The Music Box: Lotusflow3r & Tambourine

prince-lotusflower3-mplsound-elixer1 Prince is an artist I’ve never been overly interested in. I missed out on the Purple Rain-era (I knew the Milhouse line “So this is what it’s like when doves cry,” long before I knew the song) and by the time I was paying attention to pop music, he was in the middle of changing his name to a symbol and other silly activities I didn’t care about. A few years back, I found Purple Rain for a few bucks at a mall record store and decided to give it a shot. It’s been a while, but I wasn’t impressed. My memory is that the singles were as solid as they’ve always been, but the other tracks were pretty unimpressive.

So, when my pal Jesse sent me 2009’s three disc set of Lotusflow3r, MPLSound and Bria Valente Elixr for my birthday I wasn’t sure what to think. Then, I hit a point last week where I wasn’t feeling podcasts and figured I’d give it a shot, especially after seeing the artist’s recent appearance on New Girl. Holy crap, these are great records!

My problem with Purple Rain — again, if memory serves, which it only does about half the time — was that the non-hit songs felt stale, antiseptic and maybe too produced or electronic. I’ll give it another listen and see if those thoughts still hold up, but that’s what I went into these two records thinking. Instead, I was treated to an awesomely funky, guitar-filled pair of discs packed with songs I can see myself listening to over and over again. From the opening guitar calisthenics of the first track “From The Lotus” to the killer “Crimson & Clover” cover and beyond, I was sold right away and kept getting surprised by how much I loved these two records.

Originally, I skipped over Elixer, but after listening to these albums for a second time and writing most of this post, I figured I should give the third part of this trilogy a listen. Bria Valente has one of those classic female R&B voices that those of us who came up in the late 80s and early 90s remember as being super prominent. Those records weren’t my thing back then, but I found myself enjoying these tracks for their mix of quality vocals and diverse backing tracks that go from slow jams to funkadelic and back again. As far as I’m concerned, the funkier this record goes the better everyone sounds. I’m not sure how often I’ll be jonesing for this kind of listening experience, but I like keeping it around just in case.

tift merritt tamourine After intentionally listening to the Prince discs, I figured it would be a good time to reach into The Music Box and go the random route again. This time I pulled out Tift Merritt’s 2004 album Tambourine. As with many of the Music Box discs, I knew nothing about this going in, popped it on and gave it a listen.

Merritt’s sound reminded me a lot of Sheryl Crow. I’m not sure if that’s altogether fair but they’re both women singing country-tinged songs about their life experiences, so that’s where my head was at. With that comparison in mind — and the fact that they do sound sonically similar at times — I had trouble really getting into these songs. I think the person-playing-guitar-and-singing-quietly thing just isn’t all that interesting to me in the first place. I love that people do it, but it’s not always something I want to listen to unless the songs are super original, hit me in a truly emotional place or do something really interesting with the backing tracks.

When Merritt and company pick things up on tracks like “Wait It Out” and the title track, I’m in, but those wound up being a bit too far and few between for me to keep this one in the collection. Hopefully someone at the library will find it and dig the heck out of it though!

