D’Angelo Sings “Really Love”

D'Angelo_-_Black_Messiah_Album_CoverListen to this track by returning neo-soul new hope and R&B auteur D’Angelo, also crediting the band who appear on the record, The Vanguard. It’s “Really Love”, a single as taken from 2014’s Black Messiah. The record was certainly a long time coming, following up 2000’s critically-acclaimed Voodoo.

The song is a reflection of the rest of the album in that it is a densely layered work that seems to draw together multiple threads of musical tradition, from jazz to soul, funk and rock music. It’s marked by the influentces of Parliament Funkadelic, Prince, Riot-era Sly & the Family Stone, and What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye, all while avoiding crude imitation at the same time.

“Densely layered” seems to be the sonic manifesto that drove the making of the album, which may explain why it took so long to create. Apart from songwriter and singer D’Angelo, the record is replete with contributions from Questlove of The Roots, solo artist and former Tribe Called Quest founder Q-Tip, and legendary sessioners Pino Pallidino on bass and drummer James Gadson. Work on the album stretched from 2000 and into the end of last year. That’s a long gestation period that even Axl Rose would be proud of! Yet, even though the record took a long time to craft, it’s release date was rushed at the end for reasons of social significance, and not necessarily for capturing a commercial wave.

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Grandaddy Play “Miner At The Dial-A-View”

The Sophtware Slump GrandaddyListen to this track by spacey Modesto California indie rock conceptualists Grandaddy. It’s “Miner At The Dial-A-View”, the next-to-last track on what is considered by many to be their best record; The Sophtware Slump, released in 2000.

This song is a part of a loose concept about technology, connection, and the space between them. That was a pretty top of mind theme during the era out of which this song and the album off of which it comes was released. Sitting at the edge of a new century after a decade when the Internet and its influence on commerce, leisure, and communication was soaked into the cultural landscape, the connections with technology and with each other as a result had come out of the pages of science fiction, and into real life.

There was lots to explore when it came to confronting that, and in making sense out of the coming future. There was certainly no turning back from the ride that technology was taking us on. We’re still on that ride today.

In the light of this, what is the “Dial-A-View” as described in this song? And how does it connect with that greater theme of technology and connection? Read more

King Crimson Plays “In The Court Of The Crimson King”

King Crimson In The Court of the Crimson KingListen to this track by primo-prog pioneers and art rock template setters King Crimson. It’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the title track from their 1969 debut record In The Court of the Crimson King. That record set the standard of approach to expansive musical ambition when it came to making rock records, later to be recognized as one of the primary albums that “built prog rock”.

Indeed, this band established the idea of creating artistic statements in the rock vein while avoiding established American R&B influences, and turning to classical and other European ingredients instead. Rather than coming from the gospel churches of the American south, this music is more aligned with the liturgical grandness of the Church of England. This record is where it all began where prog rock is concerned.

This was the first incarnation of the band; Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake singing and playing bass, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, and Ian McDonald on multiple instruments, including the mellotron. It’s this last texture which is so important on this song, giving it an eerily orchestral, and portentous atmosphere.

I think it serves not only as an aural element that would go on to define a genre. But, it also serves the narrative as written by lyricist Pete Sinfield, which is one that matches the mythical with the political.

In the light of that, who is the Crimson King anyway?

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Men Without Hats Play “Pop Goes The World”

Men Without Hats Pop Goes The WorldListen to this track by Montreal new wavers and safety-dancing pop music purveyors Men Without Hats. It’s “Pop Goes The World”, the title track to their 1987 record of the same name. The record was a hit in Canada, even if everywhere else in the world they would remain to be known as one-hit wonders with 1982’s “Safety Dance”.

Even if their fame was only defined by a certain range by 1987, principles Ivan and Stefan Doroschuk still had something to say about the nature of fame , particularly when it came to the music industry. After all, as most musicians do, they spent their energy pursuing it.

What this song does is make a comment on it once removed, and through the persons of Jenny (playing bass), and Johnny (playing guitar), who form a band to pursue worldwide success. Those names even appear in the album credits, along with “a little baby” on keyboards (the one featured on the cover, maybe?), and “J. Bonhomme” on drums, referencing the traditional snowman-styled mascot of the Quebec City winter carnival, and making a pun on Led Zeppelin’s departed stickman at the same time.

