Who Do You Trust?'

The point, if I can ferret one out, is while we cannot avoid funnels, we can choose which ones to employ.

In the final years I worked at the aforementioned desk, the company product database grew by about 30,000 unique audio titles per year. I would estimate that number at perhaps double these days or, say, 5000 new titles per month. How does an intrepid music explorer navigate such a tsunami? Funnels.

My ongoing goal is to find as much good new music as I can realistically absorb. This is probably about 12-15 albums per month. How I get there is pretty consistent. I avail myself of about 500 album reviews per month. Around 15% (75 or so) of these pique enough interest to make me seek the music out on Rhapsody. About 15% of this auditioned music makes the cut. The system works well. The one thing I cannot let myself do is think about those other 4500 titles per month that have not come to my attention. I sleep well at night because I tell myself I used the widest-necked and most reliable set of funnels I could find.

And now...a bit of navel-gazing: Do I see myself as a tastemaker?

In short, no. I am a certifiable hermit. My tastes are diverse yet picky, and I doubt they translate well. Assuming the 15% batting average, if I extol an artist or album here, chances are about 6-in-7 you won't agree.

This blog is my first attempt to bring my music-related opinions outside the closed environment of my prior music industry life. I am still trying to find my voice, to see if I will learn anything from what pours out here. What I have absorbed so far can be nutshelled thus:

My drumbeat is for pro-active music exploration, especially by those in the 40+ demographic who find themselves growing estranged from their lost music love. To you I say: subscribe to an on-demand streaming service, read reviews, check out Amazon's Listmania, go to some Cedar shows, join a music listening club.

Everyone has a golden era, music-wise, and it's easy to believe that they just don't make 'em like that anymore. My rebuttal is simple: I came of age with multi-genre Top 40 and free-form FM, and I'm here to tell you that these are the good old days.


Next week I'll touch on some highlights from my most recent music exploration. I'll probably go on a bit about The Apples in Stereo (where the hell have I been?), Monsters of Folk (sneering in the face of my usual allergic reaction to Conor Oberst), and Selena Gomez (yes, from the Disney factory; she's made an album that recalls 'Beauty and the Beat').

For now, though, the listen that brought the biggest smile. I simply don't hear enough tunes about getting drunk and eating a whole damn chicken:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blue Highways vs. Killer Apps

I've been wondering lately, every time I see another ad for the latest app for one's I-Phone that will call you a cab, tune your guitar, recommend music, suggest a restaurant...

Wonder who decides what makes the cut. How do they decide? Is there a selection committee at Urban Daddy or Pandora? Do they Google the possible options and just choose the top ten?

I mean, really. There we were at work yesterday deciding which plants we wanted to grow for next year, tossing stuff right and left. Lousy sales last year. We have too many of those already. It was ugly in my garden. I don't like it. Looks just like plant X. So on and so on.

And we're plant nerds, people. One of the last bastions of not-quite-so-corporate, weirdo plants. When the business began , we'd grow almost anything, as long as we thought we could move 10 or a dozen flats. No more. Numbers like that get a plant thrown off the list now, unless the staff really begs and pleads. They're off the list.

Another real life example. I can't find my favorite toothpaste at any of the local food co-ops anymore, as of a couple of months ago. It's still being produced; I went to the manufacturer's website. But our "local" natural foods warehouse stopped carrying it. Poof! No more favorite toothpaste. Off the list.

Not to go all William Least Heat-Moon on you, but you know, before the interstate highways became ubiquitous, there were red highways and blue highways on the maps. The blue highways only went to the little, soon-to-be-forgotten towns. The ones that soon became nothing but a rusting grain elevator and and few houses in ill repair. Off the list.

So what about the clubs that don't make it onto Urban Daddy's list or the bands that Pandora has no place for?

You tell me.

On most days I'd chin up and say the bands'll end up at the Cedar or being played on KFAI and we'll be ahead of the curve and they'll one day develop a cult following.

On this grey gloomy October day, I just say, I do really wonder.

