Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Week Of 2/21 - Synthpop, Psychobilly, Blues, Dubstep, Industrial, & music of the Congo

This weeks new music was a blind buy, picked it up without any knowledge of the artist at all, I knew the label usually put out music I liked, so I took a shot. And won. I also dove into my digital collection that has been gathering pixel-dust on my Hard Drive and loaded up several EPs. Plus some of the CDs sitting on my shelf waiting for attention. All together a good amount of music this week.

New Releases:
Grimes - Visions
Label: 4AD Records
Released: 2/21 2012
Genre: Synthpop, Experimental
Discogs - Visions US Release
Grimes is the project of Canadian artist Claire Boucher.Visions is full of pop melodies, her voice is in the same range as a lot of pop music. But, it stops just short of actually being pop, the rhythms aren't quite right, the songs ditch the hook, liberal bits of glitch and other exerimental ideas seep through constantly. Which is the best part of the album, it's very easy to listen to, very smooth, but it's not lost in banal commonality. It's different without being jarring. As a whole the album creates an environment, it's the kind of music you can listen to with headphones, or letting permeate the room as a whole. Loud or soft, it's just really nice to listen to. Visions is absolutely and album to go out and get, and Grimes is the kind of artist that should get mainstream exposure without needing to become a media spectacle. It does remind me a lot of Broken Bells in that it's at once very familiar and completely different from other music out there.

Recently Released:
KDrew - Free EP Vol. 4
Label: Dubstep.Net (Self Released)
Released: 2/1 2012
Genre: Dubstep
Dubstep.Net - KDrew Free EP
Dubstep.Net tossed out this 4-track EP at the start of the month, which is unfortunate since if you go to KDrew's Soundcloud it's a full 6-track EP. What we have in these 4 tracks are three-vocal dubstep tunes, and one instrumental. The first is a hard hitter, with fast lyrics from a traditional Hip-hop MC. After that the next two tracks are pop-vocals with dubstep backing. And the last one is a very chill piece, good for dancing, but not so frantic as to wear you out. Good stuff, really. I don't really have a lot to say about a 4-track banger, but it's solid dubstep, hard and soft alike. And it's free, so you can get into the genre without much effort.

Adding To The Collection:
Marc Broude - Cruel Society
Label: Sirona Records
Released: 2011
Genre: Industrial, Experimental
Sirona Records - Cruel Society
This is a two-track EP sent to me. The first song is a pretty standard, not very interesting industrial-rock song. The second one, one the other hand, is glitchy and different, a dark instrumental soundscape that reminds me of some older industrial styled tracks that work with sounds in different ways beyond trying to build a dance club hit. It's two tracks, and not available in the US.

Little Axe - Champagne & Grits
Label: Realworld Records
Released: 2004
Genre: Blues, Electric Blues
Discogs - Little Axe US Release
Little Axe is some very excellent modern electric blues. From a traditional blues of him singing and a guitar, to the slightly 'techno' infused electric blues this album spans a wide range of ideas and interprettions of 12-bar. A supremely excellent guitarist, his style is classic in every sense while his thinking is very forward. There realy isn't a lot to say here beyond Go Get This Album, honestly. it's excellent and proves that the blues never fades.

Nekromantix - What Happens In Hell, Stays In Hell!
Label: Hellcat Records
Released: August 2011
Genre: Psychobilly
Discogs - What Happens In Hell US Release
This excellent three-piece band puts the gas pedal down on their hot-rod herse and doesn't let up until after the crash. Full of off kilter horror and songs about girls (or ghouls in the case of I Kissed A Ghoul), the whole thing is a little disturbing, but the bass just keeps on humming. The entire album is a standard set of rockabilly rhythms you can dance to, with the classic psychobilly left-of-center attitude. You just bop right along to the entire album, even if the song topics are less than cheerful the musci really is. Nekromantix really have got the 50s era Rockabilly sound nailed down, and have easily infused it with a modern punk attitude and styling.

Rough Guide To Congo Gold
Label: World Music Network
Released: 2008
Genre: Congo Traditional, Rumba
Discogs - Congo Gold
The Congo, like a good bit of Central and South Africa, embracing Rumba music when it came over in the 60s and 70s. They even infused it into their local traditional musics, came up with new genres, and played straight Rumba like it never left it's home. And you can hear that all over this compilation, at least half the tracks are pure Rumba, some even sung in Spanish. The traditional music to the Congo is pretty good, very rhythmic. As a whole, this is a pretty average Rough Guide - good to get into a region, but nothing really amazing is going on here, you get the feeling the Congo music scene is moderately homogenous, though.

Bonus Track:
Whitenoise - Bang Bang! Remix
Label: Soundcloud Self Release
Released: 2011
Genre: Dubstep
I found this last year and fell in love with it, and then it got lost on a Hard Drive. And I refound it after organizing things. It takes Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang and remixes it into a hard, dirty, lovely, dubstep pounder. It's just, well, it's great. Availalbe to listen on Soundcloud, go dance.

Next Week:
Industrial Rock, and plenty of it, some old school synthpop-electro, electroswing, a big dubstep mix, and a compilation of EBM/Industrial stuff.... very exciting, the whole week should just bop along.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Morning Blues - Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf

Only two artists this week, each one gets their own disc in the ABC Of The Blues box set. While I like the idea of lots of music from one artist, given the immense number of blues artists that are out there, I'd have preferred if the box set kept closer to it's two artists/10 songs each format.