My 12 Favorite New-To-Me Records Of 2012

It’s impossible to keep up on every record ever made, but I do my best. This is a pretty eclectic mix of missed out classic rock, folk revival, stripped-down rock, dirty blues, weirdness and pure, unadulterated funk. It’s a fun mix. pogues if i should fall from grace with godI freely admit that I actually discovered The Pogues by way of a cover of their classic downtrodden Christmas carol “Fairytale of New York” and the use of “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” in a car commercial. I am not proud of these facts — well, mostly the latter one — but that’s how it is. I’m mostly disappointed that it took me so long to discover this band and this record which is filled with the kind of Irish punch rock folk spirit still alive in bands like The Dropkick Murphys and Mumford and Sons. It’s like finding an integral piece of history that also happens to rock my face off. thin lizzy jailbreakSpeaking of face-rocking, I picked up Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak this year. It’s the first of their records I’ve ever actually owned, but I used to listen to my dad’s copy of their greatest hits record. This record of course contains “Jailbreak” but also “The Boys Are Back In Town.” It gets a little slower in the middle than I expected, but those songs are still well crafted and solid, I just wish this was wall to wall block rocking beats. zuzu's petals music of your lifeAs part of my only completed Ambitious Reading List, I read Laurie Lindeen Petal Pusher about her time in a band I’d never heard of called Zuzu’s Petals. After finishing the book, I was super interested in listening to her music as well as her husband Paul Westerberg’s first band The Replacements. So, I hopped on Second Spin and found four records that I wound up really enjoying. Zuzu’s Petals only recorded two records, Music Of Your Life and When No One’s Looking, and while the first one is definitely better, I found the mixture of honesty, pop and rock to be incredibly appealing. Plus, it’s cool to have some legit lady rock for Lu to listen to when/if she’s interested. the replacements let it beI felt the same way about The Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me and Let It Be. I know very little about pre-grunge 90s rock and roll and honestly assumed it was all kind of in that same downer vein. And while many of the subjects that The Replacements wrote about are similar to songs by bands like Nirvana, there’s a more positive feeling behind them. Listenting to these records was kind of like discovering an alternate universe and wondering what music would have been like if these bands blew up all over the world. gary clark jr self titledI’ve been hearing a lot about Gary Clark Jr. lately. He’s been featured by some news outlets I keep an eye on and also had a stellar performance at the 2010 Crossroads Music Festival which I watched on Netflix Instant. I was happy to see his self titled EP on sale on Amazon and gave it a download. Clark’s the real deal when it comes to down and dirty rocking blues, something most people have probably heard here and there with the track “Bright Lights.” He’s definitely one whose records I want to explore more deeply. flaming lips yoshimi battles the pink robotsIt’s funny how we develop preconceived notions about bands with minimal exposure to their actual music. I had developed one about the Flaming Lips that they were just a bunch of weirdos making weird music. And, you know what, they are and that’s okay. I like weird and I’ve liked weird for a long time, so why didn’t I give them a shot earlier? No idea. Wayne Coyne was on an episode of WT with Marc Maron that reminded me that I knew very little about that band, so when Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots popped up on Amazon for $5, I gave it a whirl. I haven’t listened to it a ton, but when I did it was kind of a full experience. I’d like to sit in a dark room and just listen to this record, or maybe write to it. It creates a really dense atmosphere that I want to wade into. Stretchin' Out In Bootsy's Rubber BandSometimes you just need to funk it up. My experience with Parliament records has not been the best. Sometimes those long, winding intros and funkadelic jams just get a little tedious. But, I did not have that same experience when listening to Parliament bass player Bootsy Collins (and bass hero of mine) on his solo record Stretchin’ Out In Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Wall to wall funk, the tracks are long, but always interesting. You WILL dance to this record.Avett Brothers EmotionalismMy buddy Jesse Thompson has turned me on to some of my favorite records in past years, most memorably Stephen Kellogg. We’ve talked quite a bit about The Avett Brothers, one of his favorite bands, so when I saw them on the cheap, I had to give it a listen. Emotionalism is actually the perfect title to this record which digs in like a less Irish, but still folky Mumford and Sons and doesn’t let go until all the tracks have said what they have to. hanni el khatib will the guns come outI don’t remember how I heard about Hanni El Khatib or why I downloaded his record Will The Guns Come Out, but I’m glad I did. This record is definitely in the same vein as Jack White’s music, but with maybe a bit more stripped down/punk rock vibe to it. I dig it. Sleater-Kinney Dig Me OutSleater-Kinney and Wild Flag are two more bands that I started listening to because of a podcast. Well, a podcast and a TV show. Carrie Brownstein is on Portlandia, a show I quite enjoyed the first season of (season two just hit Netflix Instant!). I also liked her interview with Marc Maron on WTF and decided to check out her first band Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out and her current group Wild Flag’s self titled album. I intended to do a Supergroup Showcase on Wild Flag, maybe this will be my incentive. Anyway, I like rock and roll and powerful women, so this combination of the two is aces in my book. There’s a certain chord that Brownstein hits with her vocals that lingers in my chest. I can’t explain it, but I like it. Dead Weather Sea of CowardsAs I wrote about, I got really into Jack White and his bands The White Stripes and The Raconteurs a few years back. I still haven’t gotten his solo record Blunderbuss, but I did pick up The Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards. Jack’s really good at showcase individuality in his bands while still keeping things cohesive. The cool thing about White’s music is that they all feel like part of one big narrative or theme. It’s kind of like reading Grant Morrison’s DC comics. They’re all kind of weird and look different, but they’re all connected by pieces of what came before. In this case, that’s literally White’s voice, but also the kind of raw style he evokes from those around him. Black Lips Arabia MountainI discovered The Black Lips by way of their track “O Katrina” on the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World soundtrack which still gets regular play in my car (I still rock the CD visor holder in my ride). I loved the song’s surf rock vibe, a kind of music that seems somehow imprinted on my soul. Since then I’ve kept my eyes peeled for one of their records on the cheap and came across their most recent Arabia Mountain. I can’t compare it to their previous works, but I really dig the old school feel that mixes everything from 50s/60s surf pop and New York punk rock. This is good music to get things done to.

