Listen to this track by Bentonia, Mississippi guitarist, pianist, and all-around legendary bluesman Skip James. It’s “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues”, a sepia-toned treasure from the age of delta country blues that would be featured on James’ 1966 album Today!
The song would be sourced from his repertoire that appeared many years before in 1931 with his initial recordings on the Paramount label. During that era, Skip James’ career as a full-time musician and songwriter would be scuppered by the Great Depression. When most of your audience doesn’t have a job, it’s hard for them to buy records. So, after recording his Paramount sides, he slipped back into obscurity. This economic reality had impact on many, including Mississippi John Hurt and Son House, among others.
But, like those two other musicians, Skip James would enjoy a second wind in the 1960s, thanks to a bona fide hero’s quest to find the grail of true American culture. Continue reading
Listen to this track by Woking Surrey all mod cons power trio The Jam. It’s “Town Called Malice”, a smash single taken from 1982’s The Gift, their last record together. The song would be their third number one in Britain, and their first charting single in the United States. It would go on to grace soundtracks of movies for many years, including Billy Elliot, a story that is partly about life in a British town beset by economic woes.
The song is indeed a slice of life story of a town. In this case, it’s the hometown of the band, which is about forty minutes on the train outside of London. This is the suburbs, the same place in which another song, 1980’s “That’s Entertainment”, is set. But, instead of the youthful restlessness we saw in that tune, “Town Called Malice” reveals something more sinister underneath its similar scenes of suburban life, with something more at stake than youthful boredom and the need to break away.
Listen to this track by British funk soul collective and acid jazz scenesters Jamiroquai. It’s “Too Young To Die”, the second single as taken from their 1993 debut Emergency On Planet Earth. This version is the album version. A shorter radio version was released, scoring a top ten showing on the British charts.
The song combines the feel for early to mid-seventies grooves, complete with brass and string arrangements, with some unique ingredients of their own (a full-time didgeridoo player!). To the forefront is singer and principle Jason “Jay” Kay, who’s vocal stylings evoke a classic Stevie Wonder sound for which he was sometimes unfavourably compared. Stevie is a tough act to match. Yet Jamiroquai hit at just the right time, as British acid-jazz was gaining steam in the early nineties, also including acts like The Brand New Heavies, The James Taylor Quartet, and Ronny Jordan. After that scene petered out, Jamiroquai were still enjoying healthy chart action.
This song remains a highlight in the string of chart hits Jamiroquai put out during the nineties. Its retro feel is certainly musical in nature, full of jazzy chord progressions, funky bass, soul brass, and disco strings. But, the subject matter and the way that it is presented is pretty retro, too. It’s a political song that you can dance to. And it represented a shift from the paradigm of eighties and into a new decade, too.
Listen to this track by singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and arranger and producer with an ear for detail Ben Wilkins. It’s “Day To Day”, a track as featured off of his newest record All From Hello, his follow up to 2011’s self-titled début.
Like that début, this song and the rest of the record is lushly arranged with a slight nod to eras gone by. With this song, we get a special treat; none other than Bonnie Pointer formerly of The Pointer Sisters and a solo artist in her own right singing with Ben on a decidedly R&B-influenced song that shimmers with positivity. Mixed into that are hints of the shades of grey which can characterize the course of a life, with certainty and doubt constantly in flux; the pleasure and the pain from the heavens, yet falling down the drain, too. Ben recorded the new songs in his one-time base city of Montreal, embracing new textures, and yet with no less of an emphasis on intricate arrangements that hold a balance of their own; for all of their intricacy, they still allow the songs to breathe, and to get stuck in the heads of listeners. That’s always been one of Wilkins’ strengths. Yet this new record isn’t a case of more of the same.
I got a chance to talk to Ben via email about the new record, the business of writing a follow-up, and about a shift in sonic vocabulary that involved analogue synthesizers and an archaeological expedition to the record store on the hunt for mythical 12-inch R&B singles.
Listen to this track by supposed melancholic singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Saint Bernard”, the lead single from his most recent record Carousel One, to be released next week in the United States and in Canada.
The new record is the follow up to 2013’s Forever Endeavour, which was kind of like the Sunday morning album from his Saturday night-before flirtation with a wider audience as depicted in the 2010 documentary Love Shines and the associated album Long Player, Late Bloomer. Both of those records helped to bring Sexsmith out of what he considered to be a career funk in terms of sales and exposure, although much of their content framed that sense of struggle that his career was getting away from him.
Often pegged as a melancholic songwriter (incorrectly, in my view), these albums seemed to confirm him as one who deals in the bigger questions in life, the weighty themes that humanity has always wrestled with; the nature of success, of happiness, and an ever-present sense of mortality that presides over our lives. I suppose it makes sense that critics have pigeonholed him in the sombre section of their inner record collections after hearing these two albums from him, even if the songs themselves never sound as weighty as the themes with which they deal.
But, this single cracks all of that open, and shows a side of Ron Sexsmith that isn’t quite as available on the F-keys of most rock journalists’ laptops. Continue reading
Winter has been hard, Good People. I know. I know. Well, I would if I didn’t live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Don’t hate me.
The world has been blanketed in white, which was pretty at first. But, it got old real fast. Some of you have had to tunnel your way to the car, or from it, sometimes using nothing but your ice-crusted mittens to do so. You have suffered that thing when you step into deep snow and it gets in your boots and soaks your socks.
Old Man Winter is a jerk.
Things (hopefully!) are getting green where you are, and a new and lush season of spring has by now sprung in your neck of the desert. If not, then maybe all you need are some new tunes to warm up your world while you wait! Well, as is becoming a custom around here at The ‘Bin, I have just the thing; a list of new songs from acts across the musical spectrum and the world.
New music is like the sunshine and April-ish showers for the soul. Drink it in, Good People!
Take a look! Or more accurately – a listen! Continue reading
Listen to this track by soundtracking blonde-headed trio The Police. It’s “I Burn For You”, a song as taken from the 1982 film soundtrack Brimstone & Treacle, a film with a very familiar presence on screen; bassist, singer, and head songwriter Sting.
The soundtrack featured a number of tracks from the band, most of which were instrumental. Other tracks were provided by The Go-Go’s, who were Police tour-mates around this time, and Squeeze. Otherwise, this soundtrack provided something of a stop-gap between major releases for the Police after Ghost In The Machine and before Synchronicity.
Also, it was a way to support a film project that involved Sting in his pursuit as an actor. He’d previously been featured as Ace Face in 1979’s Quadrophenia, a part that relied on his ability to scowl with maximum cheekbone exposure. With this new role, as a charming but bestial deviant named Martin, things were more involved when it came to the demands of the script, written by the renowned playwright and screenwriter Dennis Potter. The film is based on his play originally made for television in 1976, but not broadcast due to its disturbing subject matter. Plus, it was on this same soundtrack that would host Sting’s first solo single – “Spread A Little Happiness”. That song is a music hall-era tune written in 1929, and sung by Sting with a decided smirk. The song’s vintage didn’t stop it from reaching a top twenty showing on the British pop charts at the beginning of the 1980s.
Perhaps it stood to reason. By this time, The Police were the biggest band in the world, and still on their way up. Yet like that musical hall chestnut, “I Burn For You” had a lot more to do with the past, reaching back into a pre-fame era for Sting before The Police, number one records, or international fame were even thought about. Continue reading