Volume 15 and 16:

Lightnin' Hopkins
Sam John Hopkins was born in Texas, and made his home base in Houston. He is considered one of the best blues guitarists ever, and is certainly the most prolific. His predominant styles are the talking blues, and country blues. He often worked without a backing band, especially in his early years, and developed a style that incorporated both lead, rhythm, bass, and percussion with his guitar playing. Early teachers and influences were Alger "Texas" Alexander, Frankie Lee Simmons (both distant cousins), and Blind Lemon Jefferson. He moved to Houston from Centerville in the early 40s with Alexander, but they failed to break into the music business, and they returned home. He tried again in 1946 and an LA record scout found him, signed him to Aladdin Records, and paired him with Wilson Smith. It was the record company that named him Lightnin' (And Wilson was named Thunder), as a marketing trick. He returned to Houston shortly after, and spent most of the 50s performing only in Texas. In the 60s and 70s he toured and recorded frequently, sometimes putting out two records a year. He also became heavily integrated into the Folk scene in America through Mack McCormick.

Hopkins' guitar playing is amazing, many of the songs are just him and his guitar, and you can hear him playing lead and rhythm both. His song subjects are an amazing range too, from the raunchy Play With Your Poodle to the gospel Needed Time. Between the two sits his blues standards. The recordings themselves here are clean and clear. The collection goes to span a decent amount of time, though it does seem to stick to music from the 50s and 60s - the older recordings. Given how prolific a writer he was, the twenty songs here barely even begin to cover his discography.

Howlin' Wolf
Chester Arthur Burnett, named after president Chester A Arthur, was born in Mississippi. His figure was imposing both musically and physically, standing at six feet six inches. His style was almost exclusively Chicago Blues, of which he was an important figure in the 1950s and 60s. Large and loud. Before that he learned to play from Charlie (or Charley) Patton back home in the delta. Charlie (considered the father of Delta Blues) also showed Wolf the showmanship guitar tricks he would do at shows. Wolf also had the distinction of being one of the few blues musicians to start out in the 30s that didn't die poor. It's also worth a note that Matt "Guitar" Murphy had to teach Wolf to play on-time to 12-bar blues as he frequently went off-time.

In contrast to Lightin's smooth style, Howlin' is loud and brash. His rough voice towers over the music, which is closer to rock than blues sometimes. Wolf leads with his voice as much as his guitar playing, which is just another instrument in the band, unlike many blues artists who are guitarists first. if you want some loud rockin' chicago blues then definitely go find some recordings from Howlin' Wolf.

Next Weeks Blues - Alberta Hunter, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Robert Johnson

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Week Of 2/14 - Blues, Electroswing, Soft Rock, Industrial, Moombahton

This week's new release is all the way from Germany, an acoustic collection with bonus live content, some blues, and a couple compilations. I got a lot of music added in this week, so, on with the show. This week I'm starting up something new - linking directly to a Discogs page with the album in question (where possible, often the bonus tracks aren't officially eligible for the database) so one can see album covers, and other info.

New Releases:
Eisbrecher - Die Hölle Muss Warten
Label: Metropolis Records
Released: 2/14 2012
Genre: Industrial, Industrial Rock, Neue Deutsche Härte
Discogs - Die Hölle Muss Warten US release
For the last couple of years Metropolis has been bringing Eisbrecher's albums over to the US, which is good. One of the many German industrial rock bands that Americans will immediately recognize as the same style of Rammstein. And as much as I like Rammstein they're on the bottom of the pile of bands in this arena. Eisbrecher is very much near the top, formed when one of the members of Megaherz left that band. They aren't as outright heavy and hard as others, which is part of what I like. The oscillate between a crunchy metal sound and a darkwave dance sound. The latest, Hell Must Wait, is no exception, opening with Tanz Mit Mir (there may be a rule about all German bands having to title a song this at some point), it delivers a few heavy punches before calming down and settling into a nice groove. Every album they put out just keeps getting better (though I missed one and have to go back and pick it up).

Recently Released:
Free Dominguez - Unearth (plus bonus Live tracks)
Label: self released
Released: February 2012
Genre: Soft Rock, Rock
Discogs - Unearth
Free Dominguez is the lead singer of Kidneythieves, an industrial/hard rock/darkwave duo. Her solo material  is of a decidedly different bent. Soft rock music, most of it just guitar and her singing. Free's voice is easy, flows nicely. She doesn't croon, shout, or attempt to make lighter music sound heavier. It's all very good, very relaxing, very smooth. Most of the tracks on this release are from her previous solo effort, but there's also some newer recordings, and one song specifically for this release. The music spans a great deal of time, and subject matter, but it's all very consistent, very strong.

The live set is available as part of a special order of the album, a three part Acoustic Live set from NYC, on December 29, 2011. It's only available digitally from her website and as part of a package with Unearth. You can hear that it's a rather small intimate setting, and a good clean recording. It's hard to tell if it's from the soundboard and the audience can be heard through the mic, or if it's recorded separately. There's no actual track listing, but she's clear enough you should be able to pick out the songs easily. Very much worth the extra few dollars over buying the CD alone.