* * * * * * *

Well, I cranked Os Mutantes in the headphones all afternoon, and that just improved my mood, you know. How could it not?

Who needs dumb old killer apps anyway? Or satellite radio? Or that radio station with the dried fruit name? We've got the whole freakin' internet. Plus somebody's out there right now cranking out groovy global roots music apps.

I just know it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Q & A

Time to have a peek in the ol' mail bag:

Q. Veronica, have you ever had any musical heroes?

A. In one sense, too many to count. Relatively speaking, for sure: Tommy Bolin. His first solo work 'Teaser' was my favorite album of the 70s; the song 'Wild Dogs' was crucial for its call-and-response guitar duet fadeout. Bolin's work on Billy Cobham's 'Spectrum' made that record a still-enjoyable artifact of the jazz-rock fusion era. And he died in his 20s when that sort of stupidity was still fashionable.

These days? Maybe Lindsey Buckingham. I can't think of anyone who has drawn more zigzaggy lines in the middle of the road than him. I watch him perform 'Come' at a Mac show and wonder about those poor souls in the audience who just came to hear 'Rhiannon.' (Man, am I in for a hazing from the other bloggers for posting this)

Q. You do go on about the wonders of random play. Anything you don't like about it?

A. Yeah, a couple of bits. One is sonic inconsistencies. Not genre-related; I mean disc sound quality. Some older discs sound flat when played in immediate juxtaposition with more modern recordings. Part of this was attributable to shovelware; lots of unremastered catalog titles were rushed to market during the boom. Most of this has been corrected over the years, but some lesser artists who had their run during the late 80s and early 90s sound a bit sickly today. Curve comes to mind; 'Doppelganger' was my favorite aural assault weapon in '92; it sounds tame today. One is tempted to turn up the volume.

Another more insidious problem is the context of random play itself. Subtler musics can get lost in a shuffle loaded with shinier noisier offerings. Some understatedly pleasurable albums might not leave much of a mark. For instance, Musee Mecanique. Main Figurehead turned me on to them; I listened to their album straight through and found it charming. Individually, though, their songs often float right by almost unnoticed in the middle of a random playlist. Big drawback.

Q. Does this look infected?

A. Do I look like a bureaucrat to you? Consult your insurance agent for a proper diagnosis.

Q. What is your all-time favorite guitar solo?

A. Robert Fripp's in Eno's Baby's On Fire.

Q. What is your latest vintage music discovery?

A. Well, I just downloaded a collection of Les Baxter's material, but my most recent eye-opener was Terry Callier's first album, 'The New Folk Sound.' He recorded it in 1964 for Prestige, but it didn't come out until 1968 and went unnoticed. It is a marvel. I know I'm the last kid on the block here, but on the off-chance you haven't heard it...if you have ever loved folk music and/or Nina Simone, this is a must. Next up for me: his three early 70s albums.

Q. Know any jokes?

A. A skeleton walks into a bar and orders a beer and a mop.

Q. Got a favorite current songwriter?

A. Thea Gilmore. I love her to pieces and have for almost ten years. If you have yet to partake, do. Thea writes with real poignancy and grace, and she delivers with a voice that one reviewer placed as somewhere between Alison Moyet, Sandy Denny, Annie Lennox and Beth Orton, a remarkable bit of bet-hedging. She has nine albums and a few EPs out, and there is not a dud among them. Her latest, 'Recorded Delivery,' is a live album that actually serves as a fine introduction, containing as it does a fine sprinkling of career highlights. Here she is:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October new releases

OK, this is going to sound like a rerun of last month as in "Ya Hoo! Artist XXX has a new disc coming out soon. Here's why they rule and why you should care. Wonder when it'll ever arrive stateside." Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

And yet...I am really psyched to hear some new stuff from Toumast. For my money they are the desert blues act that rocks the hardest and does so well with the change-up tempos and dynamics. Their disc Amachal is out October 26. (in Europe I I even need to ask the eternal question?)
There are a couple of tracks up now on their Myspace and with a quick listen they sound fuller than those Ishumar, as in lots more instruments, bass higher up in the mix, a little keyboard and some kind of bag pipe going on in "Ibliss." Somebody's doing a little rap - in English - on "Timerhitin." Too busy? I'll give it another listen. No idea who produced it or any of that yet.

