Category Archives: Album Review

Polonsky The Polymath Poet – A New Record (Fresh Flesh), A New Post And Our First Contest

Update: This did not post yesterday. Welcome to the pros and cons of modern technology.

On January 19, 2018 Jonny Polonsky releases Fresh Flesh. It is his eighth solo project, which includes 1996’s Hi My Name Is Jonny (LOVE that record), 2004’s The Power Of Sound and Intergalactic Messenger of Divine Light and Love from 2012.

When he is not making his own brilliant music, he has recorded or toured with a few minor artists you may have heard of, like Puscifer, Tom Morello, Pete Torn, Dixie Chicks, Donovan and the relatively unknown Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. What makes this list even more remarkable is the sheer range and variety of musical genres Jonny moves so easily in and out of. This speaks to his amazing talents as a multi-instrumentalist, as well as a songwriter.

I know that times were different back then, but the sheer balls and story behind Jonny’s career is a lesson for any aspiring musician.

He was born in Chicago and grew up in Wilmette, and began “recording and self-releasing homemade cassettes as a teenager, under the name The Amazing Jonny Polonsky.”

According to Wikipedia, Jonny used 411 and “was able to reach and befriend musical heroes of his such as guitarists Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), Zander Schloss (Joe Strummer, Circle Jerks), Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie, Tin Machine), and Pixies singer Frank Black/Black Francis.”

This led to John Zorn, who invited Jonny to play CBGB’s New Jewish Music Festival in 1992. The incredible and sadly missed Jeff Buckley was at that show and said this of Polonsky: “He came to CBGB’s Gallery and ripped it up… He killed ’em… The charm of it is that he’s brought it into his own thing. It’s a nice miniature. He does it with soul; you can tell the difference between someone who just slips into The Beatles or something and someone like him.”

High praise indeed!

“Jonny Polonsky is a true original—his music should be celebrated everywhere.” Mark Lanegan
Mark is a true Grunge pioneer with the band Screaming Trees and has played and recorded with Queens Of The Stone Age for 14 years after his first band surprisingly broke up in 2000.

Maynard James Keenan of Progressive Metal powerhouse Tool says: “Jonny has pure artist compassion running through his blood.” (MG Note: MJK also makes some phenomenal wine under his label Caduceus Cellars. Seriously!)

Okay, okay… who cares about those guys?! I know you really want to hear what I have to say. Ha.

So here it is… I really cannot tell you how much I love this record. Oh wait, actually I can.

From the opening “The Orbit Of Love” (a blistering rock love song) to the closing notes of “I Want You So Badly,” (both highlight tracks for me) this one just grabbed me. And I have listened to it probably 15 times in the last few weeks.

“Don’t turn away from what you know
Burn away and we’ll set fire to our names
Don’t pull away from the orbit of love
Come away and live inside of my eyes.”

“Is It So Wrong For Me To Be So In Love With Myself And Everything I See?” launches into a retro guitar riff that Lenny Kravitz would love, and makes me want to grab a lighter, bounce my head from side to side, and sway arm in arm with a huge crowd. I love this song! It just kicks some great ass.

Influences like Joy Division, The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees mixed with Pete Yorn, Ryan Adams and Frank Black, and some good old ’90s punk are heard throughout. It’s funny, but my first and initial reaction to this record was this is what would happen if Jules Shear went punk. Amazing songwriting with a varied and sharpened edge.

The players consist of Polonsky on B-3 organ, guitar and lead vocals (though he plays something like 20 instruments. Bastard!)
Jennie Batter on drums… and yes, how perfect a name for a drummer.
Katie Burden on bass and vocals.
Special Guests include:
Mark Lanegan, spoken word and lead vocals on “Solar Child.”
Kevin Haskins of Bauhaus pounds percussion on “I Can’t Get Your Face Out of My Mind.” This is the one that most reminds me of a punk Jules Shear and just pulses into your ears.

Haskins says this about the new record: “From towering arcs of rock riff blasting guitars and jubilant roof raising anthems, to vulnerable and introspective, melancholic compositions, Jonny Polonsky’s Fresh Flesh will take you on an emotional journey of carefully crafted songs from this accomplished, multi instrumentalist songsmith.”

Polonsky self-produced and the album was recorded at Shangri La Studios in Malibu, the home base for little heard of mega-producer, Rick Rubin.

Rock, pop… love, loss… sex, power and searing guitars… this atmospheric rock record has it all. And now for something not completely different, but new for Marc’s Muse… our first CONTEST!!!