I picked up a lot more albums than these ones, but this dozen really made its way into my brain. Some I just haven’t given enough listens to to give a solid review of, but I’d put my seal of approval on these bands and records without batting an eye.

My Favorite Bands Of 2011

As I mentioned when I ran down my favorite new records of 2011, there were a handful of bands that I got into more so than just picking up an album of theirs this year. These are bands who I was either already diving into when a new record came out this year or just finally got around to listening to after years of neglect and ignorance on my part.

First off, I spent the beginning and much of the rest of 2011 listening to The White Stripes. I got most of the records I didn’t already have for Christmas 2010 and rocked out to them for a good part of the year. That band rocks my face off in such different and awesome ways, but I already wrote about Jack White extensively towards the end of 2010, so I’m just going to link to that post as it still sums up my thoughts. I also really got into the Foo Fighters this year picking up their records either digitally or at yard sales on the cheap, but I wrote about them already too. So, now on to the new stuff! Continue reading My Favorite Bands Of 2011

My 10 Favorite New Records Of 2011

Had I been more organized, I would have had this post ready to go on New Year’s Eve or Day, but as it is, I was busy and just didn’t have the time or wherewithal to get it together. I have been doing my research over the past few weeks and have come up with not one, not two, but three music-related best of lists for 2011. Like last year, I will list my favorite new music of 2011 as well as the older records I discovered in the year, but I’m also adding a new section about bands that I really go into this year. I’ll get into more detail when I get to that post, but there will be some albums on that list that could or would have been on this list, so technically, I had more than 10 favorites this year. As always, this list is in no particular order, so here we go. Continue reading My 10 Favorite New Records Of 2011

Music Musings: Bonnaroo 2002

My actual ticket stub.

I originally wanted to write this post the week leading up to this year’s Bonnaroo, but I got busy. As it turns out, though, I’m writing this on the 9 year anniversary of the first day of the very first Bonnaroo. Yeah, I went to there. It was the summer after my first year of college and earlier in the year, while I was home on break, my buddy Toth told me about this new festival in Tennessee. It was three days, tickets were $100 and that included camping spots. I wasn’t the biggest jam band fan in the world, but the line up seemed interested enough and I liked the idea of being able to tell people I went to the first of something I figured would wind up being a pretty big deal (I guess I was right on that point). To make matters better, Toth figured we could head down to Nashville for a few days and then drive the next hour to Manchester and watch the show. Seemed like a good plan to me.

Our days in Nashville were pretty fun, though would have been even better had we been 21. I have a very distinct memory of walking down the main street wherever we were and hearing all this different music coming out of the bars and clubs that we couldn’t get into. We did however find a Charlie Daniels museum (I love the Charlies Daniels Band), ate at a Hard Rock Cafe, went to a few record stores and also got some “rock star clothes” as Toth called them. I still have the redish pink 70s pants and bright green button down shirt I bought there. I also remember having a conversation about this new show called American Idol. Toth thought it was a big deal and I thought it was BS. Guess I was wrong about that one.

Our Nashville Hotel Room

On the morning of June 21st, 2002 we packed our crap up, stocked up on food at a grocery store and then went to make the hour-or-so drive down to Bonnaroo. Seems pretty simple, right? Heh. No way. Instead of taking the hour that Mapquest told us it would, we wound up being stuck in traffic for 7 or 8 hours. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember the exact amount of time because it’s been so long and I was kind of losing it at the time. I don’t know if it was the wide open space, the insane gridlock or the fact that no one else seemed to think this was a big deal, but I was starting to have a serious panic attack as traffic all but stopped. I was very seriously doing the math in my head, trying to figure out how long it would take us to get home if I just turned around and started driving. How mad would Toth be? How would I pay him back? My better judgement won over and I wound up just sitting it out. To give you an idea of how slow the traffic was moving, people were getting out of their cars and tossing the frisbee around for 15-20 minutes spurts and only had to move a few feet to catch up to their car. It was insane.

