Blog | Music: Mixed Media Online
Post Grammy Hangover
Musical artists and categories that remain Grammy pariahs
While it’s great to see artists like Sam Smith, Hozier, Bastille, Haim, Sia, Ed Sheeran, John Legend and Coldplay and even Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s collaboration nominated in the major categories, the Grammy awards show this year remains controversial. There seem to be many musical artists and various categories that are still Grammy pariahs.
Although nominated in the best rock album category, U2 was one of the big losers this year, before any awards were even given out. Their album Songs of Innocence was criticized for the way it was released for free on iTunes. The group has also been criticized for making what some refer to as boring boomer rock and, to add insult to injury, prior to the group’s tour to promote their new album, lead singer Bono was seriously hurt in a bicycle accident in Manhattan’s Central Park. It’s a shame that the music press reviewed the way the album was released instead of the music. The fact is that the album is one of the group’s best. It is very reflective, with the group looking back at its roots and Bono writes eloquently about his family.
Attesting to the continued healthy state of the British pop music scene, Sam Smith’s debut release Stay With Me was one of the big winners this year, despite the breaking news that he settled out of court with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne over songwriting credit for the title track. Hozier’s eponymous debut breakthrough reminds one of the Gotye Making Mirrors album from 2011. Hozier has made a quirky passionate album but has clearly broken through to that elusive larger audience.
There were a number of excellent albums worth mentioning that were completely ignored by the Grammy voters. Mutineers (IHT) from David Gray is the Irish artist’s first album in ten years and one that all the young Ed Sheeran fans should check out. Half the City (Thirty Tigers) from St. Paul & The Broken Bones is the debut album from an exciting Alabama-based soul band that marks the beginning of a musical group that is destined for big things. Midnight Sun (Chimera) from Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger proves once again that Sean Lennon and his partner Charlotte Kemp Mull are creating original and exciting music that proves Lennon is making music on his own terms and long ago stepped out of the musical shadow of his late great dad. Thompson Family (Fantasy), from Richard and Linda Thompson, their son Teddy Thompson with various other children and relations is a mostly acoustic roots album from one of the great musical families in British folk history. Radiohead’s Phil Selway’s release Weatherhouse (Bella Union) is an album of lush electronica that fans of Radiohead will love and once again proves that its drummer is an accomplished artist in his own right.
Guide to Holiday Music
Are you listening?
If you are tired of sharing the mall with other stressed-out, over-drawn shoppers and would like to spend this holiday season in regal splendor in a time gone by, pick up Christmas at Downton Abbey (Warner Bros.). This 2-CD set features period holiday music and even a few numbers from members of the cast. Other performances include heavenly holiday chestnuts from Choir of Kings College Cambridge, Taverner Choir and Taverner Consort, among many other artists.
A perfect follow-up to the mostly classical and choral-inspired Downton Abbey Christmas is A Michael Feinstein Christmas (Concord). Feinstein is a New Yorker, but an American treasure in the way his career has been devoted to keeping the great American songbook fresh for new generations of music listeners. This sparse piano and vocal outing perfectly captures the simple melodies and timelessness of holiday songs from various eras, but with an obvious emphasis on pre-rock ballads.
Idina Menzel has become a superstar as the voice of Elsa in the animated family blockbuster film Frozen. This Christmas CD Holiday Wishes (Warner Bros.) is the perfect follow-up to the film and with her current star turn on Broadway in If/Then, she claims a unique place in the world of music. Her duet here with Michael Buble on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” alone makes this CD worth the price of admission.
An American group who has created a unique hybrid of holiday and winter music in the past and now has another fresh take on the season is Over The Rhine. The group is basically led by the husband and wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. Their newest, Blood Oranges in the Snow (Great Speckled Dog), continues in the vein of previous releases with original songs that directly address the holiday season and others that reflect the many moods of winter.
Dan Hicks has had a remarkable career as a member of both the seminal Psychedelic San Francisco group The Charlatans and Bay-area retro faves Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks. If that is not enough, Hicks has been making holiday music with various friends as the Christmas Jug Band. Their newest CD, Jugology: Greatest Near Misses (Best Of…), on Globe Records, collects tracks from their five acclaimed albums. There are two tracks not available on previous releases, making this an indispensable new release for hardcore Jug Band fans.