Contest (Some answers are in this post. Some are not):
1) Where did Jonny grow up and who brought him to NYC?

2) Name three bands or artists who have influenced Jonny over the years.

3) How did Jonny first connect with some of his musical idols?

4) What was the name of Jonny’s 2006 band and who else was involved in the project?

Post your answers in the COMMENTS SECTION.

One winner will be chosen randomly from the correct answers received and will have a test pressing of the new record (yes, VINYL) mailed out to them.

Don’t miss the full band show on Feb. 9th at Hotel Cafe, LA’s fantastic and intimate venue. And in the meantime, also enjoy this great K-Tel commercial send up.

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My Top “10” Albums Of 2017 – Happy Musical New Year!!!

This year seems to be filled with my love and affinity for Power Pop and Singer/Songwriters… and is wonderfully filled with strong albums from female artists. Clearly the motto of my daughter’s school is right on… The Force Is Female!

I have not had time to sit with the new U2 album, so not sure where on my list it would be… But I will sit and listen to it again, soon. I also have not had a chance to listen to the new Lorde album, which many have on their year-end lists, so my bad. Please forgive me!

And yes… I am putting in ties so I don’t have to limit myself to 10!!! I guess I am just a dirty cheater… but my list, my rules!!!

Have a Happy and Healthy 2018 and here’s to much more great music!

#10 – TIE
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
Love these two as solo artists… love them together. Great album!

Shout Out Louds – Ease My Mind
Thanks to Tuti and Alan for mentioning this amazing band that is so in my musical wheelhouse. Their fifth album is an easy, lush and gorgeous listen.

 

#9 – TIE
Old 97s – Graveyard Whistling
This Dallas, Texas band has been at it since 1993 and are still putting out amazing and vital records!

Real Estate – In Mind
So, I do not love this band just because they started in the Jersey town next to me. They make great and really enjoyable records, and while they had some major personnel changes, they are still making wonderful music.

 

#8 – TIE
Foxygen – Hang
I love this total throwback of a record, just hate that it is only eight songs long!

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Jason just keeps making amazing music, and I love the Springsteen influence on “Cumberland Gap.”

 

#7 – TIE
Ted Leo – Hanged Man
I had never heard of Ted Leo or his band The Pharmacists until this year, and this record was one of my most pleasant discoveries. “With funds raised through crowd-sourcing, Leo built a studio in his house and started working on a new, more personal and musically diverse batch of songs. Although a few friends like Mann and Jonathan Coulton dropped by, Leo was the sole guiding force and he acquits himself well as a producer.”

Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger In The Alps
So many friends recommended Phoebe and this album is absolutely gorgeous and vital. “You Missed My Heart” is easily up there for my song of the year.

 

#6 – TIE
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Soul Of A Woman
Obviously a bittersweet release, and this is NOT here just because of the passing of Sharon Jones. She and this band made some amazing music and she will be greatly missed.

Waxahatchee – Out In The Storm
Another strong female at the reins of a great band! Thanks to Julie Slater for the intro. to Katie Crutchfield and this great band. Did not realize her twin sister Alison had an album out, too called Tourist In This Town. Need to check that out!

 

#5 – TIE
The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
This band started in 1986! They faded out around 2001 and are now fully back. And we are the better for it, as they keep making some incredible music. 2014’s Do The Beast was also in my Top 10. At only 37 minutes this album flies by, but it also stays with you.

St. Vincent – Masseduction
From the cover to the album, this is one great, sexy pop record, filled with so many emotions. “New York” may just be my song of the year, too.

 

#4 – TIE
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Can’t same that I am a huge Rap and Hip Hop guy, but I get it and this album is rock solid… or Rap Solid… and gives me something else I can listen to with my daughter… Okay, maybe not!

Slowdive – Slowdive
This band formed in 1989 and have just released their eponymous record… and it is soooo darn good!!!

 

# 3 – TIE
This Is The Kit – Moonshine Freeze
This is what Joni Mitchell might sound like if she was starting to make music today. Not sure how I discovered this one, but it stuck. Kate Stables “sings, plays guitar, banjo, trumpet and percussion, while a cast of carefully hand-plucked friends deliver guitar strums, banjo plucks, hushed horns and electronic textures that sit beneath Stables’ easy, earnest lilt.”

Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
Young women seem to be making some amazing music this year. Clearly there is an old soul at work here, same with Melina from Jay Som. On just her second album Julien makes some beautiful, smart and sophisticated music.

