Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #233. I am John Book, welcome.
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Now, the column.
Everyone wants to be remixed, everyone wants to remix someone else, but when it’s someone who hasn’t been a part of our world for decades, people wonder if it’s an honor or a disgrace. I had seen the cover of Re: Generations (Capitol) and wondered if Nat King Cole really needed a remix treatment. You have jazz purists who hate him because he went pop and catered to white audiences, while those say you can’t deny the passion of a man who wanted to pay bills and put food on the table. It still doesn’t answer the question: does Nat King Cole need the modern remix treatment?
I entered the album with skepticism, but I came out a fan, especially when I had seen some of the names associated with this project. Even though some of the lyrics are arguably dated, there is still a charm about hearing Cole sing about going to the barbeque stand and ladies borrowing combs from him with newly created instrumentals by The Roots (“Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”), Amp Fiddler (“Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere”), and Brazilian Girls (“El Choclo”). eden ahbez “Nature Boy” is one of those sacred songs in jazz and pop that you just don’t want to mess up, but somehow TV On The Radio‘s blitzkreig take on it fits in quite well, an unnatural feel to a natural song. Salaam Remi brings on Nas for “The Game Of Love” to add his views on the game, and love in general. will.i.am gets Natalie Cole to create a new collaboration between father and daughter in the form of “Straighten Up And Fly Right”, over a funky groove that will get people head nodding on the floor. Major highlights include Stephen & Damien Marley adding their Jamaican stylee to make the vibe of “Calypso Blues” come full circle as they attack hot dogs but show love for shrimp & rice, fish, and banana pie, and Cut Chemist‘s take on “Day In Day Out” from the inside out to reconstruct the song in the CC trademark fashion.
Re: Generations is an effective album musically, but let’s hope the younger generation will take this and help keep the spirit of Nat King Cole and his music alive.
The album cover is somewhat somber, at least if you associate a black with feeling somber, with what looks like something astrological. Jeniferever are a Swedish band who are all about taking their brand of pop and rock to unknown boundaries, only to define and rip them apart. Spring Tides (Monotreme) is an album based on concentrated melodies and countermelodies played at a deliberate pace that helps develop the musical picture in your mind even more. It’s very intense, and one of the more orgasmic songs is the album opener, “Green Meadow Island”. It starts out fairly mellow and sweet, dare I say quaint, and about three minutes in they grunge things up in a wall of noise and distortion that fits that particular moment, as if to say “don’t expect the sweetness to last forever, in fact here’s something downright ugly” and yet when you hear the moving guitar solo, you know that they know exactly what they’re doing. The distortion and haze lasts for a minute before the group relaxes again, and it only helps prepare the listener for the remaining nine tracks.
I enjoy hearing the depth in the composition of these songs, and in fact I love hearing composition, and it unfolding to reveal new things,whether it’s the sunset-like guitar in “Concrete And Glass” or the delicate touches of “The Hourglass” and “Nangijala”. It’s a remarkable listen and it’s great to think music like this can still be released in 2009. Don’t miss this.
Brooklyn’s Soft Black have been in existence for a few years, and are a band fronted by Vincent Cacchione. Their music sounds like the 1980′s never happened, with hints of Bob Dylan, The KinksTom Petty, The Clash, Randy Newman and some black new wave band that somehow weren’t a success. The Earth Is Black (And Other Apocalyptic Lullabies For Children (Plays With Dolls) is an album with the kind of strong pop songs that make you want to drink your life away through their anthemic music and drenched lyrics. “Mouth Is Drippin’” sounds like the kind of song written after a bad date and all you have in your pocket are peanuts and ludes. There’s a Southern sensibility to this even though Cacchione is from New York City, but it’s that abandoned spirit in these songs that make them work not only as good tunes, but stories to share, lyrics to remember and recite later in life.
It’s a great album for those who love singer/songwriters and the nuances they wish to share.
