Here are my choices for the five best albums of the year so far.
1. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
Listen to "Wrecking Ball"
It Takes a Village, Baby: The death of Clarence Clemons left a giant hole in Bruce Springsteen's music, both compositionally and in performance. The resulting expansion of the E Street Band was felt both on the road and on his latest album, Wrecking Ball. The loss of keyboard player Danny Federici a few years ago also contributed to the new personnel. On the Wrecking Ball tour, early on in each concert Bruce introduces the new horn section, the violinist, and the backup singers, saying "To do what we came here to do tonight, it takes a village baby."
Long story short, Wrecking Ball works both on record and live, like no other Springsteen album since 1987's Tunnel of Love. Bruce made such compelling music on his first seven studio albums, that as each succeeding album grew more issue oriented, the songs became more and more like folk songs. The genius of Wrecking Ball is that for the first time Bruce has incorporated the issues that he cares deeply about, into music that is compelling like the old days. We've seen Bruce live many times over the years, but now, forty years on in his career, he's never been better than he is on the Wrecking Ball tour. Read our live reviews here and here.
2. Shayna Zaid and the Catch - Lighthouse
Listen to - "Morning Sun"
A Work of Uncommon Beauty: Shayna Zaid has, over the past few years, assembled an amazingly talented band and together they have worked tirelessly on their music, both on stage and in the studio. The results of all that work are evident on Lighthouse, her first full length American album. The songwriting on Lighthouse is a collaboration between Shayna and the Catch that excels on every track.
Shayna's voice is deep, soulful, and beautiful. The album is almost entirely acoustic with the sound of the band being the combination of acoustic guitar and violin or acoustic guitar and mandolin. This is a work of uncommon beauty; you won't find another singer that sounds anything like Shayna and you won't hear another band that sounds remotely like The Catch. This is a totally original record that is a perfect delight for the ears as well as the heart. Read the complete review.
3. Kirsten Proffit - My Devotion
Listen to "Flood and Fire".
Not Your Father's Pop/Rock: For her second album, Kirsten Profit co-produced with Michael Woodrum using mostly acoustic instrumentation for a warm, rich, multi-layered sound that is positively brilliant. You can tell as soon as you drop the proverbial needle onto track one and feel the presence and texture of the acoustic guitar, then the mandolin confirms that something very special is going on here; My Devotion is not your father's pop/rock.
My Devotion is, for the most part, about love. Kirsten comes at it from almost every angle, set to some of the most tuneful songwriting you could ever want to hear. The title works on several levels. There is the devotion of love, there is Kirsten's devotion to her craft of being a singer, songwriter, and musician, and finally it is a tribute to her grandfather, whose World War Two plane (pictured on the cover) was nicknamed, "My Devotion". This record succeeds joyfully, by all three measures. Read the complete review.
4. Melody Gardot - The Absence
Listen to "If I Tell You I Love You"
Philly to Paris to Rio: When we last heard from Melody Gardot, it was 2009, she had just released her second album, and she was enjoying life as an ex-patriate Parisian. In the last three years, she's done a little traveling and The Absence finds her in places like the beaches of Brazil and the deserts of Morocco outside Marrakesh, as well as cities like Lisbon and Buenos Aires, that beat with the pulse of calypso, samba, tango, and bossa nova, and where the music and culture spill out onto the streets at night.
The prospect of Melody doing bossa nova would have been enticing enough, but along with the Brazilian music, there are African and Spanish influences as well, making this record a soft sensual mix. The Absence was masterfully produced by Heitor Pereira, resulting in an album that is relaxing, romantic, and exotic, all filtered through Melody's exquisite songwriting. This album is a real treat and it reveals its pleasures slowly. Watch the "Amalia" video.
5. Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur
Listen to "Mint"
Her Best Album Yet: We've liked Kathleen Edwards' voice, ever since her 2003 debut, Failer, which did well behind the exceptional "Six O'Clock News" and "Hockey Skates", but otherwise uneven songwriting on that record didn't get any better on her second or third albums. So this year's Voyageur came as a complete and happy surprise, loaded as it is, with great songs. Everything about this record is superb, from the songwriting to the vocals and musician performances, to the production.
