Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Missy Higgins - Live on TV Guide Channel

Missy Higgins, just did an interview and live performance on the TV Guide channel to promote her second CD, On a Clear Nightwhich is finally released here in the U.S. today. Missy is a singer-songwriter from Australia with two excellent albums to her credit. Both albums are distinguished by Missy's excellent sense of melody and her most appealing voice. Here she performs "Where I Stood" and "Steer".

Missy will be touring the U.S. for the next two weeks, most dates are already sold out. Catch her if you can, she does a great live show.

On a Clear Night (2007)

The Sound of White (2005)

Video courtesy of the TV Guide channel.
Missy Higgins myspace.
Missy Higgins website.

Monday, February 25, 2008

k.d. lang - Kimmel Center, 2/24/08

k.d. lang is one of the best singers I have ever heard, she truly has a voice for the ages. And as good as she sounds on her records, in concert her voice is even more compelling. Those who venture out to catch her on her current tour, promoting her new CD Watershed,are privileged to hear a truly great singer working at the very top of her game.

I appreciated k.d.'s music sporadically until she recorded A Wonderful World(2002), a duet album with Tony Bennett on which she and Tony sang some well chosen standards better than I'd ever heard them done before, with superb production by T. Bone Burnett. k.d. sounds great on that record and she brought out the best in Tony Bennett, the result is one of my all time favorite records. On k.d.'s next release, Hymns of the 49th Parallel(2004), she covered all Canadian songwriters, with a superb collection of songs including the quintessential version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".

On tour now in support of Watershed,k.d. played Philadelphia last night at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall, a venue that she described as her all-time favorite house. The combination of orchestra hall acoustics and a really great sound system resulted in concert sound quality that dramatically exceeds what the rock or pop audience would dare to hope or expect. From the uptempo songs to the quietest moments, every instrument including k.d.'s beautiful voice could be clearly and cleanly heard in an excellent mix.

The room was full of adoring and vocal fans, more than a few of whom approached the stage with flowers and gifts for k.d. during the show. The set offered a nice sampling of songs from k.d.'s repertoire including a good number of new songs from Watershed.

Everything she sang sounded great, but near the end of the set when she got to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", she brought down the house with a stunning, breathtaking performance. This song has been covered by way too many artists in the last few years, but no one does it any better than k.d., who to these ears owns the definitive version. The crowd responded with a lengthy standing ovation, with the extended crescendo of applause rolling nicely into "Constant Craving". The set ended with "Close Your Eyes" from Watershed.

Her band was excellent on every song, every arrangement. Grecco Buratto played guitar, Danny Clarke played piano and keyboards, Danny Frankel played drums, Josh Grange played multiple instruments including some beautiful pedal steel guitar, and Ian Walker played electric and upright bass.

For her first encore song, the band all came center stage to play "Pay Dirt" old timey style (above and below).

For the second song of the first encore, the band harmonized with k.d. on "Jealous Dog" from Watershed.

Here's a performance of the same song from a BBC4 session, recorded on 2/15/08 at St. Luke's in London, home of the London Symphony Orchestra.

When the house lights finally came up after the second encore, the crowd left completely satiated by k.d.'s masterful performance.

Here's a performance of "Hallelujah" from 9/15/07 at a benefit concert for Elton John's AIDS Foundation.

Watershed (Nonesuch, 2008)

k.d. lang's website.
k.d. lang's myspace.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Swing Out Sister - "Something Every Day"

Here's the third new tune from Swing Out Sister's forthcoming new album, Beautiful Mess. This video of "Something Every Day" was posted by Andy to the Swing Out Myspace page after it started showing up on Youtube in lower quality.

According to Andy's post:
"The clip was directed by the very talented animation specialist Paul Dunkley, using photography by our long-term collaborator, and all-round good bloke, Mr.James Martin.."

Beautiful Mess will be released on February 27th by Avex Records in Japan, with worldwide release to follow, no specifics yet on a U.S. release, however Andy just posted a link by which to mailorder the CD directly from the band. Just click over to the Swing Out Myspace page and the purchase link is on today's blog which also includes this explanation from Andy:

Beautiful Mess - availability..

With the Japanese release of Beautiful Mess just around the corner, I've recently been checking out the various online retailers and have, as usual, been fairly horrified at the import price that enthusiastic listeners, from Europe and America in particular, would have to pay to get hold of a copy. Amazon UK want £20, and in the US quotes seem to range from around $30 to a frankly bizarre $60 at Amazon US.