A new seven song-EP worth searching out this season is I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Epic). The main draw here is Fiona Apple’s one-of-a-kind take on “Frosty the Snowman” and the duet of “Winter Song” from Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson.
Finally, don’t miss the reissue of Imagene Peise: Atlas Eets Christmas (Warner Bros.)from the Flaming Lips originally released in 2007.
Basement Bootleg Bob
Dylan’s in the Basement Mixing up the Medicine
The Legacy-released Bob Dylan Bootleg Series has been a tremendous success. When a bootleg entitled the Great White Wonder of Bob Dylan’s music was released in July of 1969, it singlehandedly launched the rock bootleg industry that is still thriving today. The culmination of that release and the resulting underground cottage industry are manifested in what is perhaps the most anticipated reissue of the Legacy series: The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11. The Deluxe Edition is a beautiful boxed set that contains 138 tracks on six CDs of music and a hardbound book. Originally released officially as only a double-album in 1975, the music contained on these six CDs is of superior sound quality and includes nearly all of the recordings Bob Dylan and the Band recorded in 1967 at the mythic split-level house in West Saugerties, New York dubbed “Big Pink” as well as other recordings recorded at Dylan’s upstate home in the “Red Room.” The full history of these recordings has been told in entire books and as part of the many biographies of Dylan and the few books on The Band. The recordings took place after Dylan’s equally chronicled motorcycle accident and include songs he was demoing for his song publishers, covers the musicians jammed on for fun, songs Dylan went on to record himself on official studio releases and songs that later appeared on albums from The Band. Released in the midst of psychedelia, the music here is homespun American encompassing a broad range of roots styles that resonate today in dozens of groups and artists such as the commercially successful Mumford & Sons and celebrated veterans such as Wilco, to name just two. What is great about this boxed set is that now these recordings are available in the best sound quality for Dylan fans and a new generation of music listeners and have been preserved forever for the future.
Basement Tapes Revisited
Somewhat of a companion to the new Dylan and the Band Basement Tapes project is Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes (Electromagnetic Recordings/Harvest Records). This T-Bone Burnett produced project features a group comprised of Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), who took lyrics Bob Dylan wrote during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967 and created music to both update the Basement Tapes 1967 feel and make something brand new.
Two other Dylan Legacy releases include the Deluxe Edition of The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration of the music of Bob Dylan on Blu-ray and on a two-CD set. The October 1992 concert featured an all-star cast of musical legends and friends, along with Dylan himself performing Dylan favorites, hits and obscurities in an event Neil Young dubbed Bobfest. Of particular note are the performances here of Richie Havens, The Band, George Harrison, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Roger McGuinn. It’s interesting to point out that Dylan now has been at it for more than 50 years and, given his recent albums and tours, shows no signs of slowing down.
One of the most chronicled and controversial periods of Bob Dylan’s career was his conversion from folky troubadour to electric rocker. An artist who was a musical key to this transformation was Mike Bloomfield. His significance to Dylan, along with his time as a member of both The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and The Electric Flag, and his varied his solo recordings are the basis of a 3-CD/DVD box set from Legacy entitled From His Head to His Heart To His Hands. While a relatively unknown figure to casual music fans, Bloomfield’s place in music and the respect he garners as an innovative guitarist are immeasurable. While the music contained here is more than testament to his talent, the DVD Sweet Blues: A Film About Mike Bloomfield directed by Bob Sarles, evocatively places Bloomfield in the exalted musical context in which he belongs, but also leavens his artistic triumphs with reference to his troubled personality that ultimately derailed his brilliant career and caused his early death at the age of 37. His work with Dylan on his key electric solo albums, his stint with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and his recordings with his closest musical partner, Al Kooper, alone make this box set a definitive proclamation of Bloomfield’s guitar talent and musical taste.