Not sure what makes rock duos work, but somehow it works when certain expected elements in a band or song do no exist. The Naked Hearts consist of Amy Cooper and Noah Wheeler, and while the 6-song These Knees (self-released) sounds like the music of veterans, as a duo they’ve been together for less than a year. Someone described their music as “cat & mouse”, meaning that they both trade off on vocals and pass that concept to each other back and forth ad finitum. I don’t see it that way, in fact I hear their music as an equal balance where they are able to communicate to each other without being that stereotypical call and response game, which it isn’t. You hear songs about life, hope, fears, and dreams through a wall of rock, country, noise, and even more rock, and with lines like tell me what you saw in your dream, did you underestimate the dark? (from “One False Move”) you’re intrigued and want to hear more. At times they sound like a Sonic Youth with a female voice that’s more finely tuned, or to put it better, a cross between Michelle Branch and Kim Gordon. Wheeler’s voice almost sounds bored, almost as deadpan at Beat Happening‘s Calvin Johnson but maybe he’s into Malt-O-Meals and wants to create a soothing, sleepytime adventure for his listeners.
Regardless, the basic qualities are simple yet effective, and I’m curious to see what they could pull off with a full length.
Corbin Bleu has become a hit sensation among teens for his role in the High School Musical films. He has released music in the past, including a full length album, but now with the demise of the HSM franchise, the entire cast are looking towards the future. Bleu will no doubt cover a lot of ground, but his love of music has moved him to keep at it as a recording studio, which he does on his second album, Speed Of Light (Hollywood).
The album is primarily pop, and while he has never been afraid to show his R&B side, he’s only done it in spurts. While his album was recorded long before the Rihanna/Chris Brown incident, much of this Auto-Tuned tinged album could easily replace what Brown left behind in terms of effective soul and pop. In fact, it sounds like Brown was the template for all of these songs, even though Bleu has shown to be a talent when it comes to decent singing. The emulation of style in songs like “Rock 2 It”, “Moments That Matter”, and “Close” will make this great music for any and all future Disney films, and that’s where Bleu needs to break out. Nothing wrong with friendly, but he needs to work with the right producers and songwriters before his entire catalog ends up sounding like the credits for every Pokemon cartoon. In other words, something a bit more ballsy, and I’m not saying he needs to go hip-hop, as it may come off as forced as a Ray J penis imprint, but to be able to capture a style that fits him and his style, as Speed Of Light is too safe. It’s music for pre-teens, and he could capture a few more hearts if he tried something more mature.
DJ Myxzlplix is back with a brand new mix CD, and this time he’s tossing around the best in soul, jazz, funk, and hip-hop.
Strictly Social Mixed Vol. 4 (Strictly Social) is a mix you’ll want to listen to repeatedly, for all of the blends, along with song selection, is perfect for the long haul. It’s not just something that you’ll place on your digital player and wait a few years, this is a mix that works because all of the songs feel like they’re meant to be heard together, everything is carefully selected.
Here is the track listing:
1. take it slow-boozoo bajou
2. revolution ft. lyrics born & the mamaz-j boogie
3. the final view-nujabes
4. air signs-illa j
5. keep it real-milkbone
6. broken-ursula rucker
7. u do ft. stacy epps-jazz liberator
8. sunshine ft. phonte-marsha ambrosius
9. draw your bow-restless soul ft. shea soul
10. talking to you-brother dvooa
11. you and i-kissey asplund
13. put it down f. kissey asplund-replife
14. this love-vanessa freeman
15. mojo-erin leah
16. underlined(rapson rmx)-atjazz ft. ernesto
17. keep your shirt on-hint ft. laura vane
18. come get with it-basic vocab
19. sun vibes(beef wellington rmx)-swamburger
20. i wanna dance-brother dvooa
21. want you to know-vanessa marquez
22. my gift (destroyer rmx)-rogiers
Why Joe Budden has not become the big star he deserves to be remains one of the biggest mysteries in hip-hop, and Padded Room (Amalgam Digital) proves why.