With this in mind, and while we don't as yet have domestic releases in place, I thought we'd offer a service similar to what we did with the Live in Tokyo album. We have a limited number of autographed copies of the album, identical to the Japanese release, with the same artwork, apart from the fact that they come in an eco-friendly card wallet as opposed to the jewel case of the Japanese version, and so do not contain the inside liner notes. As for price, again I'm thinking along the same lines as we did with LIT, ie £10 (or equivalent) per copy, inclusive of postage and packaging.

So, if anyone is interested in getting hold of an early copy at a rather more reasonable price than those currently quoted, or if you'd simply prefer to think that your hard-earned cash was going more directly towards benefitting the band itself rather than some international transportation company, then, by all means, buy now..

Swing Out Sister's myspace.
Swing Out Sister's website.

Steve Winwood - Nine Lives due 4/29/08

Album Preview: Steve Winwood's last two albums were considered by many to be his best work since Traffic. On these records he re-discovered the Hammond B-3 organ and incorporated jazz , blues, and soul into a stretched out rock groove and in so doing made his most enjoyable music of the last two decades. Nine Lives is released on April 29th, and if the preview track "Dirty City" is any indication, the new groove continues. Eric Clapton adds a guitar solo on this track which features Winwood also on electric guitar and some nice B-3 backing. Vocally, you'd never know that Winwood's turning sixty this year. Check out this preview excerpt of "Dirty City", the first single.

The full 7:45 album version is available for purchase now on Amazonand other download retailers.

Nine Lives Song List
1. I'm Not Drowning

2. Fly

3. Raging Sea

4. Dirty City

5. We're All Looking

6. Hungry Man

7. Secrets

8. At Times We Do Forget

9. Other Shore

Clapton will join Winwood for three shows at Madison Square Garden this coming week before Winwood takes to the road with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The tour advertising has Winwood opening, which seems somewhat backwards considering each of their respective histories, but Petty does seem to be riding a nostalgia wave that included his recent halftime performance at the Super Bowl. Watch for Nine Lives on Columbia, April 29th.

Winwood's website.
Clapton's website.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dan Fogelberg on Soundstage, 2004

PBS is currently rerunning a 2004 Soundstage (recorded 8/03) with Dan Fogelberg in his memory. This show sounds really great, even the sappy songs, still can't believe he's gone.

It's never easy and it's never clear,
Who's to navigate and who's to steer,

So you founder drifting ever near the rocks...

Rest in peace Dan, your music is still here with us.

Photo & clip courtesy Soundstage.
Dan Fogelberg's website.
Soundstage website.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My Pappy said, "Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’, if you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln." - RIP Charlie Ryan (1915-2008)

Promotional Photo from 4-Star Records

Charlie Ryan who co-wrote "Hot Rod Lincoln" died last Saturday February 16th at the age of 92. With a great lyric and a killer guitar line, "Hot Rod Lincoln" is one of the greatest car songs ever. Written in 1955, recorded in 1957 and first released in 1960, the original version by Ryan was a hit in most parts of the country, but it was the definitive cover version by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen (1971) that revived the song and cemented it's place in the driving culture of America. Texas swing-meister Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have also made "Hot Rod Lincoln" a standard of their repertoire.

Listen to Commander Cody - "Hot Rod Lincoln"

Writing one of the all time great driving songs is no small feat.
Photo courtesy of Charlie Ryan's Hot Rod Lincoln website.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tina Dico, The Living Room, 2/19/08

Tina Dico played to a packed Living Room crowd Tuesday night, her first time back at this venue in quite some time. She was here to preview her new CD which is due for U.S. release this spring, and to record her live set for XM satellite radio. Tina's worldwide success has resulted in her usually playing venues much larger than the Living Room, and the combination of her always strong vocals and her powerful acoustic guitar was almost overwhelming in this intimate room.

Hearing songs from a new album for the first time live can always be somewhat of a challenge, but Tina's new songs, "Count to Ten", "You Know Better", "Cruel to the Sensitive Kind", "On the Run", and "Sacre Coeur" all sounded good. The latter was written in Paris, named for the landmark cathedral on Montmarte.

In addition to the new tunes, it was also nice to hear "Beautiful View". "Break of Day" sounded great in a piano version. She closed with "Magic", a song I've always found somewhat cringeworthy but I may be in a minority in that regard. It was great to see Tina again, and if you keep an eye on the XM broadcast schedule (also listed at the Living Room's website), you will be able to hear most if not all of this set soon on XM channel 50, The Loft. The show is called From the Living Room to the Loft and new shows debut twice per month on Sundays at 6pm with repeat airings Tuesdays at 11pm and late Wedneday night/early Thursdays at 3am.

Count to Ten was debuted in Tina's native Denmark at the end of 2007, it reached the U.K. about two weeks ago, and drops here on April 8th. Four songs from it can be heard right now on Tina's myspace player. Tina will be out on tour for the near future, with more U.S. dates scheduled in late March and early May.