 

# 2 – TIE
Jay Som – Everybody Works
The fact that she is just 22 makes this album even more impressive. Melina Duterte from Oakland, CA is making what they call 90’s style fuzz pop, and this album is fantastic!

The National – Sleep Well Beast
Rolling Stone saysThe band’s trademark Joy Division gloom gets cut with sexiness and dark humor…” I say they are one of my favorite bands, and if I miss them live in concert one more time… AAGGHH!

 

#1 – The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Oh how I love this band… let me count the ways… L-O-V-E!!! And yet another one I have never seen live. Sigh. For some reason, the dates for them and The National never seem to work out… Wilco, too for that matter…

So my vow for 2018, assuming and hoping they are all on the road, is to finally see Wilco, The National and The War On Drugs!!!

 

HONORABLE MENTION:
Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Love Ryan. His music is raw and honest and cuts to the bone and soul… always.

Gregg Allman – Southern Blood
No… but yes, okay… I NEVER saw The Allman Brothers live… and yes, this is a great record and hopefully a lasting memorial to a remarkable talent.

BNQT – Volume 1
The “Indie Supergroup” featuring Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Fran Healy of Travis, and Eric Pulido of Midlake make a great first record.

 The Clientele – Music For The Age Of Miracles
Pure, sophisticated, lush and stunning Power Pop. I adore this band!

 The Dustbowl Revival – The Dustbowl Revival
A huge step forward as they not only expand their sound and style, but continue to capture their amazing live energy on record.

Hazel English – Just Give In / Never Going Home
Another female singer/songwriter on my year end list! This album kept coming out as singles and EPs, but I am happy to finally have it as a whole.

 Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Singer/Songwriter heaven… I begged my daughter to go see him at Coachella… She didn’t, but now I hear him playing in her Spotify, so… good on me… though she claims another friend was the source. Sheesh!

 Neil Finn – Out Of Silence
Strong songwriting is the building block for a great and long career. Case in point… and still going!

Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
Indie folk may be supplanting Alternative as my new favorite genre! This band is going on 10 plus years and the music is still going strong!

Liam Gallagher – As You Were
Oasis cut in half. Tuti said I missed a killer live show. Sigh…

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built The Moon?
Oasis cut in half. Leaning towards Noel, because he has a bigger solo output and I love what he is doing… but apparently need to see both live! Another missed concert this year. Argh.

Grandaddy – Last Place
I love when bands deep in their careers can keep putting out such great and interesting music.

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Hooky, synth-pop. Yes, please!

LCD Soundsytem – American Dream
I love how Rolling Stone writes: “In the masterfully pissed-off American Dream, he can’t decide whether he’s making a party album for the end of the world or an apocalypse album for the end of the party.” Hell yeah!

Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Wembley Or Bust
Seeing them live at the Hollywood Bowl was one of the best live concert experiences I have ever had, so this souvenir, even though it was not our show, is an easy pick for my year-end list.

Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The SurfaceThis band is betting better and better!!! This one was close to a Top 10!

Mondo Cozmo – Plastic Soul
KCRW and KCSN played the heck out of “Plastic Soul, ”Hold On To Me,” and “Shine,” but I am not over this record yet and it seems more accessible/radio friendly than his previous band, Eastern Conference Champions.

The Pains Of Being Young At Heart – The Echo Of Pleasure
A recent discovery that has been in constant rotation.

Portugal. The Man – Woodstock
Love the story behind this album… finding his Dad’s ticket to Woodstock!

Ride – Weather Diaries
20 years in, and a new release. Kudos to them and this truly amazing record! “Home Is A Feeling” is also like a warm, cozy blanket.

Shakey Graves And The Horse He Rode In On – Nobody’s Fool and The Donor Blues EP
Love these guys on many levels. And a phenomenal band live!

Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 1
I am so not a country fan, at least “new” country, but Chris’ music goes beyond a simple genre classification and he keeps putting out killer records.

Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Yeah, yeah, yeah… But… Quite a few songs I really like… and he is clearly channeling his inner Ed Sheeran, but always good to have something the kid and I can enjoy together… though I have finally won her over to the joys of classic rock!!!

Special Honorable Mention:
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
This insanely prolific group released four albums in 2017! Yes, you heard me (or read me) right… FOUR!!! This includes Polygondwanaland, which the band gave away for free… and I believe it is still available!   Murder of the Universe, Flying Microtonal Banana, and Sketches of Brunswick East “for which they they hooked up with Alex Brettin of the soft rock weirdos Mild High Club to concoct the smoothed-out psychedelic jazz album…”

AllMusic also says: “Trying to make sense of, and/or keep up with, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard can be a daunting prospect. They are nothing if not prolific, and nothing if not willing to throw curve ball after curve ball.”