In 2011, there was a seismic shift in Kathleen's personal life. It would be overly simplistic to draw a conclusion as to causality, but Kathleen divorced her long-time collaborator/husband and paired off with Justin Vernon, otherwise known as Bon Iver, who produced and played on Voyageur. Bon Iver had his own critical, artistic, and commercial breakthrough in 2011. The fact of the matter is that we had a hard time choosing a song to stream because they're all so damn good.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Joe Williams - I Just Want To Sing
New Occasional Feature: We are in the midst of a major project to digitize our entire CD collection, and as we go we are constantly running across rare, forgotten, interesting, or just plain great records that you just don't hear much. We'll show the album, tell a little about it, stream a couple of tracks, and link to Amazon if the album is still available.
This feature takes inspiration from Mike's Basement, Mike being Mike Marrone, who does one of the best music shows we've ever heard on the radio. You can catch Mike weekday mornings, 6am-Noon eastern on Sirius XM channel 30 - The Loft.
We are also inspired by The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn, another essential radio show. Ben dips into his amazing record collection every week for an hour of rare, sometimes unusual, but always fabulous records. The show is well named because Ben could play anything. The show is only carried on three stations, but two of them stream their signal online; you can tune in every Saturday at 5pm eastern at XPN.Org.
Joe Williams (1918-1999) is one of our very favorite jazz singers; his voice and style is so agreeable and his bands and arrangements so perfect that one of his records can reboot the mood of any room. Joe's music is especially well suited for late night listening. On I Just Want to Sing, Joe has jazz icons guesting on nearly every track, including Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis on tenor sax, Thad Jones on trumpet, John Collins on guitar, and Benny Golson on tenor.
Listen to "What A Difference A Day Makes" Feat. Benny Golson
Listen to "Sawmill Blues" Feat. Thad Jones
Friday, June 22, 2012
Tanita Tikaram has always been one of our favorite singer-songwriters. Her last album, Sentimental, seven years ago, was not only one of her best but ranks as one of our all time favorite records. The good news today was the release of a song and video from her forthcoming new album, Can't Go Back, due out August 31st. The new song is "Dust On My Shoes", one of ten songs on the new album; track list is below. "Dust On My Shoes" is now available at Amazonand iTunes. According to Tanita:
"I've always wanted to write a song like 'Dust On My Shoes', which is a simple freedom song. The word 'freedom' becomes more and more important to all of us - in every choice, every political & moral decision and the attempt to live in a free way I find very moving. It is also about how you can be free from people's conceptions of you, if you want and how, while I don t have faith, I do believe and I do strive to have an open mind. More than any other, that song encapsulates me".
We couldn't be more excited about the prospect of a new Tanita album this year. Sentimental flew completely under the radar here in the U.S. when it came out in 2005; and it came about seven years after The Cappuccino Songs. Tanita reached a point in her career that she could live her life and record whenever the spirit moves her. That would seem to be about every seven years, so her new record is reason enough for jubilation. Here is the text of the press release announcing Can't Go Back. The track list follows.
The voice that defined a generation is returning with her first album in seven years. Can't Go Back features some of America's most exciting modern soul musicians, and was lovingly crafted by producer Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Grant Lee Phillips, Nina Nastasia) at Sound Factory in Los Angeles.
The musicians included Bryan himself as well as keyboardist Keefus Ciancia (B.B. King, T.Bone Burnett, Elton John, Everlast), Ray LaMontagne's drummer Jay Bellerose and long term friend and guitarist Mark Creswell. American folk singer songwriter Grant Lee Phillips added his vocal voodoo to All Things To You and Keep It Real.
Tikaram was inspired by her new found love of Americana, by the union of country and soul by Motown and Chess, and by singers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Dusty Springfield, Don Williams, Paul Simon and the long-lost Marie Knight. It proved to be a musical coming home resulting in a warm, uplifting convergence of Tanita's fabulously sensual voice with a live soul groove.
Says Tikaram: It s full of sweet melancholy (...). There's sex, there's nostalgia and there's freedom. 'Can't go Back' is the song that best sums up the spirit of the album ...the desire to live in the moment & the temptation to revise the past. I cant wait to get out there and start playing the new songs to everyone!"