The guy knows how to tap into all of the right formulas: great club friendly tracks, make songs strictly for the streets, offer something for the ladies, and then a song which touches on his love and commitment for family. While that template has become a huge cliche in the last 15 years, Joe Budden handles it in a way that shows he knows what he has to do to be heard, and now that people are listening, he’s going to give them something worth listening to. That’s the major difference between him and others, the fact that he wants to give fans something worth listening to. The album opens with what could be considered an early reveal of the moral of the story, or the great beginning to a movie. “Blood On The Wall” (produced by Moss) is a song that would be one of those “instant classics” that fans often look for but miss, while “Adrenaline” (produced by Dub B) has him breaking out heavy metal style, and he would do well if he did some tracks with Mike Shinoda. The rest of the songs have an R&B feel that at times seems like too much, but that’s not his fault. Why this guy is not on the same level as Ludacris, I’ll never know.
Eyran Katsenelenbogen is a pianist who has released a number of albums over the years, and 88 Fingers (Evran) is his tenth solo album. These type of albums are always interesting, because it’s just the musician and the instrument and with a piano you can take the music to new and interesting places. For this album he recorded a number of personal favorites, including “Dream A Little Dream Of me”, “A Night In Tunisia”, “Mack The Knife”, and “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans”, along with a few other standards and classical pieces. The classical touches are nice too, and to me it helps broaden their playing quite a bit, or at least I hear that when I know a jazz pianist also has classical influences. They are able to keep within the boundaries of Western classical music, but are able to go over and beyond the boundaries when they play blues, jazz, or pop.
What I enjoy about this album is that even if you know these songs inside out, you don’t know how he’ll interpret them until they are heard, all expectations are thrown out. He’s a very eloquent player and one of those who deserves a serious listen, be it on disc or digital file, or in a live performance.
Scripts ‘N Screwz are a hip-hop duo consisting of MC Scripts and producer Loose Screwz, and both call St. Louis home. The New Noise (self-released) is a mixture of what they have done individually over the years, but bring it into the new sound they’re putting forth today. Their bio states they bring “their blend of experimetnal innovation and mastery of hip hop fundamentals”, but while I do not hear anything particularly experimental or adventurous (the closest thing would be the distorted samples and vocal tracks in “Hands High”, as they at times have more of a nice retro-soul sound), I do hear the fundamentals of what makes rap music so great, especially in “Fairy Tale”, which looks at hip-hop music as a delightful fantasy. “Eyes Wide Shut”, “My First Rhyme”, and “The war Outside” are definitely powerful songs done in a fashion that rings of the old but is very much done with the confidence of today.
Fans of SA-RA, The Roots, Crown City Rockers, and N*E*R*D will find a lot to sink their teeth into with this album, bring them to the front of the line so naysayers can beg for less. Foolish naysaers.
The name Kinetic Stereokids seems very cool, the description of the group and their approach sounded like something I would really like, but their bio quoted a review from Seattle radio station KEXP:
a particular kind of post-rock from a post-industrial city … Imagine if DJ Shadow were into noise rock, if the Dead Milkmen rapped, or if My Bloody Valentine composed purely with found sounds.
It’s a bold statement, so I was curious to see/hear if this was true.
The post-industrial city they speak of is Flint, Michigan, the home of documentary film director Michael Moore and Grand Funk Railroad. If you know anything about Flint’s history, then you know what a band could sound like if they were to come from there. This is that sound, an abrasive and aggressive sound that’s complimented with hip-hop-styled rhythms where a loop becomes the anchor for each song. They bring in an acoustic element to something that sounds like some obscure acid rock gem from 1971 but also have the jingle-jangle of countless alternative bands of the 80′s and 90′s, so you may hear some Poi Dog Pondering here, and American Music Club or Violent Femmes over there. You hear a clusterfuck of sound and I know for me I was unsure about the direction they wanted to go. I think that for them, any direction is a legitimate path, so if a violin or fiddle sounds like a sarangi, that’s completely fine. Imagine Beck if he was able to be spliced and cloned into five individuals, and you would have the spontaneity of Kinetic Stereokids. In a way they are very much like their name, playing mental games with their stereos and trying to see who can do the most out of a record, or in this case their instruments or “found sounds”.