CHEERS!

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Metal Monday – Musical Healing With Baroness… And No, Not Downton Abbey

Perhaps there is no irony that I was just watching Do The Right Thing last night… and how prominently it features a rather large and powerful Boom Box.

For me, it was and is about Jason and his magical Boom Box, and they have struck again. Well, not literally… I am not sitting in a bus in the very last seat listening to the literal boom box that sat on the floor or on the seat next to us. Though I wish I was… Wish I had held onto that time a little longer… a little more dearly.

I do miss those days… so innocent and pure… all about discovery of life and love. A broken heart or unrequited crush was as bad as things got back then. Don’t get me wrong. Those hurt like hell and seemed like the end of the world, but trust me… being an adult is SOOO much harder.

These days we struggle with so much… health, career, broken marriages… Life is not easy. And yet it is glorious and beautiful and filled with so many miracles… and we need to celebrate each and every one, each and every day. But that is so much easier said than done.

It is easy to say we should meditate daily, though I can tell you first hand, it works wonders. It is easy to say be more MINDFUL… but we all know that it takes tremendous work and soul-searching. But that is why they call it a PRACTICE. Take a moment out of your day to walk around your neighborhood. Look at each tree, each leaf, each stem… feel the breeze… hear the birds… and KNOW THAT LIFE IS MIRACULOUS.

We all have our own issues, some more dire than others and we tend to take on the issues of others. We feel the stress of our children, and sometimes feel helpless when trying to move them beyond their own frustrations. But the BEST thing we can do for ourselves and for them and for anyone we love, is to HEAL ourselves… get that OXYGEN MASK on first… and then help those around us… loved ones, strangers, the world…

And there is NOTHING that heals as much as music. If you are a regular reader of this blog you know my musical tastes run the gamut… the FULL gamut.  Just today my eclectic musical brain is listening to the following… New albums by Cheap Trick, The War On Drugs (so fricking good), Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors… all MUST LISTENS… and older ones by Beth Orton, Nickel Creek and The Sheepdogs.

Thanks and shout outs to Brad, Dan and Julie!  And now… courtesy of Jason, my Monday Morning Metal, Baroness and their amazing “comeback” album… Purple!

What is a bit of a miracle, is that I came up with this title BEFORE knowing or hearing anything about this band! As I write this post, their music is blasting, but in the background are devastating pictures and images from flooded Texas. On the fake news, I might add… he said sarcastically…

My heart is breaking, and somewhat ironically, Metal is soothing it. But the story of this band is nothing short of miraculous and so appropriate… further proof that THERE ARE NO COINCIDENCES!!!

Wikipedia says that “Baroness is an American heavy metal band from Savannah, Georgia whose original members grew up together in Lexington, Virginia.

“Baroness formed in mid-2003, founded by former members of the punk/metal band Johnny Welfare and the Paychecks. Singer John Dyer Baizley creates the artwork for all Baroness albums, and has done artwork for other bands.”

On August 15, 2012, their coach “fell from a viaduct near Bath, England… and John Baizley suffered a broken left arm and broken left leg. each suffered fractured vertebrae. Pete Adams was treated and released from the hospital on August 16, 2012.”

There were months of recovery and in 2013, “Allen Blickle (drums) and Matt Maggioni (bass guitar) had left Baroness.

On April 1, 2013, it was announced, that Nick Jost, (bass) and Sebastian Thomson (drums) of Trans Am would be joining the band… and by the early Fall of that year, they were back on the road, touring Europe.

And in 2015, they released their “comeback” album called Purple.  Yes, purple IS my favorite color… but this album also kicks some ass… and “Shock Me” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance at the 2017 Grammy Awards.”

That was my favorite track, by the way… AND BEFORE I READ THAT!

I also really like the fiery, hard rocking, fist-pumping, head banging, well-fueled “Kerosene,”  “Try To Disappear” and “Chlorine & Wine.” As Jason says, they are “doomy and metalish but proggy as well.” So yeah, they might be an acquired taste… and their lyrics are not always uplifting… but there is something there… and their story fits right in today’s narrative… people fighting to survive in the face of disaster.

And believe me, if you told me ten years ago that I would become a connoisseur of Metal, I would have laughed at you… but here we are and there you go.

So make it a Most Magical Metal Monday! Stay safe, be happy and be kind… CRANK UP THE MUSIC… and as always ROCK OUT!

