Friday, September 22, 2006

Mindy Smith - WXPN Free at Noon Concert, 9/22/06



Mindy Smith gave the listeners of WXPN and NPR.org a nice preview of her new album due next month during her Free at Noon concert broadcast live today from the downstairs stage at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. Long Island Shoreswon't be released until October 10th but the set included a healthy sampling of songs from it, all seeming on first listen to feature the same exquisite melodic songwriting that made One Moment More (2004)such a remarkable debut album.



Her band consisted of Lex Price who also co-produced the new album, on guitar and mandolin, and James DiGirolamo who added some really tasteful keyboards and accordion to the mix. The arrangements were delicate and beautiful and meshed perfectly with Mindy's voice and showcased the amazingly great sonic capability of the sound system at the World Cafe Live downstairs venue.



The WXPN Free at Noon concerts are now being archived for on demand listening at NPR.org, so you can have a listen anytime. Here is the setlist:
Come to Jesus
Tennessee
Please Stay
Out of Control
Out Loud
Jolene (Dolly Parton)
Long Island Shores
Peace Of Mind



After the broadcast, Mindy and Lex came back onstage to perform an encore for the live audience, consisting of "One Moment More" and "Raggedy Ann" both superb songs from her first album, both requests from the audience. Remember to click on each photo to enlarge. All photos © W.Kates, 2006.


One Moment More (2004)


Long Island Shores (2006)

Mindy Smith's website.
Mindy Smith's myspace.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Imogen Heap on The Last Kiss Broadcast, 9/15/06



Zach Braff's handpicked music helped propel sales of the soundtrack from his Garden State (2004)to the tune of over a million copies, making it one of the top selling soundtracks ever. Although Braff didn't write or direct his new movie, The Last Kiss which opened today, he was tapped to select the music for it which makes the soundtrack something of an event unto itself. In one of the most ingenious movie promotion events ever, Braff was given the airwaves of radio station KDLD in Santa Monica for the entire afternoon of September 3rd and he invited five of his favorite artists to come and play live.

The five artists naturally are all featured on The Last Kiss Sountrack (2006):Schuyler Fisk, Cary Brothers, Rachael Yamagata, Imogen Heap, and Remy Zero, three of whom were also on the Garden State Soundtrack.The live performances were also filmed in high definition video (deluxe edition bonus dvd perhaps?) and began streaming today on the Rehearsals.com website. I've been knocked out by Imogen Heap every time I've seen her previously, and she positively kills in her three song solo performance here.

She begins with an acapella performance of "Just For Now" in which she builds her trademark layered sound using nothing but vocals and hand claps and her sequencer, much in the same way you might have seen KT Tunstall do "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree". Watching her create this song live in real time is quite amazing. Her second song is a solo piano version of the Frou Frou tune "Let Go" that is so amazingly gorgeous that it reduced me to babbling. Her third song is "Hide and Seek" and while it may not have been much of a stretch for Braff to pick this one for the new movie, the tune really is unstoppable and will likely reel in many more listeners who may not have heard it or Imogen before. I'm starting to notice that the way Imogen performs a song seems to mutate over time - the melodic shadings and the rhythms seem to grow and change, sometimes the arrangement can be totally different; it's another quite amazing dimension of her artistry.

The picture and sound quality on this webcast is as good as I've yet seen. I'm not sure how long the webcast will be available for on demand viewing, so don't wait - go watch this now. While Imogen's performance is transcendent, the other four artists' live sets are good too, all worth a look. Schuyler Fisk has a great sounding voice and is also the daughter of actress Sissy Spacek who guests on backing vocals. Cary Brothers is a talented singer-songwriter with a great sounding band. Rachael Yamagata's strong personality sometimes overshadows her music but in this set she seems quite pleased to be a part of the whole soundtrack thing. The recently reunited Remy Zero had broken up in 2003, and no one seemed to be happier to see them back together than Braff.

As promotion for both the movie and the soundtrack CD, The Last Kiss Broadcast totally knocks it out of the park and I think I'm ready to go plunk down my ten bucks at the multiplex.



Links:
The Last Kiss website.
Rehearsals.com website.
Indie 103.1 website.
Schuyler Fisk myspace.
Cary Brothers myspace.
Rachael Yamagata myspace.
Imogen Heap myspace.
Remy Zero myspace.
Zach Braff myspace.
Zach Braff website.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 - Larry Kirwan Brings It Home



Despite the ever escalating hype surrounding the 5th anniversary of 9/11 that otherwise makes me want to avoid all television, radio and newpapers this week (do we really need Giant Supermarkets to tell us with a full page newspaper ad to "Remember 9/11"), Larry Kirwan's personal remembrance of that day and his take on it cuts through the media din like a breath of fresh air. Kirwan is an Irish-born New Yorker who leads the band Black 47; in addition to being a singer, songwriter, and musician, Kirwan is also a poet, author, and radio host. The following is reprinted by permission from his newsletter of 9/06/06.