You know, I think every culture in the world has a traditional bag pipe of some sort. All those poor goats...
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So speaking of desert blues, how did I miss the new Tinariwen release??? Imidiwan's Euro-release was in June, and the actual physical disc is over here now. The reviews from England sound quite good; supposed to be a more stripped down affair than Aman Iman, fewer overdubs, fewer effects. I'm there.

Meanwhile, they're touring their brains out all over Europe this fall. You know, I cannot understand why we've only gotten a couple of hundred people in to see these guys when we've had them at the Cedar in the past. They. So. Rule.

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Big genre shift.

Shooglenifty's show at the Cedar five or six years ago ranks in my top ten all time here. I'd seen them at festivals before and thought they were OK, but their show up at the last minute/take a quickie sound check/eat a bag of chips/ proceed to blow our minds for two hours thing was way above and beyond. It was extremely psychedelic for mostly acoustic string band (with a funky/dubby rhythm section) music from Scotland. Now, could they put together a U.S. tour again one of these days, please?

Well, we can get some new tunes, anyway. It's been a good while since 2003's The Arms Trader's Daughter and 2005's live Radical Mestizo. [Oh, OK, guess I missed 2007's Troots entirely. Have to check that out.]

The new disc is out October 12, a double album to be called Murmichan which will contain some remixes, some live bits and plenty of those new Shoogle tunes . Looks like they've got yer classic Roman coin artwork thing going on. After a bit of searching I can tell you a Murmichan is a wicked fairy of sorts like a bogle or hobgoblin. (Didn't they study those in Defense Against the Dark Arts class in Harry Potter?) Anyway, gotta love the Scottish vocab words. (like "troot" = trout) Some of the tracks up now on their Myspace seem to keep to the mando and fiddle-driven thing we've heard before, but their remixes head in a totally different direction. Cool. Looking forward to it.

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My Polish bio-techno faves Village Kollektiv have new tracks up and a revamped lineup - with horns! Not sure when the new disc comes out, so I'll report back. C'mon Rafal, get that disc released!! Their Motion Roots Experimental was one of my top discs from 2007.

In the meantime, I'm getting very psyched for their countrymen and -women in Warsaw Village Band to play the Cedar later this month. Although WVB can go plenty techno on their remixes, I'm expecting some of that heavy, dark acoustic strings and vocal harmony stuff they laid on us last time out. And you know I love that.

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Last but SO not least, quite a while back I was drooling over an upcoming show at the Cedar on November 20, but it wasn't finalized yet so I couldn't blab. Well, that show fell through, but what came together for that night is going to be extra-super-fun for all you brass band fans. Nomo (a "Post-Afrobeat Dance Explosion" according to NPR) is going to roadtrip over from Ann Arbor to share the bill with our South Mpls homeboys and -gals in The Brass Messengers. Two cool brass bands: one draws more on the Afro-beat heritage, while the other looks more toward the Balkans, but they both can get all over the place. To get you psyched, here's a link to some free downloads of live Nomo tracks, complete with lengthy explanations of what the heck those long instrumentals are all about. Oh yeah. Circle that date in red.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Don't Miss The Real Deal

One of the reasons why our fall "roots" festival has now gone Global is to take advantage of the wealth of international artists already in the upper midwest for world music festivals in Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, Cedar Rapids, and the granddaddy of them all, Lotus World Music & Arts Festival in Bloomington, Indiana. These festivals all fall within the same two week period, and we all work together in choosing artists to perform.

One of the "buzz" bands to emerge from the other festivals this year will be coming to The Cedar this coming Wednesday night: Parno Graszt from Hungary. These guys are the real deal... "They do not use sources of Gypsy music; they are the source itself," says Songlines magazine.