Moombah-Thong The New Wave Vol. 2
Label: none (
Released: February 2012
Genre: Moombahton

Moombah! Bass! stripped out of a lot of mid-range noise, not even bothering with breaks and drops sometimes, slowed down house music, often with Latin pieces generously laid over it. Moombahton is one of those extremely dancey genres that can easily make a club night out that much more. Not nearly as fast as the normal pop-dance, industrial, and other club cuts, Moombahton still comes hard and low, and this compilation put out by a bunch of producers is no exception (don't visit their tumblr at work, it's NSFW due to posts always coming with a pantie, or thong, shot. Very clever). The compilation flows extremely well, each song fits next to the other perfectly, a real DJ got a hold of this, not just any old producer. You could put this on and not even worry about it for an hour.

Adding To The Collection:
Joe Bonamassa -  The Ballad Of John Henry
Label: J+R Adventures
Released: 2009
Genre: Blues, Blues-Rock
Discogs - The Ballad Of John Henry US release
The Ballad Of John Henry is pretty much an American standard classic song, or tale rather. Because there are literally dozens of variations on it. Most of them retell the folk story of John Henry vs the steam hammer. But not all, like the opening track here, which is about a man who doesn't want to end up the same as John, dying by the hammer. After that the album rolls on into Bonamassa's solid blues style. Heavily guitar driven, with Joe's unique voice over it. He even does a solid cover of Tom Waits' Jockey Full Of Bourbon. Fun fact on Waits songs: even when the song is a completely unique cover, you can hear Wait's cadence behind it, Joe does a good job of not mangling this. An excellent album, good, loud blues rock. If you're a fan of the Black Keys, you'll want to be a fan of Joe too.

Electroswing III
Label: Wagram Records
Released: 2010
Genre: Electroswing
Discogs - Electroswing III
In the US it's just easier to get the compilations, and usually a little cheaper too. This is the fourth compilation of the genre I've picked up, the last of the big ones currently out, and the third in this series. This one, unlike the first two, is much more coherent. The songs fit together better. Instead of simply a collection of tracks taken almost at random, someone took a moment to make this compilation flow. And it's got some really really good tracks on it to. The now obligatory Caravan Palace ends the album. Movits! makes an appearance, as does Tape Five (twice!) - both standards on the scene.  But a few new names popped up that had me checking around for decently priced imports. In-Grid who is a French pop-star that apparently decided to go full swing for at least one album. Dirty Honkers, a three piece based out of Berlin (but from Israel, Canada, and France). So, with a bunch of compilations under my belt, now it's time to dig around and see if I can't get this stuff in the US...

Next Week:
A bunch of digital EPs I've had hanging around my hard drive looking lost and wanting into the playlist, more blues, some psychobilly, and rumba from the Congo, and some Synth-Pop out of Canada.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Morning Blues - John Lee Hooker, Earl Hooker, Wynonie Harris, Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Continuing down the path of the ABC Of The Blues boxset, this week is one of my all time favorite artists, John Lee Hooker.

Volume 13 & 14

John Lee Hooker
 JL Hooker got his start in 1948 when a demo was sent to Modern Records label, his first song, Boogie Chillen', was a hit. John's style is walking blues, and closely related to delta blues. But his vocals rarely match the bars, he rarely played a standard beat. As a result one producer had him stomp the beat on a wooden pallet so other musicians could follow it. He also recorded under a number of different pseudonyms so he could make more money (black musicians weren't always paid a lot), sometimes he'd record variations on a song all over recording studios in a short time. Using John Lee Booker, John Lee Cooker, Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, or The Boogie Man, depending on which label he was working with.

The selection here contains a number of hits, from the first Boogie Chillen' to the House Rent Boogie (which gained real fame as the opening section of George Thorogood's cover of One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer), and I'm In The Mood. As well as a number of songs that don't make it onto compilations normally. Missing, and I'm glad for it, is Boom Boom, possibly his most famous song that can be found anywhere and space here is better used in less known songs. How John Lee didn't warrant a disc all to himself like other artists, I don't know.

Wynonie Harris
Wynonie got his start as a performer, with a dance partner, in his native Nebraska. In 1935 he had a chance to sing the blues, eventually moved to L.A., and was discovered playing in a nightclub in the mid 1940s by Lucky Millinder (who is not featured in this box set). That lasted only a very short time, a year later he was out on his own, with a solo career, his first recording was Around The Clock, which had enough popularity to keep him recording. His lyrics were on the raunchier side of decent, most of his songs about parties, drugs, sex, and the like. Forty years later he'd probably be forming a hair metal band instead... By the 1960s his song topics became less popular and his fortune was lost.

Musically, his songs are jump and boogie style blues. With his shouted lyrics, and raucous content he certainly sounds the part of a hard drinking bluesman who parties all night long. If you need some blues to slide into a mix of jump and jive or boogie, then this is who you need to go find some music from.

Earl Hooker
A cousin of John Lee Hooker, his family moved to Chicago from Mississippi when he was one. He took after T-Bone Walker as his predominant influence of guitar playing. In 1946 he ended up in Arkansas with Robert Nighthawk for several years. He returned to Chicago in the 1950s and continued to play. It was during the 1960s that he became a house guitarist for Chess Records, working with Muddy Waters among others. He died of tuberculosis in 1970, a condition that had plagued him since his youth.