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Metal Monday – General Thoughts And Rockin’ Ramblings (Part One)

So a couple of general thoughts hit me as I was writing my Iron Maiden posts. I knew I wanted to do something about Metal in general…the history, the different styles, etc.

Then my buddy Jason posted something that I thought was worth exploring, specifically about Maiden. And then my friend, fraternity brother and other Metal Mentor, Barry gave some awesome insight into his love of the genre… and Boom!

Since neither are guest blogging, you’re stuck with me. But these are the two who Metaled me up… And hey, look, Boys! Thirty some odd years later it worked! I’m hooked!

METAL MUSIC
So where does one start when looking for info. on any given subject? Wikipedia, of course.

“Heavy metal… developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. With roots in blues rock and psychedelic/acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. Heavy metal lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.”

“In 1968, the first heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple attracted large audiences, though they were often derided by critics. During the mid-1970s, Judas Priest helped spur the genre’s evolution by discarding much of its blues influence; Motörhead introduced a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed. Beginning in the late 1970s, bands in the new wave of British heavy metal such as Iron Maiden and Saxon followed in a similar vein. Before the end of the decade, heavy metal fans became known as “metalheads” or “headbangers”.

A couple of things stand out for me. First, it amazes me how things that are on the fringe become so mainstream at a certain point in time. Zeppelin and Deep Purple are Classic Rock bands to me! Granted I came to them later in their careers, but that was normal FM Radio/East Coast listening. And let us not forget that The Beatles started off as the enemy to many a parent. Then the Stones came out as the even more evil rockers! And of course, speaking of Metal, Iron Maiden was cast as devil worshippers.

Some folks consider AC/DC a Metal band, but to me they are just hard rock and one of the highlights to come out of Jason’s Boom Box. Same with KISS. And while Judas Priest was always blasting that summer, I never really listened to Metal on a regular basis. In fact, when people asked me what musical genres were the ones I knew the least about, I would always say Rap, New Country and Metal.

Now Rap and Hip Hop come pouring out from behind my daughter’s closed bedroom door (No, that is not really it!!!), along with a fair amount of Show Tunes! Though I am also happy to say that her playlist has a heck of a lot of Classic Rock on it!

I will admit that I got into NWA, Dr. Dre, Tupac and others all “after the fact.” Way before my daughter, but after the fact…and I will also admit that I do get “parental” from time to time, as I hear certain lyrics being sung by my kid. Ugh.

And I always had a soft side… and I guess I still do… as my favorites of the time were Steve Miller Band and The Eagles. My first concerts were more Classic Rock than anything else, too. Chicago and Orleans was my first. Then The Eagles, Heart and the Little River Band

Usually as people get older their musical tastes get smaller and more “refined”.  Not me! My tastes have been growing and expanding for a long time now. And as I said, I seem to come to certain things late… like Metal! Which also has friends accusing me of doing to try to stay young. That’s not the way I work. I listen to what moves me, what grabs me and I do not care where and who it comes from. More politicians need to do this with good ideas! It should not matter what side of the aisle it comes from! A good idea is a good idea, and the goal must be to problem solve, help and create joy.

But this post is about MUSICAL JOY! So what is it about Metal that has taken such a hold on me? Iron Maiden is in regular rotation. I love the new Metallica album, and the Judas Priest 30th Anniversary CDs are kicking me into gear. I wrote about how studies have shown that this music can actually relax people. I can actually see that, but for me, it just makes me happy and energized, and I love to CRANK IT! To 11!!!

Barry wrote:
“It’s all about the energy. Metal still motivates me and gets me pumped like no other genre. And the metal bands that I like best – the ones that exhibit extreme technical precision like Dream Theater, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, etc. – appeal to me from my early years as a classically trained pianist. (Which is probably why I enjoyed grunge, but never got into it as much as I did metal – the precision was always a little lacking for me.) I am also a huge fan of guitar virtuosos like Reb Beach, Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, John Petrucci, George Lynch, et. al. – their craftsmanship and precision continue to astound and inspire me.

Right on, Barry!!!

Robert Walser (author of Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Musicsaid that Metal’s “most influential musicians have been guitar players who have also studied classical music. Their appropriation and adaptation of classical models sparked the development of a new kind of guitar virtuosity [and] changes in the harmonic and melodic language of heavy metal.”