Even with the bag of sounds they bring into the studio, you either have a purposeful agenda or just create massive child-like noise, which is not a bad thing. What Kinetic Stereokids want to do is create a slightly warped vision of pop and rock perhaps to compliment a slightly warped world. It’s pop but quirky in the same fashion Flaming Lips quirky even though you know that there is genius in what they do. You can apply that to these guys too, but hopefully they will not have to wait over 15 years to hear it.
In The Run-Off Groove #164, I stated that the music of Jah Cure is ” is very much in a positive light, as he looks towards a much brighter future.” This was written to discuss his release from serving time in prison, and how he looked to turn his music into a vehicle to promote peace, harmony, and change. Two years later, he continues to do this with The Universal Cure (SoBe/Fontana).
First off, the album is released by SoBe, a company known for their juices so that caught me by surprise, but let’s get away from label politics. What you will hear here is a man who is comfortable in being one of Jamaica’s brightest stars not only in reggae, but in soul and R&B. In fact, I think a number of so-called R&B artists in the United States should listen to his vocals, lyrics, and performances here because he is about putting back class into his music. In tracks like “Mr. Jailer”, “Soon Come”, and “Hot Long Time” it pretty much sounds like late 70′s/early 80′s soul with a reggae tinge, and when he gets into the ballads, be it a romantic tune or love of a grander scale, he’s comfortable in that too.
For fans of Jawaiian music, I can see this album getting a lot of airplay back home, especially “Freedom” as it sounds like a song Sean Na’auao would sound comfortable in covering. His music is very humbling, and with enough of a promotional push it should get a lot of attention. The appearance of Flo-Rida, Mavado, and Jr. Reid in “Hot Long Time” helps make a good album much better, and one hopes radio will be able to put all of these songs into heavy rotation. He shows that he is much more than just a reggae artist, and I hope he continues to show that with future releases.
(Universal Cure will be released on April 14th, the CD can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)
Everybody, Come Outside (Lujo) by Pomegranates has the Cincinnati band back at it with their brand of power pop that mixes up elements of the old with a modern urge.
I listened to it and it sounds like Flaming Lips combined with Coheed & Cambria, and the guy’s singing voice is high and whiny, which I get to a point but it makes me laugh because I can sing like that and I don’t have a singing career. What’s up with this?
Anyway, it’s carefree powerpop that these guys know how to do very well, I love the stop and suspense of “Beachcomber” and the clouds of “Tesseract” and “Jerusalem Has A Bad Boy” help bring the song out of a lofty situation and into the warmth of hearts that desire something to care for that is very emotional and sensitive, but still contains its huevos. The title is perfect: Everybody, Come Outside. It’s a return to innocence, and I would like to hug it.
There’s a line that a lot of journalists like to use, and I plan on using it in this review. We like to refer to something “coming out of nowhere”, which is a cliched way of saying that we as fans and critics are blown away by what we’re listening to because it leads to another cliche, the one that goes “where has this artist been all this time?” or “all my life?” I would like to apply these cliches to a great band out of Bremerton, Washington, but for the sake of not confusing anyone I’ll just say “Seattle area”, who call themselves Alligators. Their bio states their music “can be described as a high-energy, precise pop laced with beautiful harmonies and clever arrangements.” I definitely agree with this, as Piggy & Cups ( Applehouse) has a few U2 and The Alarm sensibilities with an occasional hint of early R.E.M. (I think it has to do with the Richenbacher’s I hear) and the kind of vocals and background vocals that sounds like a celebration of the best that AM radio used to offer (back when kids used to listen to AM radio for fun). “Mama, Stop” combines all of this with a sharp love for Electric Light Orchestra and courageous guitar riffs that are tough but not a nuisance. Some have compared them to Radiohead and the only similarities I hear are the range in Joshua Trembley ‘s voice in “Original Fear”, but his range on the album is varied.