Here is the track list:
1. All Things To You
2. Dust On My Shoes
3. Make The Day
4. Rock & Roll
6. Keep It Real
7. Can't Go Back
8. Heavy Pressure
9. One Kiss
10. If The World Should Want For Love
If you buy the Deluxe version, it comes with a second disc of eight live acoustic Tanita classics:
1. My Love
2. Valentine Heart
3. Wonderful Shadow
4. Only The Ones We Love
5. Twist in My Sobriety
6. To Drink the Rainbow
7. Play Me Again
8. Love Is Just a Word
Photos courtesy of Tanita Tikaram
Tanita Tikaram's Website
Tanita Tikaram's Facebook
Friday, June 15, 2012
Snakadaktal - "Dance Bear"
Another Nice Taste of the Melbourne Music Scene: Three days ago, Australian indie label I Oh You released "Dance Bear", a new single by Melbourne indie band Snakadaktal, with the following post on the label website:
SNAKADAKTAL – DANCE BEAR (NEW SINGLE)
Posted on: June 12th, 2012 by iohyou No Comments
It’s moments like this that I realise how lucky I am to be able to work with the bands we do. Today Snakadaktal have dropped their new single “Dance Bear”. I’m not even going to describe it or try and sell it to you….I wouldn’t do it justice.
Listen to Snakadaktal - "Dance Bear"
Photo courtesy of Snakadaktal
That morning, there was an update from The Ripe, waiting in our email, and this song immediately caught our ears with its cool keyboards, catchy chorus, great vocals and nice fat beats. Triple J radio in Melbourne jumped on the song straight out of the gate on their morning show and before the day was out, "Dance Bear" was being re-posted on music blogs and websites all over Australia, and that's as good a definition as we've heard for a hit song in this internet era. Here's what Huw Nolan had to say, in The Ripe:
This morning Tom and Alex debuted Snakadaktal’s new single “Dance Bear” on Triple J at 7:30 in tha AM. Whilst it would have been nice to hear the tune debuted for the first time across Australian airwaves, it was just way too early for me to get out of bed. So I streamed the bad boy on soundcloud sometime later like a damn cheater.
However what I heard was some typical Snakadaktal but with a hit of maturity. Phoebe’s voice pierces the synthy melody and we are taken on a journey of a dream wave synth pop anthem that rolls into a post punk dance chorus. It is too early in the morning for me to decided whether or not I like it, as I feel like a new born fetus with a extremely delicate and undeveloped sense of hearing (I look like one too, all puffy and rank).
However as I arrive at the end of track I am finding that my head is bopping involuntarily to the music. I have always been a fan of Snakadaktal and this song has delivered. Now to rub the sleep out of my eyes.
REVIEW BY HUW NOLAN
Triple J radio has been featuring Snakadaktal on their website and on their playlists ever since Snakadaktal released their debut EP last year. Here's what Dom had to say Tuesday on the Triple J website:
Melbourne's Snakadaktal are back with their first new tune since taking out last year's Unearthed High competition. It's called 'Dance Bear' and it's arguably the most direct, rocking tune the band's ever recorded.
Building on their love of spacey melodies and boy/girl vocals which characterised their debut EP of last year, 'Dance Bear' ups the epicness by adding in a crunching drum loop reminiscent of late '90s Nine Inch Nails and soaring, delayed guitars.
The band have begun demoing songs for their forthcoming debut album, but they'll be taking a break from that soon to play shows around the country. Keep an eye out for those dates if you're digging this new one from Snakadaktal.
Both the new single and the debut EP are available in the U.S. at iTunes. Before we close, we've got to show you this cool video of another great sounding song by Snakadaktal. This is "Chimera", from their self-titled debut EP.
Snakadaktal - EP
Snakadaktal on iTunes
I Oh You Website
I Oh You on Facebook
Saturday, June 09, 2012
Photo courtesy of Courtney Barnett
A few weeks ago, we wrote about Courtney Barnett, singer, songwriter, and musician from Melbourne, Australia, and her new EP, I've Got a Friend Called Emily Ferriswhich we quite like. Courtney just sent a cool new video of her and her her band, Live On the Roof, performing "Scotty Says", from the EP. The lead guitarist gives this a nice, alt-country edge. "Stoner/slacker/garage-pop" indeed.
