Listen to this track by Calgary-based folk-pop songcrafter Lauren Mann and her associated and moderately eccentric troupe the Fairly Odd Folk. It’s a cut as taken from their first record as a collective Over Land And Sea released in April 2013, and a single too; “I Lost Myself”.
The band recently appeared at CBC Live in Deer Lake Park last month, an event I was lucky enough to attend. They made their appearance in distinguished company along with a sterling line-up of bands including Tegan and Sara, The Arkells, and Spoon. They played their own set, and later Lauren Mann took to the main stage alone, carrying her ukulele and proclaiming “this is the biggest audience I’ve ever played for!”
She was a charming presence on stage, and even more so when she presented this very song as a solo spot that captured everything that’s good about her music; heartfelt lyrics, melodic, and despite the acoustic and folky texture, decidedly pop too, all conveyed by her clear-as-a-bell voice, and deft playing.
So, how did Lauren Mann come to appear on that stage, the largest of her career? Well, it has a lot to do with an important Canadian value; championing our own. And what does this song represent in all of that? (more…)
Listen to this track by Bahamian soul-funkateers and pan-cultural stew-stirrers The Beginning Of The End. It’s their big international hit named after their hometown, “Funky Nassau” as taken from the 1971 album of the same name, Funky Nassau. The record came out on Alston Records, which was a subsidiary of a major label responsible for some of the greatest R&B ever laid down on wax – Atlantic.
The band is made up of the three Munnings brothers; Raphael “Ray” on organ and lead vocals, Roy on guitar, and Frank on drums. The line-up was filled out by Livingston Colebrook on second guitar, and Fred Henfield on bass, and with even more Munnings relatives on horns.
The result was a unit tight enough to reproduce the vital alchemy it takes to pull a tune like this off; a seamless groove with enough muscle to stand up to being taken apart, with each player getting a solo spot. And then, the whole thing comes back together again, as if to prove how durable that groove really is, as if for sheer, joyous, summery bravado.
Listen to this track by Scandinavian country-folk-indie duo and close-harmony sirens First Aid Kit. It’s “Silver Lining”, a lead single as taken from this year’s album Stay Gold, their third.
Drawing from a love of acts ranging from Bright Eyes to the Carter Family, First Aid Kit is made up of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, both of Enskede, a borough of Stockholm. Their sound draws from traditions of early country music that’s pretty far removed from what listeners might expect from a couple of Swedes in their early twenties, having started performing together and even writing songs by the time they were in their early teens. And that’s another unexpected dimension to their music; they work within a tradition that values experience that comes with age, and manage to pull it off despite their tender years.
Basically, everything about this band is unexpected, which besides their obvious natural talent may be why they’ve been able to get to work with luminaries like Patti Smith, Fleet Foxes, and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. So what does this song illustrate in keeping with the traditions in which they’re hooking into, and the strengths of the band in general? (more…)
Listen to this track by San Franciscan psychedelic power trio and heavy metal seed planters Blue Cheer. It’s “Come And Get It”, a cut off of their 1968 LP Outsideinside. The song would help to show off their, um, mettle as a band that specialized in “heavy” music, before many bands explored the range of back to basics loudness in quite this way.
The most obvious comparison for many to what Blue Cheer represented at the time may be the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But, that comparison is mostly cosmetic. Hendrix’s music was about ecstatic excursions that included Dylanesque influences mixed with R&B, and culminating in an outward expansion of rock music as a form. Blue Cheer went the other way; inward, and back.
They went back to the roots of the music itself, their most famous example being their take on Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”. With that tune, they boiled the song down to its essentials, and turned up the heat (and the amps). A similar approach can be found on their take on the Stones’ “Satisfaction”, on which they took the original, hit it over the head with a lead pipe, kicked it while it was down, went through its pockets for loose change. They did all with the best results.
But, what of this song which is an original composition? (more…)
Listen to this track by impressionistic blues and soul proponent for the 21st century, Son Little. It’s “Cross My Heart”, his initial foray into a new musical milieu under this new moniker in November of 2013. His birth name is Aaron Livingston, known for projects under that name in collaborations with Rjd2 and The Roots.
The evocation of the blues is palpable here on his first single under the Son Little banner, and for more than the standard and purely musical reasons, although this song departs from that template too. For many, the blues is not so much a musical form as it is a spiritual state, and a connection to a shared history that is less joyous than even the best in a musical genre has shown us.
At the root, and established before the branches of rock and soul music were cultivated , the blues has always been about pain and dehumanization, and the raw expression in reaction to those. That’s what Son Little hooks into here.
Yet, somehow this is not about some scholarly recreation of classic blues or soul. There are greater depths to be discovered here.
Listen to this track by London-based synthpop trio Bronski Beat. It’s “Smalltown Boy”, their biggest hit, released in June of 1984, and eventually appearing on their first record Age of Consent by the end of the year. Before this, they were three housemates living in Brixton, south London; Steve Bronski (after whom the band is named), Larry Steinbachek, both of whom played keyboards, and Jimmy Somerville lending his uniquely calibrated pipes as lead vocalist.
The single was a smash success, gaining top ten showings all over the world, and only after the three friends did only a brief stint of gigs before signing with London Records. Besides the clear thematic content in the song itself, another aspect of the song was assuredly brought out by the video which enjoyed heavy rotation. In it, Somerville portrays a young man who is on a train, reflecting on what it was that set him out on his journey; that the small town where he is from is too small for him, and for others like him.
In many ways, it’s a pretty simple narrative. But, it was, and is, tied up in a common thread that we’re still working our way through as a society today. (more…)
Listen to this track by Scottish post-Britpop favourites Travis. It’s “Driftwood”, a top twenty UK single as taken from their 1999 album The Man Who, their second. The song was released in May of that year, the second single from the album following the Oasis-like “Writing To Reach You”.
Travis represented something of a third wave of British guitar pop in the 1990s, coming in after the Britpop era had concluded, and long after The Stone Roses and their contemporaries revitalized the guitar for pop music in Britain at the beginning of the decade and out of the ashes of the late 1980s. At the time Travis were looked upon as being somewhat lightweight when compared to the zeitgeist precision of Blur, the kitchen sink drama of Pulp, or the ironic glam of Suede. But, to me those are not apples to apples comparisons in any case.
What this song provided was something of a relief from the artifice of Britpop (as good as that artifice was, to be clear). It navigated different waters, and more frightening ones in some respects, just because it contrasted so starkly against the distance and irony for which Britpop is known. No, Travis went the other way; they were earnest. That’s a tough row to hoe, especially when it comes to the British music press.
Really, I think that’s what was at the center of the critical backlash against a lot of late ’90s British guitar pop, with the understanding that some bands pulled it off to a greater degree than some others. So, what’s so earnest about this song, and what is it really about anyway? (more…)