There’s a sense of freedom in these songs too, and maybe it’s my association with the sounds that are on here, be it the sampled Mellotron’s or the background vocals that remind me of a time when background vocals and choruses were what made life worth living, and perhaps that too is a cliche. What’s not a cliche is a band’s need to rock and push the pop envelope to the limit. Pop is the template, but the musicianship of these five gentlement makes it feel like they’re wanting to kick pop’s balls hard in order to show it can be one of many things and not just one thing.
With a name like Boom Box Repair Kit, one might expect that this might be good, right?
Well, My Dear Antagonist didn’t quite thrill me in the way I had hoped for, but maybe that’s due to me hoping for a lot wit a great band name. However, what they did offer is something a bit more lighthearted, or what someone called “a new breed of Afro-Caribbean rock”, or basically what the group does is take on various styles of music and run it through the rock and pop filter to create something that sounds like all of the great hybrids you wished to listen to as a kid. Imagine Smashing Pumpkins mixed in with Los Lobos, Rapeman, and some young new band you heard on the festival circuit. Or how about this, remember when MTV meant something? Yeah, seemed like generations ago but believe it or not, MTV did matter. Boom Box Repair Kit would have been the leader of a movement back then, but this isn’t about then, this is about now. I like how some of the vocals have little to no effects applied to it, reminds me of World Party and The Smithereens on vacation in Cuba. It makes me wish Ozomatli progressed in this direction.
Bill Wimmer‘s new album is an interesting one in that the entire album was recorded live in front of an audience but it seems they’re told not to applause or anything until the end. Okay, I’m assuming that’s what happened judging by the sound of it, maybe Wimmer was inspired by what Joe Jackson did on his Big World album, but Project Omaha (Wimjazz) is one of those albums that could like any other random jazz album, but the musicianship and comraderie amongst them is something that doesn’t make this a random album. Wimmer brings in guitarist Dave Stryker, drummer Victor Lewis, bassist Mark Luebbe, keyboardist Tony Gulizia and percussionist Joey Gulizia to create an album that is approrpriately lively, and it would have been great to have been one of the people in the crowd witnessing this. “Soy Califa” starts off like musicians getting ready for some kind of war, with Wimmer’s saxophone work being the call to progress forward. Stryker’s guitar work has impressed me in the past and here he almost shifts the song to his direction before bringing it back, around, and full circle to his bandmates. The song runs for almost nine minutes and could’ve went on for another five had they chosen to do so.
“Rhyne, Rhythm and Song”, “Geo Rose”, “Gypsy Blue”, and the album closer “Carnaval” (the latter clocking in at 9:43) should convince everyone that these guys should go on tour for the next few years, there’s a driving force in their sound that sounds brilliant. My first thoughts when I heard Tony Gulizia’s keyboards was “do I like this? Do I want to like this?” But I believe the steel drums heard in one of the tracks are actually played by him on the keyboard, and it was simply adding a unique color to the music. The only turn-off, for me at least, was Tony Gulizia’s vocals, as he sings on four of the nine tracks featured. His voice is actually fine, but I am not big on jazz vocals and while it helped to ease up the intensity of the album, sometimes it felt like it went to a grinding holt. Fans fo jazz vocals will probably cringe and say his performances are superb, but I just don’t want to listen to it. If you were to take the five instrumentals on here, it would’ve made for a perfect album that clocks in at under 40 minutes. Apart from my personal preference, this album is for anyone who craves the mental action of musicians at work, and re-living it through repeated plays.
The Wright Family are a group where the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is certainly true. One guy looks like he just got off of work on Friday at 5pm and he’s ready to go to the batting cages. Another guy looks like he owns some real estate and wants to hang loose. The lady in the group has a 60′s vibe about her and appears to look like one of those moms on a TBS weekend marathon. Just by that alone, what kind of music do you think they record? alt.country? Folk? Alternative rock? It may surprise you that these three individuals create hip-hop.