I've Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris
Courtney Barnett's Website
Courtney Barnett's Facebook
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Joe Walsh stopped by the Howard Stern Show yesterday for a freewheeling interview with Howard. Joe was most candid about the years he lost to alcohol and drugs, plus he told a great story about writing "Rocky Mountain Way." Joe's happiness about his survival, his sobriety, his marriage, and his new album came through loud and clear. Here is the complete interview (53:46).
Photos courtesy of the Howard Stern Show
Joe's new album, Analog Mancomes out today.
Analog Man [CD / DVD Combo Deluxe Edition]
Joe Walsh's Website
Joe Walsh's Facebook
Monday, June 04, 2012
Just about the last thing we ever expected to see was a new Beach Boys record that is really quite good. With all due respect to the 'Boys, after the Holland album they pretty much gave up trying to record new music, and they turned into an oldies band, which is where they've been for almost forty years (give or take a Kokomo along the way).
"That's Why God Made the Radio" was released in advance of the album of the same name which comes out tomorrow. This is not only a great sounding Beach Boys song, it's also crossed over from pop and hits radio to AAA stations like WXPN and the Loft channel on Sirius XM satellite radio, stations that rarely ever play the Beach Boys. Based on Brian Wilson's recent recording and performance activities, it's hard to tell how much of this is really the Beach Boys and how much is young musicians and singers who sound just like the Beach Boys at their best. Whatever the mix, we'll take it, it sounds great. Have a listen.
Photo courtesy of The Beach Boys
Tomorrow will be a very interesting New Release Tuesday, with all ears listening to find out if the rest of the album is as good as the single. We have a similar situation with Joe Walsh, who also releases his twenty year comeback album, Analog Man. The parallel is that Joe's album also comes on the heels of a great advance single, "Lucky That Way". If The Beach Boys' and Walsh's albums pan out, can Chicago be next?
That's Why God Made the Radio
The albums Surf's Up (1971) and Holland (1973) are widely considered the last golden age of The Beach Boys in terms of making new compelling and creative music. Both albums are masterpieces of the early seventies. Let's listen to one track from each, as we prepare for the potential next great Beach Boys record.
Listen to "Feel Flows" from Surf's Up
Holland had lots of great songs but the "California Saga", including "Big Sur", "The Beaks of Eagles", and "California" is the album's centerpiece and being that it encompasses the history of California, ecology, and concludes with a classic Beach Boys pean to the ocean ("water, water, get yourself in the cool clear water"), this long track the last great Beach Boys composition. Listen and enjoy.
The Beach Boys' Website
The Beach Boys' Facebook
Sunday, June 03, 2012
Rumer is one of our favorite new singer-songwriters. Her debut album took up residence in our player last year, much to our delight. She has one of the best new voices we've heard in a long time; it approaches Karen Carpenter in phrasing and tonal quality, plus she's got a penchant for Burt Bacharach style hits and movie themes from the sixties. She is about to release her second album, Boy's Don't Cry,which is all covers of lessor known songs from the seventies.
On Thursday, May 24th, Rumer did a show at St. James Church in London, singing songs from the new album as well as from her debut. The concert was streamed live by Amazon Music UK. Courtesy of The Guardian, we are pleased to bring you this concert in its entirety. Enjoy.
Photos courtesy of Rumer
Warners may be doing a good job for her in the UK (Seasons of My Soul has sold well over a million copies), but she's gotten sketchy treatment by Warners' sister company Atlantic in the US. Last October, Rumer came over with a striped down (for her) mostly acoustic band to make her US debut. She played about ten days worth of shows in major cities from coast to coast, yet Atlantic didn't even release her debut album; it finally came out here this past January.
Boy's Don't Crycomes out Tuesday in the UK, but Atlantic doesn't even have it listed anywhere on their release schedule for 2012, as of now. You can get import copies through Amazon and the Amazon Sellers. If you do, make sure to get the Deluxe Version, which has four more tracks than the regular CD, it's also available on vinyl.
For bonus videos, we have a couple of songs from Rumer's debut tour last October. When we caught her at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, we hadn't really planned on shooting video, but the show was so good that we shot a few songs with our iPhone. The resulting picture and sound turned out better than it had any right to be. Check it out.
As a super duper deluxe bonus video, we have Rumer's recent performance at the White House. She does "A House is Not a Home" at the Burt Bacharach and Hal David: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize concert. You can watch the entire show here.
Boy's Don't Cry: Deluxe Edition
Seasons Of My Soul