We only get four tracks here, which is a shame. It doesn't really showcase his slide guitar style. But he also didn't pursue much of a solo career, and most recordings of him were credited to other artists. His voice is good, but doesn't project as much as other blues artists.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Jay is as much R&B as traditional blues (though R&B was simply a marketing term assigned to sell records in a more friendly manner). He's very much jump and boogie style, with a great deal of showmanship. Jay wanted to be an opera singer, and his loud projected voice shows it. He ended up in the blues, and brought that same projection to that style. In the 1950s he became known for his outlandish concerts as much as for his music. He emerged from coffins, affected faux voodoo symbolism (such as a smoking skull on a stick named Henry), and other antics.

The music here, all 16 tracks of it, is classic Hawkins. Yells, grunts and, and the famous full recording of I Put A Spell On You that had been both edited and banned outright when originally recorded starts off the set. Nothing in his career matched the success of that song (which he had recorded so drunk he blacked out and had to relearn the song from the recording). There are songs like Hong Kong which sing like he was reading a menu. And an amazing a cappella rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Over all, a lot of this was as much early rock and roll as it was R&B.

Next Week - Lightin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Week of 2/7 - Hard Rock, Hip-Hop, Soft Rock, Industrial, and various Zimbabwe musics

Trying to keep each week eclectic, always looking for new and different stuff... A release I took a look at last fall but didn't pick up until now, something different from South Africa, discovering just how much Rumba is in Zimbabwe's music, and a compilation I had sitting in my digital pile.

New Releases:
Die Antwoord - Ten$ion
Label: Zef Records
Released: 2/7 2011
Genre: Hip-Hop, Rap
A trio from South Africa, a DJ and alternating male and female MCs. It's styled as 'Zef' which is a South African street subculture I'm not even going to try and describe, I'd have no idea where to begin, but it has some definite parallels to American Hip-Hop culture. The music itself alternates between hip-hop and trance/rave beats. Lyrics alternate between English and Afrikaans, which makes for a very rapid fire delivery. It's definitely a little different, and I like it, though the lyrical content towards vulgar, almost purile, some of it is gangsta to an almost comedic effect. Hopefully, the musical style catches on, it doesn't rely on standard hip-hop beats, mixing in rave, dubstep, drum'n'bass and house styles throughout.

Adding To The Collection:
Icon For Hire - Scripted
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Released: 2011
Genre: Hard Rock, Nu Metal
The debut full length album from the band almost looks like it will fall lock step into female-lead vocal hard rock of the last decade, made popular by Evanescence. Luckily, it does nothing of the sort. Ariel has a strong rock style, not the classical singing style others try to emulate. The music is solid rock, with a bit of industrial sensibility tossed in to keep it from being just heavy metal. Ariel can easily switch between a slower and faster sung styles, keeping up with tempo changes in the music so the vocals match up. The album has a theme behind it about fame, fortune, and identity. Well put together, catchy, I can only imagine they're getting some decent radio play - or I hope they are, they deserve the exposure and I'm looking forward to the future of this group.

Sarah McLachlan - Surfacing
Label: Arista Records
Released: 1997
Genre: Soft Rock, Folk Rock
Most of my exposure to Sarah is actually through a proliferation of house, ambient, and other remixes from the electronic music scene. It's a wonder that I never really went back to the source to give her a closer listen. So I do, finally, and... her voice is excellent, alluring, melodic, and easily adapted to trip-hop and related genres. I can hear how someone would listen and think she needed a heavier treatment to the music, even if most of her remixes and covers ended up on the ambient style. This album, itself, is a pretty standard sound of soft, or folk, rock. The music light, non-intrusive on her vocals, which are a light touch, no yelling and indignent sneering from her, even when the song content sounds like she should be a bit angry. I think I'll come back and check out more recent albums to see how she's evolved. As it, this album is a good light album to put on when you want an acoustic background. This is the album with Building A Mystery, that song that was on the radio every 14 seconds for a while there.

Matrix Downloaded 001
Label: Alfa Matrix
Released: 2011
Genre: Industrial, EBM, Electro
To celebrate ten years as a label, Alfa Matrix decided to offer up a 34-track free download, which has been sitting on my hard drive since the fall sometime. And now it is loaded into my library. And most of it I have already, not because I own a lot of these albums (honestly, I don't, the exchange rate to get music from Europe sucks), but because I ended up with a lot of compilations through 2010 and 2011 that contain tons of the same songs here. Which makes this slightly redundant in my library, but still cool. This is essentially a Double CD (they even conveniently meta-tag the tracks as 2 17-track discs) compilation spanning most of ten years, for free. You really can't argue with that. Most of this is EBM and Electro, from light to hard - and well mixed to flow evenly between the two, a DJ set this order up.  There are about a half dozen tracks you won't find anywhere else, and most of the rest are only available on various compilations anyway - making it a pretty good download unless you're overly obsessive...

Rough Guide To The Music Of Zimbabwe
Label: World Music Network
Released: 1995
Genre: Zimbabwe Tradtional, Rumba
This time around I went into research mode and learned something about traditional Zimbabwe musics, coming up with a few genres local to the area. And then listened to this compilation and found a whole bunch of it full of Rumba, a lot done with traditional instruments, but the beats are unmistakeably Rumba in a lot of this music. Even the local Shona and Chimurenga. It's also unclear if the Mbira (sometimes known as the thumb piano) is just an instrument, or a genre unto itself. Since the instrument appears all over the place, I personally think it's just an instrument used to create the local rhythms. This is all good, fun, upbeat, and danceable music - everything presented here says Move. Good enough I think i'll start looking for more of it.