Toth, The Camp Site & My Old Van

Eventually we got in, though and went to our camp site. As you can see from the pic, they were basically as wide as a car and twice as long. Toth had a ton of camping equipment like the tent, chairs, a grill, the awning, the whole works, plus he knew how to cook on the camp stove, so we were pretty set. We had a pretty good set up across from some older biker-looking people from Chicago who I remember talking about quitting heroin,or “H” as they called it. That kind of freaked me out, but they seemed nice enough. Again, I’m relying on memories that are a decade old that were probably fuzzy to begin with thanks to poor sleep, a lack of showers and (I assume) some kind of contact high. While I didn’t partake in anything while there, there was plenty around being imbibed freely. I even saw a guy with two different colored eyes. I guess they could have been contacts, but he looked REALLY messed up.When we got to the actual gate, we were given a schedule and a map to help us find our way around. I don’t have it here in NY otherwise I would scan it. I believe the camping areas essentially surrounded the concert area which was split between four stages of increasing size. At least one–and I think two–were under huge tents while the larger two were just gigantic, open air venues. I remember having a general feeling of calm and ease while there even though it was beastly hot and really big. Everyone seemed cool and I saw all kinds of things I had never seen before, from the guy with the crazy eyes to some of the wildest frisbee catches I’ve ever seen. And that’s not even taking the music into account.

The Stadium, Bonnaroo's largest venue that year

Thankfully, I wrote about my experiences at the show on my old website which is still around thanks to Angelfire (that’s also where I swiped all these pictures from). According to that, these are the bands I saw along with some modern day commentary.

Friday

Big Wu
Jim White
Umphrey’s McGee
Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade
Gov’t Mule
Widespread Panic (the first set)
Keller Williams Incident (kinda)
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe (for a few minutes)

I couldn’t tell you thing one about Big Wu or Jim White. You’ll see me writing that a lot in the next few paragraphs, but I think it’s because I wasn’t familiar with most of the music going in, so there aren’t a lot of touchstones. However Umphrey’s McGee made a big impact on me. They really impressed me and I still remember their show as being my favorite. It was in one of the smaller venues and I think we got pretty close to the stage. We saw Frog Brigade from way back, but it was rad seeing Buckethead play. Gov’t Mule and Panic are mysteries, but I do remember sitting on the side of the tent for Keller’s show and peeking under to see what we could see. I actually really regret not sticking around for Karl Denson’s set. It was one of the late night ones and I actually had listened to one of his records, but I think I didn’t want to be on my own that late. Such a wuss…

Saturday

Ben Harper (solo)
Jack Johnson
String Cheese Incident (I think)
Jurassic 5
Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains
moe (the first set)

Harper played the largest stage they had all by himself. I wasn’t really familiar with his music at the time, but that really impressed me. I don’t believe Jack Johnson was a big deal at the time I saw him, but I do remember him bringing out a 6 or 7 year old Australian girl named Scarlet to play drums at one point. I have no recollection of String Cheese Incident, but Jurassic 5 was awesome. That was my first and only hip hop live show experience. Maybe I was thinking of Bucket of Bernie Brains when it came to seeing Buckethead? moe was the late night show that night and it was pretty cool. Toth and I met some nice people while waiting for them to go on. I think the band was an hour or so late (which anal retentive me did not appreciate), but we all wound up talking bootlegs for a while which was cool. I think Toth stuck around for the second set, but I was exhausted and headed back to the camp site.

Sunday

Ween
Bela Flech & Edgar Meyer
Phil & Friends with Bob Weir
Superjam
Trey Anastasio

Ween is another one I have zero memory of, though I know I was interested in checking them out because some dudes I worked with in high school were HUGE Ween fans. I remember being in the thick of things for Phil & Friends, but am not a Dead fan, so it was another “I have to say I was there” kind of a thing. I wandered away from all that craziness and hung out towards the back of the second biggest stage to check out the Superjam which I remember being really sick. The last show of the night was Phish’s Trey Anastasio playing with his then-new band. At the time, Phish had “broken up” and word around the festival was that Phish would be reuniting. That wasn’t the case, of course as Trey went on and played with his big band. I wasn’t all that interested in this particular show and really didn’t feel like wading through a literal sea of people, so I hung back at the camp site while Toth went and watched. I was able to get one of the camping chairs up on the roof of the van and wound up watching from there. It was actually a pretty awesome moment. I’d love to watch more concerts that way.

The Arena, Bonnaroo's second largest stage

By Sunday, I was more than ready to get the hell out of Tennessee. I had had a good time, but that was a completely different kind of living than I was used to. I had spent the whole time in a uniform of cargo shorts (the same pair I believe) and white under shirts. The cargo shorts were important because I could put water bottles in the extra pockets. Man was it hot. Oh and showerless. There were a few rigged-up sinks that helped a little, but I had never been that sweaty and gross for so long.