It will be five years on Monday since the Twin Towers were attacked. What changes have overcome us! It's not that we haven't recovered from the shock. Still, there is a rip in the fabric of our society that has yet to be repaired. I've often wondered why. All I can figure is that when those three thousand people departed the city, they took with them a measure of our hopes and dreams. They were vibrant souls, full of confidence in themselves and their country. It's nauseating and beyond disgraceful how their memory continues to be twisted for cheap political gain. They deserve better as do the many thousands with respiratory ailments who rushed to their rescue. Despite all the heartbreak and loss, the event is slowly receding into myth. I wrote a newsletter soon after describing what it was like in the city on the day. Unfortunately, I've mislaid it. This is an extract from Green Suede Shoes that I based on the original newsletter. Perhaps, in some small way, it will help cut through the ratings-driven hoopla of television coverage and the shilling of cheap, flag waving politicians from both major parties, and for a few moments resurrect the essence of these sorely missed people.

"I can't overestimate what a beautiful day it was. Clear blue and with just the barest hint of fall in the air. January is New Year for much of the world, but the first two weeks after Labor Day signal the beginning for New York. People come back from the shore and the mountains full of new resolutions and, for whatever reason, there was even more hope in the air than usual. Maybe there was even time for the Mets to turn it around.

I was reading about the Amazin's at breakfast when I heard it coming in the distance. For the first moments, I paid it no heed, far more interested in Mike Piazza's batting average. But the sound grew exponentially until it was roaring towards my back. I ducked my head onto the table, sure the plane, missile, whatever, would come right through the walls; then with a whoosh it passed over. Before I could even question what it was, I heard the most sickening thud - very unlike the screech and tearing of plane crashes in movies - more like that of a sledgehammer connecting with thick concrete. Then a silence, much the same as when a shot has been fired and the echoes have finally ceased. I ran up onto the roof of my building. The door was ajar; some of my upstairs neighbors were there already. At first I saw nothing. I hardly knew what to expect anyway. I followed the outstretched arm of a neighbor. It was, indeed, hard to take in the sight, much less process it: a gaping hole about two thirds of the way up the Westward tower of the World Trade Center, ugly black smoke pouring out, and within, small tongues of flame licking away at the darkness.

No one spoke. It was too much. We live just north of Canal Street and the view of the Trades had always been spectacular. I don't know why it sprang to mind, but my first sight of them was towards the end of the movie Carnal Knowledge, when Jack and Artie are having their last conversation. But that was just an instant flash. Suddenly, everyone was talking and shouting and you could hear the cries echoing from the surrounding rooftops. It was an accident of course. How could the bloody pilot have gone so off course and hit one of our lovely Towers? The utter stupidity of it all! Hadn't he ever seen the old pictures of the plane crash into the Empire State?

And then the second plane hit the Eastward Tower. We didn't see it and the sound was muted, for the plane came from the South and was blocked from our view. But we felt the impact; the Tower itself seemed to buckle from the shock. There were no flames from our angle, just another gaping, smoky hole and then a confetti of glass and paper exploded outwards and seemed to hang in the air around the two buildings. It finally dawned on us all, we were being attacked, but by whom? I ran downstairs for a pair of old binoculars and trained these on the Eastward building. Large black pieces of debris were sailing right through the glassy confetti. I instinctively knew that bodies were hurtling down too but, on no account, did I wish to see them. Luckily a neighbor asked for a look. Better him than me, I thought, as I handed them over.

He never got to use them for a cloud of brown smoke and dust erupted; the building shuddered, then wavered and collapsed to the ground in an almost orderly, but totally surreal, manner. It was hard to trust the eyes, but this was no mirage. The building had disintegrated downwards in a couple of awful seconds and a great cloud of smoke and dust arose, to my mind, almost like a shroud. People were now yelling and screaming from all the rooftops. A number of women around me cried hysterically, while the men cursed loudly. It was as if time stood still during those awful seconds while comprehension sought to reassert itself. The general consensus was that the tower had been blown up by bombs previously placed in the basement. The dread feeling, though generally unspoken, was that these unidentified bombers were invincible and could now do as they wished with the city.

I stayed on the roof for another couple of minutes trying to piece together conflicting thoughts and emotions, but everything seemed utterly changed, and I don't mean just the purely physical. The Westward building was still standing but it looked violated. I got the distinct, sickening feeling that the gaping hole in that tower was like an ugly smoking wound that would never be healed. Now a general panic swept across the rooftops and the screams merged in with the howl of many sirens heading south on Broadway. The loudest scream, though silent, was "what's coming next?"