Bonus Track:
Seki Yukio - My First Hardcore Song by 8yr Old Juliey (Dubstep mix)
Label: Soundcloud release
Genre: Dubstep
So... someone recorded what had to be their little sister singing to a pretty hardcore punk bit, the original is about a minute or two long.  The opening line "Get your 2-step on" is shouted loudly and with the kind of energy I wish more bands brought to the stage, the guitar is anything but 2-step... German producer Seki Yukio got ahold of it, and turned it into a pretty fun dubstep track. While the original could easily fit on an SOD album, the remix belongs in a club at top volume. Really, it's these kinds of random bits that make the modern digital age so cool... you'd never get this in a record store.

Next week - keeping it diverse; Industrial Rock (Neue Deutsche Harte, technically), Electroswing, Soft Rock, Blues Rock, and a Moombahton collection.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Morning Blues - Lowell Fulson, The Four Blazes, Buddy Guy, Arthur Gunter, Slim Gaillard

Our continued adventures with the 52-Disc "The ABC Of The Blues" boxset...
Volume 12 again breaks the 10-tracks each from 2 artists, giving us only 4 tracks for Buddy, 9 for Arthur, and 7 for Slim.

Volumes 11 and 12

Lowell Fulson
An important musician in the west coast blues furing the 40s and 50s. His guitar playing is very close to early rock and roll, so much so that later on ZZ Top would cover his now blues standard Tramp. Originally from Oklohoma, but moved to California in the early 1940s. He recorded on the Checker label until 1962, though his most prolific period was the late 40s. He passed away in Long Beach after a long cateer with very few breaks in it.

None of his really big hits, or songs of his that would become blues standards are present here. The box set dug a little deeper into his career and came out with some real gems. There's a whole bunch of swining R&B here, early blues rock, almost nothing that is 'classic blues' from the east. All of these are perfect examples of west coast blues.

The Four Blazes
There were actually two groups known as the Four Blazes at the same time, one in L.A., the other in Chicago. The Chicago group was the blues outfit, whom we're listening to here. Closer to an R&B band in many ways, still very blues. The lives shows also featured more than music, each of the members would do impressions or short comedy routines during the set, making them more a stage act than others. The band had broken up by 1955, going their own ways.

This is, from what I can tell, close to an actual set list that would have been performed, and not simply a collection from their catalog. Though the interspersed comedy routines aren't present. The sound is good, clean, without any degradation due to time or trying to take from vinyl, which is nice. Though, they feel a lot closer to jazz than blues a lot of the time, but there's still always that blues rhythm under it. If you want some blues that's geared a little more toward a night club or dancing find some of their records, a few collections have made their way into the market.

Buddy Guy
George "Buddy" Guy is one of the more interesting guitarists in this box set, his playing is amazing, and sometimes bizarre as he's been known to play the guitar with drum sticks. He got his start in Louisiana, playing a custom built two string diddley bow. In 1957 he moved to Chicago, fell under the spell of Muddy Waters guitar playing, won a record contract on Cobra records (by beating out Magic Sam and Otis Rush), and launched a career that's still going today. One of the leaders of Chicago Blues through the sixties and seventies, but it wasn't until the 1980s that his career hit larger success with the blues revival.

Given that Buddy is still active, and has a fifty year career by now, the inclusion of only four tracks from this amazing guitarist is odd. I'll put it down to licensing. The four tracks we do get are classic Chicago blues with a strong guitar leading the band. He's definitely worth seeking out and finding more music from, most of it is readily available.

Arthur Gunter
Arthur was a blues guitarist from Tennessee, and may have lived and performed in near obscurity like many musicians were it not for one hit. Elvis heard 'Baby Let's Play House' and recorded it in 1955, making the song famous, but not Arthur. By 1966 his recording career had all but ended as his contract and band both dissolved. He never recaptured the early glory of the mid 1950s.

The first song we get is his hit, which is a nice little tune, you can easily hear how Elvis could turn this into Rock and Roll.  All the songs here are a classic Chicago-style rhythm and blues sound. Only one song short of the full ten most artists get in this box-set, and still, you feel a little cheated by it. A great collection of songs, it's too bad Arthur never made it bigger and remained in the shadows of the blues movement. Blues After Hours, his final song here, is absolutely amazing, it sounds like the iconic blues song of the fifties.

Slim Gaillard
Slim is actually known as a jazz and bebop artist, famous for singing in made up languages (hobbled together from the nine languages he's reported to have spoken). He started his music career in the 1930s with Slam Stewart as "Slim & Slam", even then most of his repertoire was a kind of improvised jazz-blues rhythm. His history is unknown, born in either Cuba, Florida, or Alabama. The legend goes his father took him to Europe when he was 12, where Slim was left behind on Crete, he worked his way back to the US, moved to Detroit and started to make music.

Given he is known for bebop and jazz, finding even seven blues tracks for this compilation must have been a bit difficult. Even the ones they did find have a jazz feeling to them, some overwhelmingly so. While I like the songs, they are excellent, and it was good to be introduced to the artist ... I would have preferred more actual blues - not a kind of bebop masquerading as the blues.

