Leonard Cohen Sings “Almost Like The Blues”

Leonard Cohen Popular ProblemsListen to this track by Montreal-born poet, novelist, and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. It’s “Almost Like The Blues”, the first single from his new record Popular Problems, released this year on the anniversary of his 80th year on earth; September 21st. The record follows 2012’s Old Ideas, which was the highest charting release of his entire career along with extremely positive reviews across the board; not bad for a guy in his late seventies at the time.

By then, there’d been an eight-year gap in releases. So, this new record and its single has enjoyed some momentum in terms of its creation riding the wave of his previous one. Yet despite this success, Cohen is still dealing in the shadows when it comes to subject matter.

And where does this new song fit into to things where Cohen’s intimidatingly potent back catalog is concerned? (more…)

Fall Into Tunes 2014

Fairy's Banquet

Fall is cool.

I mean things are cooling off from a glorious summer now gone, sure. But, fall really is cool, especially when you add new tunes to the mix. This is what I’m suggesting, as I did last year. Because this is the second annual Fall Into Tunes, a selection of new songs that you must hear this autumn season.

So, here are 16 songs to help you build your autumn playlists, from different points of the musical spectrum, and from near and far.

Lend me your ears!

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Grant Lee Buffalo Perform “Mockingbirds”

Grant Lee Buffalo Mighty Joe MoonListen to this track by L.A  folk-rock-indie trio with a feel for psychedelic texture, Grant Lee Buffalo. It’s “Mockingbirds”, a single as taken from 1994’s Mighty Joe Moon, their second album. The song scored a top-twenty showing on Billboard’s “Modern Rock” chart, representing their initial exposure to a wider audience.

By the time this track was recorded, the band had a clearer idea of what they wanted to sound like, and had had some experience in the studio to help them realize their ambitions. That’s the magic of the second album! Also, though, they had had a lot of road experience as headliners and also as a supporting act of the some of the biggest bands of the time, including Pearl Jam, REM, and Smashing Pumpkins. They were seasoned pros by this time!

But, this sense of success, and the feeling of taking things to a more professional level began to become a source of stress, along with personal events in the life of head writer Grant Lee Phillips that seemed to run in parallel. How is that reflected on this song?

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Duke Ellington Plays “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo in Blue” At Newport 1956

Ellington At NewportListen to this track by great American composer and supreme jazz immortal Duke Ellington. It’s “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo in Blue”, two compositions dating back to 1937 and re-positioned here from the band’s book (aka their catalogue of songs) on the 1956 “live” release Ellington At Newport

This was a game-changing date for Ellington and his guys, and I put the quotation marks around the word live because it was pieced together after the fact, supplemented  by studio recordings and with audience applause. Duke felt that the band wasn’t properly prepared for their appearance to the point that he felt it might not make for a good recording. He made the suggestion of a studio album and live album hybrid to paper over what he felt were some of the cracks. But, that’s not the big story here.

The big story is what happened to the real audience, and how it became a vital chapter in the career of one of the greatest American composers of all-time, actually ensuring his success for the remainder of his life – including a cover shot in Time Magazine.

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Joy Division Play “Transmission”

Joy DivisionListen to this track by Mancunian post-punk trendsetters Joy Division. It’s “Transmission”, a single released in October of 1979 between their two sole albums as a seven inch on the Factory label. By the next year in December, it would be re-released as a twelve inch single, later to be celebrated in cover versions by bands from Low to Smashing Pumpkins, to Hot Chip.

By this time, the band had morphed from what they would describe themselves as an “undistinguished punk band” called Warsaw into one that would write a template for bands up until the present day. This would be a highlight in a small but vital body of work, cut short by the death of lead singer and lyricist Ian Curtis, himself something of an iconic figure for post-punk influenced acts, and certainly for frontmen looking beyond the standard shrill-voiced golden god variety.

Actually, this band would provide an example to succeeding ones in many ways beyond even that. They broke the rules of being a rock band. But more importantly, they wrote their own. (more…)

McCarthy Play “Red Sleeping Beauty”

McCarthy band group shotListen to this track by Barking, Essex-based left-leaning jangle pop maestros McCarthy. It’s their 1986 single “Red Sleeping Beauty”, the harbinger for their first album that would appear the next year, I Am A Wallet.

The band put themselves across as a sort of politicized Smiths, with jangling guitars and lyrics that alluded to the cracks in the facade where mid-to-late ’80s Britain was concerned. They built their sound around the political lyrics of singer/guitarist Malcolm Eden, and the chiming folk-indie lines laid down by lead guitarist Tim Gane.

McCarthy formed in 1984, just before the height of the unemployment rash and miner’s strike in England, as well as the dismantling of the social safety net at the hands of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives. Despite their material being very concerned with those particular times, by the time this track came out on the Pink label, they didn’t get much radio play internationally, or even domestically, other than by way of the immortal champion of fringe indie bands John Peel, who hosted several of his famous sessions with McCarthy.

But, they would provide another service to music as a whole beyond their small but vital output by the end of the decade, even if at the time, they appeared not to make much impact. (more…)

Morcheeba Play “Part Of The Process”

Morcheeba Big CalmListen to this track by London-based trip-hopping downtempo trio with a feel for  the blues Morcheeba. It’s “Part Of The Process”, a 1998 single from their second album Big Calm.  The album was a breakthrough hit, scoring platinum sales in the UK, and respectable ones abroad as well.

The sound of the band is taken from various sources, emanating from each member of the group; singer Skye Edwards’ soul background, guitarist Ross Godfrey’s interest in the blues and psychedelia, and producer and lyricist Paul Godfrey, Ross’ brother, bringing in electronic and hip hop texture to the whole.

This song is a solid example of a more pop-oriented mainstream direction, designed to set them apart from a scene they felt would eventually be stuck in the era. Of course, then they were labeled “post-trip hop” by the press. But, they were making interesting music, with some unexpected ingredients and contrasts that are indispensable to each other. (more…)