Dylan’s Back Pages
While there have been a plethora of books on Bob Dylan through the years, two recent books are more than worthy additions. Another Side of Bob Dylan (St. Martin’s Press) from Victor Maymudes, which was co-written and edited by his son Jacob Maymudes, tells the story of Victor’s personal and professional relationship with Dylan. Jacob took many hours of tape of his father dictating for a book on Dylan that he never completed in his lifetime. This revealing book offers keen insights into some of Dylan’s key periods and is also a poignant reflection of a son discovering his father and himself through the journey of writing.
Equally insightful is The Dylanologists (Simon & Schuster) by David Kinney. Although on the surface it seems like a Dylan side-trip the book is actually a very illuminating, well-researched and perfectly written account of the sub-culture of Dylan fans whose obsession with his life and career careens from the weird to the wonderful. Kinney tells Dylan’s history through fans who follow him from show to show and those who chronicle his life and art in everything from mimeographed fanzines and blogs to those who write widely read, published tomes on the legend. The book is a surprisingly sober and thoughtful account of the relationship this sub-culture has with Dylan and how it affects the commentary, scholarship and perception of perhaps the single most important individual in the history of rock.
Legends in Print and on Stage
November 2014 Mixed Media Online
© Stevie Nicks/courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery
Stevie Nicks Crystal Photographic Visions
Fleetwood Mac fans have recently had a chance to see the classic line-up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and, for the first time in how many years, Christine McVie. On the same day that the group announced it was extending its tour into 2015 with 40 additional dates, a private party was held for Stevie Nicks. The party took place at the downtown Manhattan Openspace Gallery. It was hosted by the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the premier art-world representatives of the world’s most distinguished rock photographers. The Morrison Hotel has a permanent downtown location and one in Los Angeles, but it held the lavish event at the cavernous Openspace to accommodate the many photographers, music biz heavyweights and over-sized framed prints of Stevie Nicks’s photographs from the 70s, which are being exhibited for the first time. There was also a massive sound system playing Nicks’s new release, 24 Karat Gold – Songs From the Vault (Reprise), on vinyl.
© Stevie Nicks/courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery
The event truly was a party and once Nicks entered, the crush of photographers was intense. Nicks seemed relaxed, friendly and appreciative that such a large crowd showed up not to hear her sing but to see her photographs. After a short period, her mates in the Mac, Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie, showed up. McVie was beaming, as she held her dog in her arms; she seemed to be so content surrounded by her Fleetwood Mac bandmates. Fleetwood, who towered over nearly everyone in attendance, radiated his calm, friendly manner and was also besieged by photographers. Nicks took Fleetwood around the entire gallery, giving him a personal tour of all the photos. He stayed for quite some time and appeared captivated by the photos.
© Stevie Nicks/courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery
Long after Nicks, Fleetwood and McVie left, the party raged on. I caught up with Dave Stewart, formerly of the Eurhythmics, who produced Nicks’s previous album and directed the documentary on Nicks entitled Stevie Nicks – In Your Dreams. Sipping a martini, Stewart indicated he is working on four projects of mostly unknown, young new artists. The affable producer seemed excited about these productions, which include London-based soul singer Hollie Stephenson; Los Angeles-based Brit singer-songwriter Kaya; the Lake Poets (great name!); and Steward and Lindsey, a duo project.
As of this writing, news from the Nicks camp is that she is planning a 24 Karat Gold – Songs From the Vault, volume two.
A Time to Celebrate
The Long Island musical event of the fall is David Amram’s 84th Birthday Concert: Remembering Pete Seeger, which will take place on November 20, 2014 at 7 pm., at the Hillwood Recital Hall at Tilles Center at C.W. Post in Brookville, NY.
The evening’s performers will include David Amram and his quintet (David Amram, Kevin Twigg, Rene Hart, Robbie Winterhawk and Adam Amram), Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary), Tom Chapin, Holly Near, Guy Davis, Garland Jeffreys, Kim & Reggie Harris, Joel Rafael, The Amigos, The Chapin Sisters, Bethany & Rufus, and the Connecticut State Troubadour Kristen Graves.