I took back my binoculars and trained them on the standing tower; it seemed so close and we on the rooftops particularly vulnerable, being less than a mile away. I had no hope; it was just a matter of time until the second tower fell, and I didn't think for a moment that the orderly collapse of its sister would be repeated. No, this one would surely explode outwards and shower us with the glassy confetti, the dark beams and God knows what else. Many others felt the same way and there was an exodus off the rooftops. I ran downstairs, just in time to turn on the TV and watch the second Tower disintegrate in the same sickeningly neat manner.

It's very hard to put into words the feeling of vulnerability in the next hours as rumors swept the city: new planes were headed in for more attacks, the tunnels had been booby trapped, the "bombs" that had brought down the Trades contained biological and germ warfare devices, etc. And then soon after, two screaming air force jets banked over the city, causing widespread panic, before they were identified. Where the hell had they been, we screamed back skywards? But there was no reply, nor has there been a satisfactory one to this day.

I headed down to Canal Street and decided to walk towards the WTC area, knowing that it would soon be blocked off. People were streaming up Broadway, dazed and glassy-eyed, some formally dressed, some in casual attire, but most dusted over with a fine white powder. After five or six blocks, however, the smoke and dust became too dense and I was forced to halt. With my back against a wall, I watched emergency vehicles speed down Broadway, shoving the escapees up onto the sidewalk. All was chaos, but there was remarkably little panic. Just shock - silent for the most part – with no hysteria or tears, only a dazed bitter uncertainty. One man stood out. An African-American, his shirt had either been blown off or removed. He must have been about 6'4" and was covered from head to toe with that same fine white dust with which we would all soon be familiar. He was moving up Broadway with a purposeful stride. I looked in his eyes as he passed me. There was no shock or fear there, just a fierce, but calm, determination to get home, get out of that area, get back to some kind of sanity. I watched him until he faded off into the smoky distance of Broadway. He took a large measure of our past with him".

All the best,

Larry Kirwan

For someone with so much on his plate, Kirwan is unusually accessible, and in his email reply to my request, noted that all of his email response has not been so positive, "I just got a scathing one in calling me a Commie bastard who tramples all over the country that adopted me. Jesus, there's so much hatred out there."

While the media fascination with 9/11 is somewhat to be expected (it's what media does, mostly), the pyschic wound seems just as fresh today as it did on 9/12/01 and using 9/11 to sell movie tickets, books, magazines, newspapers, and advertising on radio and television seems just as wrong as politicians using it to further whatever political adjenda. With all that in mind, it is absolutely true that the world changed that day and all of our lives are different now, and I thank Larry Kirwan for sharing the view from his perspective. Photos are courtesy of Black 47.



Visit Black 47's website.
Visit Black 47's MySpace page.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Ebba Forsberg Released in Sweden, 9/05/06



Ebba Forsberg has just released her self-titled third album in Sweden. Known in the U.S. primarily for her excellent first album Been There (1997), this intense singer-songwriter from Stockholm released her 2nd album True Love (2001) in Europe only, although it is currently available here digitally via emusic.com. The following description of the new album was posted on Ebba's MySpace blog by her MySpace Guru.

Greetings all --

The new EBBA FORSBERG album is out today in Sweden! Reviews have been wonderful, feedback exceptional. Written by Ebba (words and music) and recorded either in her living room or in the studio together w/ her talented backing musicians, the album is both an amazing personal statement -- deep and dark -- and an exquisite musical adventure. As you have noticed with the tracks here on myspace, the voice -- ahh the voice -- is assured and knowing, the melodies simple and straightforward, the instrumentation warm and uncluttered. This is the heart of the musical creative process, and it presents itself as what it is -- songwriting and musicianship that have the confidence and ability to stand without pretense.


I urge you to spend time with these songs, let them soak into your skin, haunt your memory. The melodies and lyrics will linger long after. An EPK (Electronic Press Kit) video that features interview and selected in-studio videos will surface in the video section once I, the Ebba Myspace Guru, have mastered and maneuvered the technical aspects of what we know and love as myspace. For now, listen again. More songs will be posted soon. Forward the page to friends...let them know your taste is truly exceptional. Spread the word. This is how it works. Be part of it.

EMG

Well said EMG. I've heard the record and couldn't agree more; I'm still somewhat haunted by the last track, "Deep Denial" ("This is me in deep denial", indeed). Update - Ebba's EPK is now posted on her MySpace page or you can link directly to it at YouTube.


All photos © Ebba Forsberg, 2006.