Music aside - they really should have flipped the number of tracks Buddy got versus the number Slim got on this disc. Buddy is a classic blues guitarist, and known for it. It seems on this disc they slipped a little too far away from The Blues. Though, given just how much Blues is in any form of American music, I can't say I'm surprised.

Next Week - Volumes 13 and 14: John Lee Hooker, Wynonie Harris, Earl Hooker, Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Some decidedly awesome blues in the next two CDs...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Week Of 1/31 - Synthpop, Trip-Hop, House, Modern Classical, Pop

This week in new releases I explore Danish pop music, find a strange little compilation from the 90s that should have been left there, finally finish my Unwoman backcatalogue, and more...

New Releases:
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour - Out Of Frequency
Label: self released (Distributed through BMG Entertainment)
Released: 1/31 2012
Genre: Synthpop, Pop
Remember Rover from The Prisoner TV Series? The bouncing balls that captured runaways and returned them to the Village? Imagine that mutated into a giant Disco Ball, chasing you down, trying to return you to a night club past its Coolness Expiration Date. That touches on the pop-banality that is embodied in this album. A dash of synthpop sensibility saves it from complete annihilation, but in all honesty... the beats are boring. The lead singers voice hovers somewhere between "she's twelve, right?" and a husky R&B smoothness. Two songs stand out as worth pulling onto a nights worth of dance-pop-music fun, Heart Attack and Ghost In My Head, with the first being actually good. Otherwise, the album manages to not sound completely uninteresting. In ten years I'll probably wonder why I bought this in the first place. Final analysis? Some harsh electro would save this, otherwise it sinks under it's own weight of recycled dance rhythms. Despite that I like it a little bit.

Adding To The Collection:
Poe - Hello
Label: Atlantic
Released: 1995
Genre: Trip-Hop, Pop
Speaking of pop... Poe entered in the 1990s, as Trip-Hop started to evolve itself, and it's those trip-hop beats that save Poe from the previously mentioned pop-banality. Her voice is smooth, unmarred with any kind of over reaching desire to actually sound pop-music influenced. The music moves back and forth between soft-rock and trip-hop beats, from one song to the next. The whole thing feels completely radio friendly, but not actually radio-boring. A few tracks did find themselves endlessly repeated on stations in the US just discovering "techno" and female lead vocals that weren't Madonna pop-music clones or Lita Ford wannabe screamers. This album is good, catchy, and ultimately the kind of thing that saved us from an endless wave of complete shit. How this took so long to end up in my collection - who knows, it was always one of those "Hey, I should buy that..." albums that, well, I never got around to. At this point, you should revisit Poe (and the newer stuff is amazing, also on the To Get List...), and purchase this. Give it a listen, it's quiet, loud, amusing, sad, and all together extremely well produced. Hello has aged well as an album, even if it seems a little antiquated, it's not an ageless album, but you can still pull it out and genuinely enjoy it, with or without nostalgia.

Unwoman - Trouble EP
Label: none (available on Bandcamp)
Released: 2008
Genre: Pop, Synthpop, Modern Classical
This 6 song EP starts out with a kind of light neo-classical kind of sound, like most of her work. After that, it gets more electronic production than modern classical. The cello is still there, but the synth-pop kind of beats tend to take a more center stage appearance in some of the music. This isn't a bad colllection, but it doesn't really leave an impression either. It's just there, good music but it feels like there's nothing there making me want to pause and Listen. Throw it on in the background and let it fill the room, like chamber music, you welcome its presence, but mostly because you'd rather not have silence. Not to disparage ovbviously good music, but this is a lot like a watered down Danielle Dax.

Unwoman - Unremembered
Label: none (available on Bandcamp)
Released: 2010
Genre: Modern Classical
There's something in here I really like, it reminds me a lot of the synth-driven darkwave and ambience from bands like Daughter Darling, Bed Of Roses, or even Switchblade Sumphony. Coupled with a kind of smart pop-sensibility that gives you the catchy grooves and hooks without numbing the mind. I put this one on and kind of absentmindedly nod my ahead along to it, half listening and half simply absorbing it. Gone are a lot of the staggered rhythms or interrupted beats from earlier albums. The whole thing flows and works together quite nicely. Layer on more percussion and these songs could easily slip into a club-scene danse set, as they sit it's a quieter space that actually does fill the room with a lively sound that every once in a while you stop and listen for a moment, before continuing on. It's the kind of album I'd put on if I needed something upbeat to get some work done to, without it being so intrusive it interferes with the work. Definitely an album to go pick up.

Baz Luhrmann Presents: Something For Everybody
Label: Capital Records
Released: 1999
Genre: House, Pop, etc
Moving right back into - WTF?! there's this. Absolutely proof that not just any asshole with a sequencer who can cleverly put together a single hit should actually be given a full record to work on. Remember that song "Wear sunscreen..." and this older sounding guy going on about a bunch of advice like "Live in New York once, but leave before it makes you hard..." and so on? Yeah, someone told Baz he could make a whole album. And it's a bunch of remixes and covers, only a moderately decent cover of When Doves Cry even comes close to not being total crap. This is pretty much everything wrong with 1990s style House/Electronica. It's just a horrible compilation. I literally ran across the CD by accident, I don't even have the full case and liner notes (Discogs helped with all of that), obviously the previous owner felt the same way I do now. This is pretty much what happens when the 'music industry' thinks it knows what's going on, this came out of the US about the same time the UK was developing what would be come dubstep, France was starting to experiment with electro-swing, and the rest of the House Music world was diversifying, this takes all the music DJs and Producers made and distills down into a pop-music death spiral. The song was right, Wear Sunscreen, the rest, leave behind. This should have been titled "Nothing For Anybody."
Next Week:
I explore South African hip-hop, find some modern Hard Rock that doesn't suck, a little Soft Rock to balance it out, check out Zimbabwe, and drag myself through yet another Industrial/EBM compilation. . .