Phil & Friends with Bob Weir on stage

We had decided–thanks to my prodding, I’m sure–to head home right after Trey’s set. My plan was to get out of there and drive for as long as I could before needing to get a hotel room and sleep.That’s not how it actually went down, though. It took Toth a while to get back because of all the people, but then it took three hours just to get out. My figuring was that that was still better than what it would have been like the next day. I only got an hour away from Manchester before needing to stop. The hotel we wound up stopping at must have made a killing that night because they charged us for a full night even though it was late and we had to be out by 10 or 11 the next morning and we were definitely not the only Bonnaroo attendees staying there. At the end of the day, though, we didn’t care because we got to sleep in an actual bed and even got to take showers. I’m fairly certain that was the best shower I’ve ever had. I also had the best chicken sandwich of my life the next morning at a nearby Cracker Barrel.

Looking back, I’m really glad I stuck with it and didn’t let my craziness get in the way of a really interesting and fun experience that left me with a lot of memories, even if most of them don’t have much to do with the music itself. Toth went back to Bonnaroo a few times after that, but I bowed out. I spent a ridiculous amount of money that summer between the Tennessee trip, visiting the future-missus in New Hampshire for a few weeks and buying a guitar (the last one I bought now that I think about it). Would I go back again? Yes. But only if I was taken in via helicopter or didn’t have to deal with all that traffic thanks to a parachute drop or some such.

Supergroup Showcase: John Legend & The Roots

THE PLAYERS: John Legend (vocals) and The Roots (everything else)
THE STORY: Inspired by his experience campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008, John Legend decided he wanted to make a record with The Roots that reflected how he felt at the time. They got together, recorded a series of covers and one original track and the results was the 2010 album Wake Up! (via Wiki).

Like a lot of posts, I’m going to kick this one off with a story from my past. It’s not too long, so don’t worry, I’ll get to the music shortly. Like a lot of colleges, my school Ohio Wesleyan University held a yearly concert on campus for the students called SpringFest. I never actually went to one because I either didn’t care or had something better to do (seeing Everclear with my buddy Jeff instead of watching The Counting Crows). But there was one year that I really wanted to attend and that was when The Roots were playing. I’d never actually listened to the funk/hip-hop group’s records at that point, but I knew of Questlove from that hilarious Chappelle Show skit with him and John Mayer and the band from my buddy Toth who’s always been a lot more tapped in than me. I was all set to buy my ticket after Easter, but on the way back to school after heading home for the weekend, I got a crazy speeding ticket. Money was tight in college and the speeding ticket completely wiped me out, so I couldn’t go to the show. Wah wah.

Fast forward to modern times. Jimmy Fallon scores Conan O’Brien’s old spot on Late Night and he makes the ingenious decision to hire The Roots as his house band. Not only did he instantly score the best band in late night, but also gave me and millions of other night owls the opportunity to become familiar with the group. After being so impressed by their chops I went out and bought one of their albums Phrenology, but it’s more of a slick hip-hop record and that’s not what I was looking for. I wanted something a little more soulful and funky. I didn’t have to wait too long because, soon enough, Jimmy was talking about a new record featuring an epic team-up of soul singer John Legend and the band called Wake Up!

I didn’t run out immediately and buy the album. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw the digital version on sale on Amazon for $5 that I bit. Man, what a fantastic use of a Lincoln. Like The Roots, I’ve long admired and appreciated John Legend from a distance either through live performances on TV shows or guest spots on other records, but I never jumped in and got one of his records. Wake Up! seems like the perfect entryway to both bands but also offers up all the soul/funk/rock/hip-hop stew that I could want from this collaboration. As far as supergroups go, these are two great tastes that taste great together, almost like they’d been playing together for years.

I even dig the fact that they went after lesser known songs to cover for the most part. I’m no soul/funk aficionado, but even I have heard “Wholy Holy.” The rest though are mysteries that feel both historical and fresh at the same time, making me want to check out the originals. It should come as no surprise that every track on the record had me bobbing my head along to the groove. Heck, it even calmed me down as I wrote this post in a coffee shop right next to a pair of teenagers who couldn’t keep their paws off of each other and kept playing with the girl’s hair RIGHT NEAR MY COFFEE. Okay, well, it didn’t calm me down too much I guess.

If you’ve never gotten into but always been curious about soul music of the 60s and 70s, The Roots or John Legend, Wake Up! is essentially the perfect mix of all three. The record can act as a gateway, but also stands as a fantastic, sometimes funky sometimes mellow but always sonically pleasing  listening experience for pretty much any kind of mood. Feeling down? This record will cheer you up. Feeling good? You’ll feel even better. Seriously, the original track “Shine” is really helping to calm me down about those teenagers. They left by the way. Good thing too, or I was going to blare Husker Du in their ears. In conclusion, Wake Up! is a rad record, but it will not help you chase away teenagers who won’t stop playing with their hair. It will probably just make them want to make out, which is far worse. This ends the review as well as the cranky old man portion of the proceedings today.