The World’s Happiest Gremlin (self-released) reminds me of something that Slug of Atmosphere would be associated with, or the kind of album that would be perfect on Rhymesayers with that loose-yet-aggressive flow that comes from late night mental sessions mixed in with week and imported alcohol. “Chance To Change” sounds like a dusted track with a laid back, almost downtempo vibe to it mixed with a hard rock guitar riff with a blow that has a slight Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony feel with a slight Kool Keith motif.
Away from the comparisons, it sounds like some damn good independent hip-hop with top notch production, rhymes and flows that sounds like a hungry MC in need of a decent meal, and the occasional female background vocals that add to the songs without being overbearing. Could become the sleeper album of 2009.
The Great Kat is back with a brand new DVD called Beethoven’s Guitar Shred (TPR), and while the back cover lists seven music videos and four extras (one of which is the credits for the DVD), I’m curious as to what’s the reason for this?
I’ve been a fan of her and her work since high school, and that was 22 years ago. This is a lady to takes her classical training and thrashes it around by adapting it to playing electric guitar and playing speed metal in a ridiculous manner, and I say ridiculous in a musical fashion. She does this by wearing fishnets and fetish gear, smeared make-up and always being seen with her mouth agape. Fair enough.
The seven songs on here are very brief, and by the time you get into them, they’re over. I love the homemade/independent feel of this project, but for those who may not have heard of her, it may be a bit confusing as to why she’s just letting out brief spurts. I would love to see a more relaxed Kat in the studio, recording, composing, practicing, take away the blood, gore, and sexy outfits and allow fans to at least see the woman behind the savagery work herself to become the GOD she proclaims she is. Many musicians, from Michael Kamen to Frank Zappa have brought in their classical influences into their brand of rock, and The Great Kat is no exception, but it would be cool to see her teach a lesson to younger ladies or girls who may not only want to mix together classical and metal, but who want to be aspiring musicians. Maybe The Great Kat is not ready to be anything but The Great Kat, and that is alright, but I’d like to suggest a DVD with more stuff on there than a few music videos. With that said, it is worth the $8 she is charging for it, but cram it with goodies to make the non-believers want to beg in front of her until she forgives them for not knowing.
…AND NOW, THE HAWAIIAN MUSIC CORNER:
Danny Carvalho is a young slack key guitarist who has released a few projects over the years, and it’s a chance to hear him develop as a musician. Somewhere (Lava Rock Music) will be an album enjoyed by ki ho’alu enthusiasts along with fans of the acoustic guitar, for he is a musician who will definitely influence tomorrow’s guitarists in the same way he was influenced by his favorites.
On this new album he does new versions of “Aia Hiki Mai” (Atta Isaacs‘ version may be the most familiar), “Maui Chimes”, and a great tribute to Leonard Kwan, a medley of “Aloha Ku’u Home” and “E Mama E”. “Pua Lilia” is a well known Hawaiian song written in 1916 by Alfred Alohikea but I know it as a Sunday Manoa track from their 1971 classic Cracked Seed, and Carvalho’s take on it is great, I love some of the drones he creates with the high string. A personal favorite is “Sangisangy”, a composition recorded and writte by Zafimahaleo Rasolofondraoslo (who records as Dama). The original version was recorded as a way to show the artist’s African roots, but Carvalho states in the liner notes “although written on the other side of the world, its composition and style may have beebn influenced by Hawaiian music.” It is possible that since it has been said that the Hawaiian slide guitar may have been influenced by a musician from India, perhaps the Indian influence also made it throughout parts of Africa, or that it is simply the continuation of the musicianship and dedication of the guitar. His versions of John Lennon‘s “Imagine” and Simon & Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” are also done respectfully and are sure to become favorites among many.
Despite the influences that come through the songs he covers or the flavorings he adds to his playing, it still sounds distinctly Hawaiian. Carvalho is taking ki ho’alu into the 21st century with grace and let’s hope he encourages musicians around the world and of course in Hawai’i to pick up the guitar to listen, learn, and perpetuate in the same way he is.