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Morning Blues - Willie Dixon, Floyd Dixon, Snooks Eaglin, Sleepy John Estes

Onwards through the ABC Of The Blues...

Volume 9 and 10

Willie Dixon
Bo Diddley (last week) wasn't the only influence as Rock N Roll formed out of the Blues. Willi Dixon, another important post-WWII musician worked with Diddley, and Chuck Berry. But his more heavily felt influence is in Chicago Blues after the war, along with Muddy Waters, he helped cement the sound. A little rock, some doo wop can be heard in his music, and a lot of blues. Willie was born in Mississippi, left for Chicago in 1936, and took up boxing. He formed a music group, but that was cut short when he resisted the draft in WWII and spent ten months in jail. Willie worked mostly as a session musician, producer, and song writer, but he had output of his own.

A lot of his early music was by and from early musicians, and since he played mostly the double bass, a lot of the recordings here seem to come from various sources and groups, especially the early ones from the forties and fifties. All of it is pure Chicago Blues from the faster rock sounding songs to the slower deeper blues. If you want to start getting more Chicago sound, look for Willie Dixon's name on it somewhere.

Floyd Dixon
Born in Texas, Floyd moved to Los Angeles in the forties, where he met Charles Brown and became part of the jump and west coast blues movements. While not a ground breaking artist, he was an important fixture in the sound, keeping it grounded in country and gospel styles from Texas. He also had a stint with Modern Records, which specialized in jump blues with more sexualized undertones, before he left to become the pianist in Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in 1950.

Another good classic set of songs, another grouping of songs I'll recognize a tune from when it comes over a blues station or in a blues set. It's listening to a group of songs like this that one realizes just how much influence some musicians can have without ever becoming huge names themselves. Music that musicians listen to, in a sense.

Snooks Eaglin
Moving over to New Orleans, Snooks, or Blind Snooks Eaglin, is one of the unpredictable blues artists. He has a wide range of songs he plays from, including rock and latin influences as well as classic blues. He was also sporadic in recording, and doesn't have as large a discography as others who performed for the past fifty years, boasting maybe only a dozen albums of his own. He dropped out of he school for the blind a few years after winning a radio contest (at age 11) for musicians. He also didn't tour extensively, preferring to stay in his hometown of New Orleans.

His recordings here come from a pretty wide range, there's a bit of crackle and hiss in the songs here, indicating they might have been take from vinyl originally, though he was late enough that analog masters may still exist. The classic One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer appears here in its original blues format, than the more well known hard rock rhythm it's usually heard in.

Sleepy John Estes
 Moving back in time to before WWII, John Estes birthdate is unknown, given as either 1899 or 1904, it is known he died in 1977 in his native Tennessee. He recorded from the twenties to the forties, with little acclaim. Even in his younger days his singing was marked by a 'crying' style that made many think he was older than he was. By the sixties he had faded completely into obscurity and poverty, and stopped recording. He was rediscovered in 1962, and recorded and toured some more from that point onward. His songs were deeply rooted in his life, usually about people he knew, or agriculture, or just events.

The songs are very clean recordings, clear with little background noise. He's usually accompanied by at least one other musician, though his voice comes out over the instruments. This is classic country blues, without any other influences. This is the deep roots of the blues that everything else eventually came from. Guitar, voice, and harmonica are the only instruments that make any real appearance. This is exactly where some of the 'old blues standards' come from.

Next Week: Lowell Fulson, The Four Blazes, Buddy Guy, Arthur Gunter, and Slim Gaillard.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Week Of 1/24 - Modern Classical/Pop, Metal, Bollywood, Blues-Rock, Darkwave

A bunch of new releases came out this week, and I couldn't even try and get them all. The music year finally seems to be getting underway....

New Releases:
Ingrid Michaelson - Human Again
Label: Cabin 24 Records
Released: 1/24 2012
Genre: pop-rock, modern classical
After hearing just the one track from her Ghost single, and it being my first exposure to Ingrid, I was hoping for a lot more of what I got on that album. I didn't really get all that, so it didn't meet those expectations, there's a little more pop- in this album than I expected. But it's executed without irony or overused hooks, it's a solid, not quite completely classical style, album. Fun, quiet at times, Ingrid doesn't suddenly punch out with a loud song. It's not subdued though, call it middle of the road music. I found listening to the album to be relaxing, after a sense. Doesn't mean the album was emotionally dull, there's plenty of emotion here, positive and negative, coming out in the notes. It's good, solid, and will likely be in regular rotation for a while, her voice is close to hypnotic.