But besides the non-traditional band line-up, they throw something else into the mix too with this song, which perhaps aligns it with Cold War 1980s yet remains to be universal here in the 21st century; the end of the world! Read more

Lou Reed and John Cale Play “Hello It’s Me”

Songs for Drella Lou Reed John CaleListen to this track by twin Velvet Underground founders and former Andy Warhol musical interests Lou Reed and John Cale. It’s “Hello It’s Me” as taken from the 1990 album Songs For Drella, a concept album about the aforementioned Warhol, in part as a way of saying goodbye.

Warhol had died in 1987 after a gall bladder operation. And in that time, some distance had grown between him and two of those who had been taken under his artistic wing in the late 1960s. The Velvet Underground was a project of Warhol’s as much as it was Reed’s and Cale’s. It was under Warhol’s mentorship that the band initially established their presence.

This record is a musical journey of a life, tracing Andy’s origins in Pittsburgh, to his rise to fame as a pop art mover in New York City, to the assassination attempt on him,  to his founding of Interview magazine, and to his latter years.

Perhaps this song, which is the closer to the set, is the most overt goodbye there is from two men who had known Warhol best, and not without a significant amount of guilt, too

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John Coltrane Plays “Psalm” From A Love Supreme

John Coltrane A Love SupremeListen to this track by towering spiritual saxophonist and jazz immortal John Coltrane. It’s “Psalm”, the last movement in his 1965 magnum opus A Love Supreme.

The track, along with the rest of the record was recorded with what is now known as his classic quartet; Jimmy Garrison on bass, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Elvin Jones on drums. With the almost psychic connection between these musicians, the whole record gels gloriously, coming to be what it was intended to be; a statement of ultimate gratitude by its author.

But, before the music was laid down on an album that is now considered to be Coltrane’s artistic pinnacle, it required one thing before it could be born: solitude. Read more

Aimee Mann Sings “Goodbye Caroline”

The Forgotten Arm Aimee MannListen to this track by singer-songwriter and boxing fan Aimee Mann. It’s “Goodbye Caroline”as taken from her 2005 concept record, The Forgotten Arm. That title comes from a boxing move, whereby you throw a blow with one hand to make your opponent think that there’s nothing else coming. Then, you throw the other blow immediately after, delivered by your other “forgotten” arm, even harder. That’s how you get it done in the ring, and it serves as a pretty powerful metaphor about how life can go, too.

But, what about this business of concept albums? It sends cold pricklies up the necks of some fans, and thrills of delight in the hearts of others. This may be because some concept albums tend to get bogged down, serving the concept rather than the songs.

Mann’s record traces the relationship of John, an alcoholic boxer, and his love being the titular Caroline. And, this tune inside of that larger narrative just sings; a jangly pop classicist gem with a bit of folk-rock flavouring thrown in there too.

The lyrics giveaway something of the turbulent nature of love, particularly in the face of trying times. In line with the rest of the record, love is not a cure all for life’s demons, just a context for them. And in this song, faith in love is perhaps imbalanced, with the threads of that love being being somewhat tenuous. Read more

Boreal Sons Perform “Spin”

Listen to this track by Calgarian art-rock quartet Boreal Sons. It’s “Spin”, the opening track to a thematically connected EP Bedtime Briar, their 2012 follow up to 2010’s Whom Thunder Hath Made Greater EP. This song, and the others on this new EP explores the ideas of inner life, outer appearances, and the nature of identity that are culminated in both. These are big themes indeed. But, the starting point of all of that comes from a simple and single image that forms the central concept of the release; that of a sleeping golden retriever, he being the titular Briar.

“Spin” is rife with changes in tonal direction, lots of momentum built up and then gently wound down again, and  sonic spaciousness that gives it all a sense of depth. This makes it a great backdrop to the idea of delving into the mind, and ultimately into the root nature of a sleeping figure whose true identity is hidden from view.