Tickets are $55 in advance and can be purchased by visiting movementmusicrecords.com. There is also a VIP meet-and-greet with the performers available for an additional $45. For more information about Hillwood Recital Hall at the Tilles Center at C.W. Post, visit http://www.tillescenter.org and wcwp.org.
Show Biz Kids
60s and 70s survivors outshine current chart-toppers at two Long Island shows
Steely Dan rolled into the Paramount in Huntington on September 13th as part of the group’s Jamalot Ever After tour. For several years now the group has been avoiding the summer concert season and touring in the fall. Recent years have seen the group do multi-night runs at the Beacon Theatre, often playing entire albums from its 70s golden era in one night.
At the Paramount, with 14 musicians on stage, the group played a familiar selection of songs, including a healthy serving of its defining Aja album. Particular favorites included “Hey Nineteen,” “Show Biz Kids,” “Bodhisattva,” and the night’s grand finale, “Kid Charlemagne.” The lone cover was the Joe Tex chestnut “I Want to (Do Everything for You).”
While early r&b and particularly soul music had an obvious major influence on the group’s biggest hits, there is a structure in the way that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker approach the composing and arranging of their music that is similar to that of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Of course, Strayhorn wasn’t really a performer and wasn’t part of Ellington’s orchestra, but the Ellington/Strayhorn model does seem to be the base structure from which their music springs.
The two-hour show featured impeccable musicianship, and slight variations from the original studio tracks freshened up the music for the stage. With the high level of musicianship and featuring songs as good as any in rock history, Steely Dan’s music, more than 30 years after the group’s heyday, still out-shines nearly anything on the charts today. Steely Dan was not just an album band; it scored many hit singles as well. There isn’t one song on the charts today that could rival the Dan’s mightiest hits.
For all their focus on the music, both Fagan and particularly Becker had fun telling stories, including their heartfelt fondness for their Long Island connections, in a dry, deadpan manner that was hilarious and often had the crowd convulsive with laughter.
The British Invade Again
The following night at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury was the 2014 British Invasion Tour, featuring Mike Pender’s Searchers, Chad & Jeremy, Billy J. Kramer and Denny Laine. Terry Sylvester, formerly of the Hollies, opened the show, replacing headliner Gerry & the Pacemakers, due to Gerry Marsden’s being hospitalized in Spain. Pender’s jangly Rickenbacker 12-string and his still-strong voice brought alive such Searchers British Invasion gold as “Needles and Pins,” “Love Potion #9,” “Sweet for My Sweet” and “Sugar and Spice.” It would be great to see another full Searchers reunion, given how successful the group was even beyond its 60s heyday. Next up was Chad & Jeremy. The pair played some of their biggest hits, told stories and maintained the magic chemistry that made them one of the biggest duos of the British Invasion. Long Island resident Billy J. Kramer stole the show. Playing with the house band for the evening, which included former Billy Joel drummer and current drummer in Kramer’s band, Liberty Devito’s perfect back-beat, Kramer brought his regular guitarist out and mixed his biggest hits, new songs and more to rapturous applause. Kramer’s new album I Won the Fight, features strong material he wrote and spotlights a new-found toughness and depth to his vocals that if possible sounds even better than back in the 60s. Kramer closed with a cover of the Walker Brothers’ “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More” that was stunning. Denny Laine closed the show and brought the house down with the hit he sang with the Moody Blues, “Go Now.” All the artists came on in the end and performed a spirited “Band On The Run.” The entire evening was augmented by wonderful visual video images of the various artists’ 60s singles and album sleeves and photos, something rarely seen at a concert like this and very welcome.
British Invasion, Beatles and John Lennon fans will want to be at The Dix Hills Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, October 26th at 2:00 P.M., featuring Mostly Moptop, as part of The #9 Lennon Birthday Special. The band will be joined by percussionist Donald Larsen and nine additional guest artists: Susan Devita; Judith Zweiman; Gear Head Freaks; Joe Gioglio; EV Sweet; Andrew Lubman; Marci Geller; Ben Phillip and former Strawbs member and Long Island-resident John Ford. The Dix Hills Performing Arts Center is located at Five Towns College, 305 North Service Road in Dix Hills.
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