Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a quick run down.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Samy and keep them coming.

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2009

Goodbye 2009

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


One last Christmas music bit:

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

Happy Holidays from all of us at Feverland.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who needs the whole album...

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

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

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

As I was saying...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Cloud-y Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eagerly awaiting...

tonight's show at The Cedar.

The last time I saw Skoal Kodiak:

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Strange Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rebab baba baba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

Like The Red Tent meets Mateli.

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

Mateli Kuivalatar 1771-1846 >>>>

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Local Props

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hit-Bound Sounds

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

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

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

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

Hush Arbors -- Yankee Reality

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

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

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

Northern Valentine -- The Distance Brings Us Closer

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

Brett Anderson -- Slow Attack

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

Floorian -- More Fiend

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

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

Tim Easton -- Porcupine

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

The Dodge Brothers -- Louisa and the Devil

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

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

The Ettes -- Look at Life Again Soon

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

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

Nosound -- Lightdark

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

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

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

Bomshel -- Fight Like a Girl

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snowstorm Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, special night. Special artists. Special venue.

The Cedar.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Next Big Thing

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two Movies

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blended cost? About 40 cents a track.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No congnative dissonance here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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