 

And specifically on Maiden, Jason wrote:
“I think another thing that is important to mention — for the uninitiated — is to not pre-judge Iron Maiden because of Eddie (their mascot, who is on all their graphics). Maiden is not what you might hate about metal — in fact it’s quite the contrary. Musically, their material is high-energy and rocks hard (and they are great players), it’s mostly very melodic and their lyrics are unobjectionable (no cursing, no objectifying of women, and many have historical context, e.g., “The Trooper,” about the Crimean War, “Aces High,” about the WWII air wars and Battle of Britain, “Where Eagles Dare,” based on the great WWII film, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, etc). They are all smart individuals, family men, and their lead singer actually flies the band plane (a fully loaded 747 with the band gear, not a little prop plane.). With streaming services, it’s easy to sample their music or their bio-pic, “Flight 666.” Enjoy the journey and Up the Irons!”

So you can see how and why these two are my Metal Mentors… Jason on a Teen Tour, and Barry as my Frat House roommate in College! We listened to a hell of a lot of great stuff back then, Boys! And this does not even include all that Al Jarreau and Spyro Gyra, Barry! What? We needed to charm the ladies!

Come back next Monday for Metal Monday – General Thoughts And Rockin’ Ramblings (Part Two) when we talk about all the different sub-genres of Metal and more!

 

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The Blues Is All About Feeling – It’s A Blue Friday For James Cotton

“The blues is all about feeling… If I don’t feel it, I can’t play it.” (James Cotton)

My passion for harmonica started in college. I was doing the Mee-Ow Show (an Improv/Sketch Comedy group) at Northwestern University… Go Cats!… and our live band, Dr. Bob And The Fakoktah Blues Band, featured Todd Weeks on harmonica, among several other instruments. I was hooked, and asked him to teach me a bit, which he did.

That summer we took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) bought me my first two harmonicas.I will never forget the first moment I was able to bend a note… It floored me!

For the rest of the time I was in Chicago, I would haunt the Blues clubs even more, getting to see some harmonica/harp idols like Sugar Blue, Junior Wells and my favorite, James Cotton. I would listen to their records over and over, trying to copy their playing. To this day, I play alongside of James Cotton And His Big Band – Live From Chicago (Mr. Superharp Himself) and “When It Rains It Pours” is one of my all-tike favorite blues tracks!

What makes this record even more amazing… is that I was there when it was being recorded (February 1-3, 1986 at Biddy Mulligan’s, Chicago, Illinois)… Same thing with The Clash’s Live At Shea.  Not bad places to be, let me tell you!!!

I’ll never forget seeing Cotton play one of those Biddy Mulligan’s shows with my friends and frat brothers Barry Flanik and Jon Weiswasser… and Ray “Killer” Allison giving up his kit so that Jon could get on stage and actually sit in!!!

The band that night was:

JAMES COTTON, harmonica and vocals
JOHNNY COTTON, trombone
MICHAEL COLEMAN, guitar/band leader
RAY “Killer” ALLISON, drums
EDDIE HARSCH, piano
DOUGLAS FAGEN, tenor sax
DANNY “BONEY” FIELDS, trumpet
NOEL NEAL, bass

“Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Mississippi on July 1, 1935, Cotton learned harmonica directly from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) as a small child.” Quite a career and journey he had… For the rest of  James’ bio I will refer you to the Alligator Records site, his label since 1984. But suffice it to say, with his passing yesterday, the world has lost a true and profound Blues Legend.

There are not many legends left… so grab on to the Blues… turn it up… play it loud and pay homage!

And yes… I make that very same face!!!

RIP James Cotton. Tomorrow, I play for you.

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Hineni… Here I Am… A Hallelujah For Leonard Cohen

I was all set to write a very rare political post on this page. Normally, I avoid that like the plague, as I want this blog to be about music, but the world changed two days ago and there are things that need to be addressed… spoken about… shared… or at least cleared out of my head. Brace yourselves… that post is coming. It has to… If nothing else, for me. And believe me, I know what politics does to people… to friends… to families… I get it. I see normally sweet people fight on my Facebook page in the most vicious ways when it comes to politics… and this election was the most disgusting, depressing and divisive I have ever seen.

But silence is death and speech is our inalienable right. So speak out we must. And speak out we will… Or at least I will.

11cohen_leonard_web1-master768For now, I am in a different kind of mourning. It was announced that Leonard Cohen passed away today at the age of 82. Not a lot of details are coming forth… yet… so I cannot help but think there may be a Bowie-type revelation… Meaning he was sick for a while… knew death was coming.

One need only listen to the first and title song off his amazing new album, You Want It Darker to sense this…

“Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord.”