Tina Dico - Count to Ten (2008)

Tina Dico's myspace.
Tina Dico's website.
The Living Room's website.
XM Radio - The Loft's website.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Melody Gardot's Worrisome Heart Due Next Week on Verve

Melody Gardot's Worrisome Heartgets it's major label release on Verve next Tuesday, February 26th. The songs have been re-sequenced, one song has been dropped, and and the CD has a new cover. This is one really special record and the Verve release should bring Melody new audience while she makes her next CD for Verve with producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Julia Fordham, others). Amazoncurrently lists a price of $6.99 which is an absurdly great bargain for one of the best CDs ever. Read my complete review of the independent release here.

Listen to Melody Gardot - "Gone"

Re-sequencing is to be expected when a major label reconfigures an independent release. No explanation has yet been given for "Wicked Ride" being deleted, but it is fairly likely that this signature song is being held back in order to include it on Melody's next CD. The new cover is more in keeping with the original independent cover than the previously planned cover that was shown for a time on the Amazon in the U.K. The British release was postponed from last November, it is out now in the U.K. and now sports the same cover as here.

Melody's personal history is as compelling as her music, read all about it using the links below. Her major label success could not be more well deserved.

Melody's website.
Melody's myspace.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree (Mute, 2008)

First Listen - Goldfrapp has put their entire new record, Seventh Treeup on the myspace player today for a preview listen. On first pass it sounds like Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have delivered a beautifully written, sung, performed and produced pop record, a dramatic departure from the dance/electronica style of music that Goldfrapp is known for. The rhythmic synth sound that characterized their last album Supernatureis mostly absent from Seventh Tree.

Allison's voice sounds great on these tunes, which is made even more evident by the restrained, dare I say, subtle production style. "Cologne Cerrone Houdini" (will need to find out about that title), sounds almost soulful. On first listen I'd have to say Seventh Treesounds delightful and definitely worth getting to know it better after it's release next Tuesday (Feb. 26th).

Goldfrapp's myspace.
Goldfrapp's website.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Across the Universe (Revolution Studios/Sony Pictures, 2007)

With Across the Universe, director Julie Taymor has accomplished something that I heretofore would have considered impossible. I must admit that I was predisposed to dislike this movie, intensely, for three reasons. First, this is a musical where the actors break into song every few minutes and while there are a number of movies in which this technique works for me, they are few and far between.

Evan Rachel Wood

Second, and this is the really big one, I generally can't stand to see the Beatles' canon messed with. While I ordinarily love great cover versions and tributes, the Beatles are probably the most difficult band to cover as was illustrated by the recent tribute to Rubber Soul. If your new version strays too far from the original, it can seem labored and precious, and if your version sounds too much like the original it just seems pointless, you may as well just listen to the Beatles. This double edged sword initially seemed insurmountable when considering that Across the Universe consists of a love story told almost completely by the actors singing the songs of the Beatles. Third, when this movie was released in late 2007, it got very mixed reviews, and when I happened to check out one scene out of context in a theater, I saw nothing to counter the negative view.

Listen to Jim Sturgess - "All My Loving"

With all that said, having now viewed Across the Universe in it's entirety, it took about the first half hour (until the bowling alley scene) to break down my preconceptions and misgivings, and I am pleased to conclude that this movie is a work of pure genius, start to finish. The Beatles' music is so utterly familiar and so much a part of our cultural lexicon and shared experience, that we can't help but take it for granted. Across the Universe pulls off the astounding feat of making us reconsider this music, to hear it again with new ears, and to hear new depth and in some cases even find new meaning in the music. After all the years, to now come away from this movie with a new appreciation for the Beatles' music is something totally unexpected, shocking and revelatory.

Listen to Jim Sturgess - "Something"

(L-R) Julie Taymor, Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood & Joe Anderson

Equalling the musical accomplishment of this movie, the story and the visual conception are like nothing ever seen before. The cinematography is gorgeous, the choreography and direction is as good as it gets. My initial impression that the scenes seemed contrived to fit the lyrics of the songs, quickly melted away with the realization that the construct of the movie gives the viewer a new visual context for each song, totally and sometimes radically different than the cliched visualization that one might expect. I could cite many examples, but this dazzlingly imaginative approach is evident in virtually every scene, every song. Singing "Come Together", Joe Cocker appears in four separate scenes, first as a bum, then a pimp, then a long-haired street hippie, then again as the pimp, all during the course of the song. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" actually gets three interpretations while the song plays, the first dealing with Max's induction into the army, complete with Uncle Sam recruiting posters coming to life to sing "I Want You!" and before it ends we also get love (with an adept camera cut) both realized and unrequited.