Been There (1997)


True Love (2001)

Visit Ebba's website.
Visit Ebba's MySpace page.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

WXPN's 885 Greatest Artists - Decision Time



There's just one week left to submit your selections for WXPN's listener survey to determine the 885 Greatest Artists of all time. Go to xpn's website to submit your top ten list which also enters you in a contest to win the complete cd catalog of each of the top three artists as voted by the listenership. Voting deadline is September 10th. Check out the xpn discussion boards which always heat up during the countdown, with real time critiques, reaction and tears as the results are revealed. Also check out xpn's staff and artist picks, and xpn's music blog.



For most music lovers, selecting ten artists as the all time greatest is a ridiculous task, and an incredibly arbitrary one at that. Station Manager Roger LeMay's goal is to get 10,000 listeners to vote their top ten in order to generate a master list of the 885 all time greatest artists which will be counted down this fall during a couple of great broadcast weeks in which the normal format is abandoned and all kinds of fun and unexpected things occur. Since the final result is all about numbers of votes, I decided to try to quantify the selection process for my top ten and next ten lists; xpn this time is allowing a next ten selection for those who find the top ten list too limiting.



Starting with my initial list of 65 artists, I first eliminated those who were too new for actual consideration. In my first arbitrary decision I deemed that both longevity of career and number of superlative albums should both be given major weight in assembling this list. Next I took the discography for each artist and threw out all of the compilations, greatest hits, and live albums, the only exceptions being live albums that were the primary source of original new material like Jackson Browne's Running on Empty. Each original album in an artist's career merited one point, regardless of quality. Next, perfect albums (all great tracks, no exceptions) were awarded ten points. Great albums (mostly great tracks but not perfect) were awarded five points.

This may seem pretty subjective at this point, but when looking at an artist's career, the great and the perfect albums are pretty ingrained in my neural net and do not in any way seem like a variable. Ironically the raw score totals came out identical for my top two: the Beatles and Stevie Wonder both totalled 153 using this method. The next arbitrary decision was that inclusion on previous top ten lists for xpn 885 countdowns should also carry weight, so an additional ten points was awarded to each artist who had a song on my top ten all time songs list and an additional ten points was awarded to each artist who had an album on my top ten all time albums list.



Finally came the really subjective part wherein there were so many artists of similar quality both on and off the list, I forced myself to add or subtract up to 15 points for intangibles, personal preference, etc. Interestingly (or not) this factor did not affect numbers one through five of the top ten. The final four of the second ten are iconic or heritage artists that just had to be included, regardless of math. So, with that all in mind, here are my picks.

1. The Beatles
2. Stevie Wonder
3. Yes
4. Genesis
5. Bruce Springsteen
6. Creedence Clearwater Revival
7. Swing Out Sister
8. The Average White Band
9. Brian Auger's Oblivion Express
10. Joni Mitchell


And the Next Ten:

11. Del Amitri
12. Steely Dan
13. Pink Floyd
14. Julia Fordham
15. Tanita Tikaram
16. Chris Rea
17. Louis Armstrong
18. Burt Bacharach
19. Ray Charles
20. Nat King Cole


Finally I should note that in version one of these picks I was certain that individual artists who had both group and solo careers should be considered cumulatively; thinking it impossible to consider John Fogerty's career without including Creedence Clearwater Revivial, and the same being true for Donald Fagen, Sting, Jerry Garcia, Mark Knopfler, Brian Wilson, Keith Emerson, and so on. However, a quick review of the xpn staff picks and the listener lists posted on the bulletin board revealed that I was in a severe minority on this point. Only one person's list lumped solo and group together in an artist pick, so back to the Excel spreadsheet I went, to separate the solo and the group careers, and the final list above is what was submitted to xpn.

Whether or not you wish to submit your own list to WXPN, please feel free to post a list here as a comment, or send me an email and I'll publish any that I receive in a future update. Photos courtesy of artist websites.

Friday, September 01, 2006

First Listen: Nina Gordon - Bleeding Heart Graffiti (Warner Brothers, 2006)



Nina Gordon's first solo album Tonight and the Rest of My Life (Warner Brothers, 2000), with its excellent title track single, seemed to apply for the job opening vacated by Madonna when she gave up writing classic pop/rock songs in favor of sex/rap and electronica. Six years later, Bleeding Heart Graffiti nicely picks up right where the first left off.

With a fresh sounding and appealing voice that falls somewhere between Madonna, Juliana Hatfield and Aimee Mann, and armed with a great set of new original tunes, Nina has come up with a very solid second album. Producer Bob Rock (his real name, thankfully), who also produced her first album, doesn't hesitate to pull out all the stops production-wise when needed, allowing Bleeding Heart Graffiti to fully realize the sort of quality pop/rock that you just don't hear much anymore on the radio or on the charts. Here's hoping that there's still an audience out there who will appreciate this.



Visit Nina Gordon's Website.
Visit Nina Gordon on MySpace