When I first heard this song a few days ago, I had a profound, but very different reaction. Like so many of Leonard’s songs… I seem to find them when I need them most, and this album has been hitting me hard.
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“Hineni” is a Hebrew word that means “Here I Am.” It is used in the Torah when G-d calls to Abraham, and he answers “Hineni.” It’s more than just saying I am here… acknowledging one’s presence and location… It is “Here I Am”… I am ready for whatever is needed of me… I am willing to do what is necessary…
“Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord.”

This idea has been something I have even been studying for a while… but it came up in two amazing ways within the last few days… which made this song even more powerful for me… coincidental… remarkable…

Hineni is a Jewish and philosophical point of view… being ready to serve… ready to give of yourself… to make sacrifices and help a family member, friend or community… which is why so many Temples have Hineni groups… volunteers who help people when they are sick, or in mourning or for whatever. It is an unbelievably human and powerful idea.

And here’s the thing about Leonard Cohen… He was, essentially, a brilliant, a Jewish philosopher. There is so much about Judaism you can learn from his songs. And yet he was also ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1996, after living in a Buddhist monastery for five years. Both religions, as well as Christianity, find their way into his songs… because he writes about human beings… all human beings… universal human beings…

And one thing that is abundantly clear to me, is that we are all, essentially… at our core… the same.

We need a roof over our heads… food and water in our belly… and love and kindness in our hearts.

Ironically, the other recent connection to the phrase Here I Am came up in Day 4 of the Deepak Chopra/Oprah 21-Day Meditation Challenge. Deepak talks about how we must be there for those we are in relationships with… our light must go out into the world… our love must cause freedom… we must be open to give… and we do so by saying, “Here I Am.” For our lovers… for our family… for our friends… and yes, if you believe, for our G-d… “Here I Am.”

Leonard was here… Leonard was present. And while I initially did not care for his voice (much the same as my initial reaction to Tom Waits) as I grew more wise and sophisticated and more learned in the ways of music, I came to love him deeply… to appreciate his sounds and words… his poetry and song… the stories he told and the worlds he revealed… the humanity he enlightened and shed light on.

I am so grateful I was able to see him at the Nokia Theatre on his last tour. He moved me and entertained me and made a soul searing impression.

And yes, I still want one of his hats!
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He had a deep yearning for understanding and knowledge… amazing insight into the human condition… He was a poet and story-teller… psychologist and philosopher… a singer/songwriter on another plane.

“Hallelujah” almost always brings me to tears… Jeff Buckley’s version… k.d. Lang’s… Rufus Wainwright… and of course Leonard’s… So many of his songs move me that way… And we will need them now, more than ever before.

Thoughts out to Elliot, his road manager… and to his family and friends and fellow musicians.

Let us honor him… Let us honor human beings… and Let us honor the world, by saying “Here I Am”… I am ready to help… to serve… to take care of… “Hineni. Hineni.”

Thank you, Leonard… Thank you…

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New Music Monday: The Explorers Club Brings Us “Together” With The Super Sounds Of Summer

While the rest of the country and even parts of Northern California still battle the weather, Sunny So Cal is staring to feel like Summer. Okay, that happens a lot here, but still…

The sun… the surf… the smell of the grill… and MUSIC. It’s not Summer without music, sweet music.

Okay, no Season is good without music… but especially Summer… when the outdoor concerts kick into high gear… when people are BBQ’ing and picnicking and partying and just getting together much more often it seems.

Summer… the season of my birth… Maybe that’s why I identify with it on a cellular level. (No, not my iPhone…) Though I will say that Fall/Autumn in NYC or any place back East in the Fall is probably my most favorite time of the year.

But Summer… Cue The Explorers Club and their stunningly beautiful new record Together. And yes, I called it a record! It has that retro sound that just fits in with the whole resurgence of vinyl… Though I’m not sure if they will be doing any vinyl pressings of this one…

Explorers Club Together CD cover HI RES copy

I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Brewer at the rehearsal for the Wild Honey Orchestra’s annual fundraising concert. This year was a tribute to the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, so having Jason there made perfect sense. You can read a great review of the show from Goldmine here.

I got to hear him sing… stellar… So when he told me about his band, I knew it would be something I wanted to hear.

Their music is gorgeous. Obviously their inspirations and heroes are clear, with Brian and the Beach Boys at the very top of the list… and while you could conceivably listen to this record and actually think it IS a Beach Boys album, there is a lot more going on here than imitation. Check out their killer new single “California’s Callin’.”