This is one time where we have the unusual benefit of being able to catch a favorite of the other festivals before they leave the country. Don't squander the opportunity!

As far as our own faves, the unanimous staff pick for the high point of our first Global Roots Festival was the Friday night show with Forro in the Dark and Bajofondo. It really was an incredible show.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Live Bait

Still smarting over Global Roots having once again been staged nearly 2000 miles from my door. I'm starting to think it's me, and so have duly switched from Teen Spirit to Axe.

The only thing for it is to salve my wounds at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this weekend at Golden Gate Park in San Fancisco. The event starts right off with a schedule challenge: where should one be at the outset when on three different stages are Eliza Gilkyson, Marhsall Crenshaw, and Buddy Miller?


Remarkable October Cedar schedule. I count six shows I'd like to see (and several others that arouse curiosity). However, as my teleportation super-power is only good once every thirty days, I'd probably opt for Saturday the 10th with Over the Rhine and Vienna Teng. Sure, Vienna is local (to me) but she's always worth seeing. As for Over the Rhine...they never seem to make it out here to the hinterlands. I sure wouldn't mind being in the same room with Karin Bergquist's voice one time in my life.


Facebook does have its charms. A recent exercise had respondents list 20 live concerts they attended. Here was my response:

Rockpile -- Multiple times. My favorite live band ever. Best setting: UC Davis Coffee House with 200 or so others.

The Mavericks -- 2nd favorite live band ever. Again, multiple shows. One highlight: seeing Raul sing 'Fly Me To the Moon' a capella on the night Sinatra died.

NRBQ -- 3rd favorite live band ever. Multiple shows. Haven't seen them since Big Al left.

The Motels -- I liked them before they had their hits. I was rather fond of Martha.

Richard Thompson -- Perhaps the best guitarist I have ever seen live. A highlight: at the Palms Playhouse in Davis when it was still the converted barn that seated 200. Christine Collister sang 'Warm Love Gone Cold.'

Junior Brown -- What a playbook. A highlight: when he opened for The Mavericks, and then hearing Raul do his Junior Brown imitation.

The Stray Cats -- They were pretty exciting for a little while. Saw them in 1980 at a little club in SF; sweatiest show ever.

Joe Ely -- Multiple times. First time was soon after his tour with the Clash. Classic band with Jesse Taylor on guitar and Lloyd Maines on pedal steel. Killer 'Boxcars.'

Joe Louis Walker -- Recently at the Palms Playhouse. This guy is one of only a handful of really good blues performers on the circuit.

Big Country -- This one just popped into my head. In the middle of the 'Big Country' hoopla.

Charlie Sexton -- When he was 16. He was good, but it was too soon.

Greg Kihn -- Multiple times in the late 70s before he had his hit(s). Tight band; Larry Lynch was a damn fine drummer.

The Who -- Winterland. Yeah, they were good.

Tommy Bolin -- Twice at Winterland, neither time as the headliner but the reason for the trip. Once on an eccentric bill: Graham Parker opening, Heart second, Bolin third, and headlining: Elvin Bishop.

The Moody Blues -- Oakland Coliseum; biggest crowd I've ever been in for a music show; also my first concert. I don't remember a thing about it.

Moon Martin -- Rancho Nicasio. Smallest crowd ever (8 people). He was game, though.

Tarbox Ramblers -- The Palms in Winters. Another small crowd, perhaps 30. They were dandy.

Tindersticks -- Built a trip to Paris around this show at Le Grand Rex in 2001. Terrific show; couldn't see across the theater lobbby because the French love their smokes.

Radiohead -- Barcelona 2000, a few months before Kid A. Capitol Records junket; whatever happened to those days? Great show, although I was bummed that they couldn't get 'Planet Telex' off the ground.

The Roches -- Minneapolis 1995. Distribution company confab. The sisters weren't happy about all the noise from the talking crowd, but I was happy because of the company I was keeping.