Listen to Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs & T.V. Carpio - "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"

Contributing to the excellence of this movie are a collection of supremely gifted actors who do such a great job singing these songs that never once does it seem like a song was shortchanged by having an actor sing it. Julie Taymor explains in the DVD commentary that about eighty percent of the singing was recorded live as the movie was filmed, avoiding the canned feel of lip-synched vocals. Another giant reason that the songs sound so good and work so well in the move is the guidance of ├╝ber-producer T-Bone Burnett and the other musical production staff and vocal coaches. Burnett has a long history as a producer of helping artists to make the best records of their career; he also guided Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix to pull off totally believable performances as Johnny and June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. In Across the Universe the arrangements are perfect, and together with the excellent vocals manage to avoid the many pitfalls of covering the Beatles and the result is pure joy.

Listen to all six lead actors harmonize on "Because".

Leads Evan Rachel Wood as Lucy and Jim Sturgess as Jude (if you haven't seen the movie, the use of familiar names from Beatle songs may seem cheesy but in context it totally works) sing their parts even better than one could hope. Sturgess in particular sounds absolutely authentic speaking in a Liverpool accent that he had to adopt for the movie (he's British but from London not Liverpool), and he sounds so great singing the Beatles that after seeing this movie you'll want the soundtrack CD.

Dana Fuchs

Dana Fuchs has performed as Janis Joplin in the off-broadway production of Love, Janis; her songs on the Sherrybaby soundtrack made that CD a must buy, and is a complete knockout here in her role here as Sadie, with vocal work that brings to mind the best aspects of both Joplin and Tina Turner. Martin Luther McCoy as JoJo totally kills in every scene he's in and every song he sings, plus he adds some excellent lead guitar. Joe Anderson as Max, plays American so well you'd never know he's really British, and nails every song that comes his way. T.V. Carpio shines as Prudence, who not only sounds great but at one point actually gets to come in through the bathroom window. Some excellent smaller roles with equally impressive vocal performances are turned in by Joe Cocker ("Come Together"), Eddie Izzard ("Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"), and Bono ("I am the Walrus"). Bono also gets to sing "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" during the closing credits.

Listen to Martin Luther McCoy - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

The core material of Beatles songs is iconic, both musically and lyrically, but Across the Universe also includes an astounding number of Beatles references way beyond the songs. Dana Fuchs' character may be named Sadie, but we never actually hear the song "Sexy Sadie" in the film. Ditto for the aforementioned bathroom window. Jim Sturgess' character Jude is a graphic artist who while considering ideas for a logo for Sadie's record label, first looks at a green apple, even going so far as to slice it in half, before settling on a Strawberry (see the soundtrack CD cover below). Such references are too numerous to count. The nice thing is that they are mostly subtle, there for the discovering by those who know.

Jim Sturgess in Liverpool Across the Universe is also rife with historical, political, social and cultural references of the sixties. They fly at you constantly, sometimes combining, twisting, turning, some specific, some more generally drawn. Essentially the entire decade is compressed representationally into the two year time span of the story. Bono's Dr. Robert character for example takes the cast on a road trip in a psychedelic school bus, evoking Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters; at their destination they are turned away because "Dr. Geary" (Timothy Leary) is too busy to see them. The psychedelic visuals are stunning, mostly achieved by solarization with some dramatically vivid colors; we've seen psychedelic visual effects many times before, but not quite like this.

Evan Rachel Wood & Jim Sturges

The movie ends delightfully with a rooftop concert that nicely mirrors the Beatles last live performance as documented in Let It Be complete with the police stopping the show for lack of permit. All I can say is that if the final shot doesn't bring a smile to your face, there's something terribly wrong with you. I am happy to have had all my preconceptions and prejudices exploded and in the end be totally blown away by Across the Universe.

Listen to Dana Fuchs - "Don't Let Me Down" and "All You Need Is Love" during the rooftop concert.

What about the soundtrack CD? I bought the deluxe two disc version the week it was released last fall, but never broke the shrinkwrap at the time for fear that it would suck; my first move after the movie ended was to load the 31 songs onto my iPod. Listening in the cold clear light of day, the CD stands on it's own as one of the best collections of Beatles interpretations I've heard in a very long time, maybe ever. Stripped of all the visual input, the details of the music, arrangements, and performances emerge and sound great. Many of the songs begin acapella, with the instrumentation coming in gradually, to maximum effect. The stylistic choices in the production of the songs are spot on brilliant and are a major factor in the artistic success of the movie. While I cannot describe the first impression that the music might make on someone who has not first seen the movie, viewing the movie first definitely provides a frame of reference that enhances the listening.

All photos courtesy Sony Pictures.

Across the Universe Website.
Dana Fuchs' Website.
Martin Luther McCoy's Website.