Lacuna Coil - Dark Adrenaline
Label: Century Media
Released: 1/24 2012
Genre: Heavy Metal
On first listen my only thought was 'wait, did I put on the wrong album?' - because it strikes me as sounding exactly like the only other Lacuna Coil album I own "Comalies." Now, it's not a bad thing to have a very consistent sound (AC/DC has been putting out pretty much the same album since 1976), but there is always something about it that makes it stand out a little (I never mistake Who Made Who for Razor's Edge, going back to AC/DC). On subsequent listenings I finally pulled it out from the other album, gave it a good listen, and I have to say it's very middle of the road. It's not the kind of big epic sound I sort of expected, nor is it truly a hard metal sound. It hits all the right rock notes, just not entirely enthusiastically. The dual male/female lead vocals is certainly better than the usual one or the other I normally pick up. I have to admit, my metal leanings are very much towards old school thrash-metal, so anything with a metal tag deviating from that isn't my bag. The travesty here, though, is the fucking awful cover of Losing My Religion. It lacks all of the impact of the original song, and just sounds like a bored b-side banged out because the studio needed something for a single. I quite like the second to last song Fire, I wish the rest of the album sounded more like it. I imagine if you're a Lacuna Coil fan you will love the hell out of this album, for me it may be another 6 years before I come back around to them again.

I:Scintilla - Swimmers Remixed
Label: none (self-released)
Released: 1/24 2012
Genre: Darkwave, Industrial
This little 3-track digital EP was made available to members of the mailing list only, making it a rarity. It's three remixes of Swimmers Can Drown, a nice little bonus for hard core fans. Of which, I might be one. The remixes are pretty good actually, and I wonder what happened that didn't get them onto a released EP or the 2-CD edition of the album 'Dying & Falling.' They aren't just dance-floor friendly iterations of the song, but decent reconstructions - though no one does anything really bizarre, keeping the industrial-rock edge the song has. It's little tidbits like this that I sign up for band mailing lists - a good band doesn't mail you often, and when they do they make it count.

Adding To The Collection:
Joe Bonamassa - A New Day Yesterday
Label: J + R Adventures
Released: 2004
Genre: Blues, Blues Rock
Blues-Rock, pure and simple. Opens with a strong guitar riff, and keeps on going. Joe has a 'classic' blues voice, a little rough in parts, a bit deeper than normal, talks as much as sings, and yet still smooth and clear. His guitar provides most of the lead here. This is an early effort of his, as such it sounds a lot like other blues albums out there, but you can hear something distcint coming through. A lot more rock than strict blues, the tempo is a bit faster than blues standards tend to be. Really, a great album, this is his debut solo album and he really goes out of his way to show his stuff with solid guitar solos. It also contains half a dozen cover songs (including the opening track), which Joe really makes his own, which isn't always the easiest to do on a cover song. If you want solid blues rock go track this one down and add it to your collection.

Anti- Fall Music Sampler
Label: Anti-
Released: 2011
Genre: Rock, Pop, Blues, Coutnry, Folk, ah labels....
Label compilations are often the weirdest kind to pick up - the bonus is they're almost always free which gives one a chance to get a whole bunch of bands in one place and check out a song. Unless the label is a very focused label you tend to get a grab-bag of styles. Anti- is home to a whole bunch of people who are some variation on Rock Music. The first track is the undeniably awesome Tom Waits (I already bought that album, let's move on). Joe Henry is next, a folkrock number, decent enough song. Tinariwen, a desert-blues group from Mali, never would have expected to see them show up here (they're on a Rough Guide To Mali I own as well), an almost out of place song and good to see a US label pick them up. DeVotchKa, native to my own Denver I'm a little over exposed to them already, not bad music, I just don't own any of it. A new Kate Bush song shows up, turns out I'm still not all that interested in her music, though I can't actually say it's bad, it's kind of good. Booker T. Jones, soul music, he's still making it, it still sounds good. Man Man, never actually heard of them, and for some reason they remind me of Bob Dorough, only not as fun, the song here doesn't catch me enough to look further. Jolie Holland, this is a country song, though I understand she does blues and jazz too, also paydirt, I like her voice and I'll be going out and finding her albums. William Elliot Whitmore, more folk rock, good song, but not great. Marketa Irglova, whom I've never hard of but I quite like her voice, though the music is a bit soft. Wilco, fuck wilco. And that's the end of that compilation, one artist I'll be finding, one I'll consider, not bad for the standard hodgepodge of artists labels throw together on these things. It was free at my local indie-store, as these things should be, ask yours if there are any label promos to check out, even finding one new artist is a win for the effort.

The Rough Guide To Bollywood Gold
Label: World Music Network
Released: 2007
Genre: Bollywood
Bollywood! Not quite traditional Indian, not quite modern music either. It's a quirky combination of the two that sounds, well, like it came from a movie scene. Because that's what it did. Taking the songs out of context is sometimes weird - as a few of them include a snippet of opening dialogue or movie sound effect. A few sound like very traditional Indian music, and a few are not even close, like the one track on here that is totally surf-rock set to indian beats and vocals. Epic really does describe some of the music here, and the only regret is that it's only audio and you can't see the obviously extravegant dance routines that go into these movies. Fun mix to toss into a playlist with other Indian music, because these songs are not dull, at all, ever.

Next Week - pop music from Denmark, the last of the Unwoman discography I have left, some trip-hop from the mid 90s, and a collection of, er, showtunes of a sort.