The band also lists Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, Jimmy Webb and the Zombies as heavy influencers. Burt and Jimmy are, in my humble opinion, amongst the best songwriters EVER! And yes, of course Brian is on that list!

If you are a regular reader of this blog… or spend any time with me and my music collection (house, car, iPhone, etc.) you know I have a deep love for that lush Power Pop sound. To me there are hallmarks of what great Power Pop is… catchy riffs… jangly, fuzzy guitars… great harmonies… but also something that the Beach Boys were absolute masters of… and that is the seeming simplicity of the music and song.

I am not sure how to say this without sounding dismissive… but this is the kind of record you can play in the background of a party… and people will just take it for what it is… Simple… enjoyable… humable… singable…

Though I can guarantee most of them will shortly be saying “This is great” and then asking “Who is this?”

Music operates and works on so many levels… and what I love about this record and their others, as well as the genre in general, is that if you want to take it on face value you can. If you want something great to listen to, without having to think or analyze much, then this is something you are really gonna dig.

But… and this is a big BUT… It is gonna sneak up on you!

This music is sophisticated… the four-part harmonies are gorgeous… the arrangements are complex… and if you start breaking it down, you are going to be blown away by the intricacies and nuances.

So suddenly this record is on at home… in the car with the windows down… sadly no convertible for this guy… yet! It is on my iPhone so I can tell my friends, “Hey, you gotta hear this band”… and it is on my party playlist. I truly love this one, track for track.

My first foray into this genre came from buddies Rob and Alan, which hooked me into one of my all-time faves, The Pearlfishers. That lead me on a backwards, sideways, full circle journey into Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Trashcan Sinatras, and local LA bands The Wondermints and Baby Lemonade (Yes in tribute to the late, great and very psychedelic Syd Barret). This list could go on and on… but that list always comes back to one major source… The Beach Boys.

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The band formed in Charleston, SC in 2005, and is currently based in Nashville…. the home to so many great artists and so much killer music. They have released two critically acclaimed albums: 2008’s Freedom Wind and 2012’s Grand Hotel… and Together will be out on June 24.

The Onion AV Club called Freedom Wind “…a pretty dizzying technical achievement. Frankly, the album is beautiful-wholly, deeply and truly.”

According to Brewer: “I usually have a strong idea of the musical/instrumentation and looser ideas about how the final vocal harmonies will hit the tracks. Mike Williamson really took my preliminary ideas and turned them into golden masterpieces on this album. The guys sang a lot of the parts around one mic set up together, in the same room.”

Just as the music itself can make one ponder, trying to figure out who is doing what and where, so do the lyrics in terms of that yearning and grasping to understand life and all that it means…

“We are overwhelmed by spiritual questions every day, it’s inescapable… One line Mike brought in was ‘there is a cold wind calling me from a storm out on the sea (sung by John Davis) – it references the balancing act between spirituality and being pulled back to the realities of daily life,” says Brewer.

This record does exactly that… a beautiful balance between the simple and complex… between realities and the dreams we have of how the world or how our lives should be…

And isn’t that what music is all about?

So yeah, let’s all get Together!

 

ALBUM CREDITS:
Jason Brewer – Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizers, Fuzz Guitar, Rock-Si-Chord, Maestro Rhythm King

Paul Runyon – Vocals, Piano, Hammond Organ, Rock-Si-Chord, Synthesizer, Guitar, Wurlitzer

Michael Willamson – Vocals, Lead Guitar, Fender Bass, Organ, Upright Bass, Acoustic Guitars

Wyatt Funderburk – Vocals, Fender Bass, Rock-Si-Chord

Kyle Polk – Drums and Percussion

ADDITIONAL MUSICIANS:
John Davis – Vocals on “My Friend” and “Before I’m Gone”

Darian Sahanaja – Moog Synthesizers and Rock-Si-Chord on “Don’t Waste Her Time”

Probyn Gregory – All Trumpet and Trombone parts, Tannerin on “Together”

Nelson Bragg & Scott Bennett – Percussion

David Ellis – Percussion

Emeen Zarookian – Synth Bass on “Gold Winds”, additional arrangment on “Gold Winds” Krista Brewer – Flute on “Be Around” Steve Stanley – Bass Harmonica on “Be Around”

Jesse Hansen – Strings on “Be Around”

Brian King – Vibraphone

Mark Galup – Pedal Steel

Rushikesh Badbade – Additional Synth programming

Kevin Crothers – additional Percussion recording

 

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Filed under Album Review, Life... Plain and Not So Simple, Marc's Mixed Bag - A Little Of Everything, Marc's Playlist - Music That Moves Me