Boreal Sons Bedtime Briar

That this figure is a golden retriever, a fact not mentioned directly in the song, or in other tracks, brings out the dimensions of the material. After all, if the dreams of animals can reveal a full-colour sense of spirituality, then how much more complex is the universe itself than how we understand it as human beings? Read more

The Moody Blues Play “Tuesday Afternoon”

Listen to this track by progressive rock artistes and concept-album toting quintet The Moody Blues.  It’s “Tuesday Afternoon”, a track awash in mellotron and orchestral flourishes, and a highlight as taken from their 1967 concept record Days of Future Passed, and released in single form the following year. Also known as “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” as a part of the album, this song helped to carry the group, and a certain strain of rock music, into the 1970s.

The song was released as a single in 1968, under the title “Tuesday Afternoon” and re-cut as a stand-alone track, written as it was by relative newcomer to the band Justin Hayward who wrote the song on an actual Tuesday afternoon, playing outside with his acoustic guitar –  in a field no less.

The album version leads into fellow Moody songwriter Graeme Edge’s “Evening”. Both tracks contributed to the concept of the album; tracing the course of a day, which started with “The Day Begins”. Eventually, the record concludes with the final track, which you might have heard of – “Nights in White Satin”, yet another single written by Hayward. Read more

The Pretty Things Perform ‘S.F Sorrow is Born’

sf_sorrowListen to this track from former London R&B purveyors turned rock opera pioneers The Pretty Things.  It’s ‘S.F Sorrow Is Born’ as taken from the 1968 LP S.F Sorrow , bona fide rock opera-style concept album released when Tommy was just a gleam in Pete Townshend’s eye.

The Pretty Things were somewhat lost in the shuffle during the British Invasion period as far as trans-Atlantic success went, overshadowed by the Rolling Stones, a band which arguably helped to give birth to them. Original pre-recordings Rolling Stones bassist-turned-lead-guitarist Dick Taylor led the charge in this new group once he’d left the Stones, along with singer Phil May.  In some ways, the Pretties were the rawer band, seeing as the Stones took something of a pop turn once they began making records.  But the The Pretty Things were disciples of Bo Diddley (after who’s song “Pretty Thing” they are named), if the Stones were more akin to the comparatively more refined Chuck Berry as their base ingredient.

The band produced a number of hits in an R&B based rock n’ roll style, scoring only fair results on the British charts (“Down Bring Me Down“, “Rosalyn”), but didn’t trouble North American charts despite their obvious quality.  Yet like many R&B bands in Britain, when the stakes in the pop music game were raised by Sgt. Pepper and psychedelic music in general, they rose to the occasion in the style of a first tier rock band with what many consider to be their definitive statement – S.F Sorrow.

The album was conceived as a whole statement, with each song contributing to a story about an everyman, the titular S.F Sorrow, from his birth (as outlined in this song) to his grave.  It was the first of its kind in this respect, made during a time when both Sgt. Pepper, and Pink Floyd’s Piper At the Gates of Dawn were also being recorded as single entities, and not as vehicles for singles.

The album also follows in a tradition of the Kinks’ Arthur, and of course the aforementioned Tommy, over which this earlier record had tremendous influence. This is despite Townshend’s statement to the contrary as far as I’m concerned.   You can hear on this track alone that a lot of the timbres are similar, particularly with the bare acoustic guitar leads.

Arguably, Townshend’s handle on storytelling within the context of a concept album is greater.  This may or may not be the reason why Tommy succeeded and S.F Sorrow is, for the most part, an undiscovered treasure by comparison.  But, what this song, and the album does well is blend blues, folk, and Eastern flavours together into a tasty stew of their own without the listener necessarily being able to identify those ingredients on first listen.

Despite the innovative approach, the record and the band never cracked america the way that their contemporaries did.   By the time the 1960s turned into 1970s, they recorded another of their best albums Parachutes. When admirers Led Zeppelin rose to fame, the Pretty Things found themselves on Zep’s record label Swan Song, only to dissolve soon afterwards.  Yet, their place in history was assured with S.F Sorrow, an album that created a template that would be followed for years after its creation by other bands.

Check here for more information about the making of S.F Sorrow. And for more music, check out The Pretty Things on MySpace.