Saturday, July 31, 2010

iTunes purchases and music discoveries

By Nick
This time, I am combining the iTunes purchases post with exciting stories from the field of music hunting, which is almost as thrilling as bear hunting.

"Walk Away Renee" by The Left Banke
A string-laden gem by a 60s one-hit wonder group. It was a staple of the oldies radio station in my area before the station changed format. Reminds me of the days when pop did not mean club music. Actually, I didn't live in those days, but you get the point.

"1977" by Ana Tijoux
A free Mexican hip-hop song from iTunes. Nothing bad, but nothing to shout about.

"A Little Opera Goes A Long Way" by Sky Sailing.
Sky Sailing is a side project of Adam Young, who is better known as Owl City. This song sounds like Young took his Owl City hit "Fireflies", re-did it with acoustic instruments, and passed it off as a different song. Young's awful, effeminate enunciation ruins all of his music. Not worth the $0 paid for it.

"Maquinado" by Miguelito.
Another iTunes freebie. It sounds like some little Mexican kid chewing out his mom in Spanish. Lesson learned: Child singers are always bad, kiddie hip-hop songs are bad, free songs are almost always bad, and the combination of all three is so bad it's almost classic.

"Come With Me" by ceo.
Another free song. If you haven't guessed by now, I download lots of free stuff. It doesn't cost money. This is a decent nasally-vocaled electronica/dance track. Pro: the vintage sounding harp and string section. Con: The annoying samples which keep playing over and over again.

"Firecracker" by Frazey Ford.
The only free song I've downloaded that actually makes an attempt at greatness, as opposed to merely not being awful. The singer has a weird, vibrato voice, and the song is powered by a banjo. Which is to say, it's awesome.

"Tempo para Enamorarnos" by Isklander.
The thing about these free songs is that most of them are forgettable. Especially if they're in Spanish.

"Wishlist" by Pearl Jam.
A more obscure Pearl Jam song that my guitar teacher told me about. Combines lighter music than most Pearl Jam songs with good lyrics.

"Old Enough (Featuring Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe)" by The Raconteurs.
The best song I've downloaded from iTunes, and possibly the best song I've heard all year. The Raconteurs take a rock song and turn it into an amazing bluegrass song. Ricky Skagg's mandolin picking is red-hot, Ashley Monroe's vocals are beautiful, and Ricky Skagg's and Jack White's voices blend perfectly. The song is absolutely flawless. Kudos to Jack White for going beyond rock music and supporting traditional bluegrass.

An interesting pair.
Music Discoveries

A recent trip to the Friends of the Library sale revealed a secret gem:
Tales From The Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True by Texas group Fair to Midland. The album sports some surrealistic Alice In Wonderland-esque album art, and the group has a sort of Falling Up sound with wierd lyrics.

And at Starvation Army, I found a copy of Remy Zero's Villa Elaine. I enjoyed Remy Zero's song "Fair" on the soundtrack to Garden State, so hopefully this will be good too. Reviews of both Cds are coming soon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Pig or a Banjo?

Posted by Ben

God's Providence is an amazing combination of His purposes and our human actions. In his autobiography, Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times, Dr. Ralph Stanley relates a story that led to his ultimate development as a musician and compiler of old mountain tunes.

He tells the story of a decision he faced when he was approaching his eleventh birthday. He was due for a present and his mother told him that he could either have a banjo or a pig. At that time, he was studying agriculture in school and he lived on a farm. And he liked pigs.

His Aunt Roxie had a banjo and she raised hogs. An old sow had a litter and there was a little sow pig that Ralph admired. The banjo she had was an open-backed, tattered and frayed instrument. She wanted $5.00 for the banjo and the same for the pig.

Stanley writes,

"Now, you make up your mind," my mother told me. "I can't buy you both of them. So do you want the pig or the banjo?" I took the banjo, and I'm mighty glad I did. I don't think I'd make much of a pig farmer. My mother had a little grocery store where she peddled her produce, and she traded out in groceries with Aunt Roxie so I could get the banjo.

All too often, now-a-days, we would feel compelled to buy our sons both the banjo and the pig (translated into the electric guitar and the I-phone for moderns). Stanley had to make a choice, and his mother wisely encouraged his and his brother's musical interests. (She had also been a banjo player before children and home duties caused her to put her own banjo away.)

Many country musicians have stories of life choices they made which resulted in their musical careers. Of course, not every choice was a good one. Many singers abandoned home, steady jobs, family ties, and even church ties to pursue the doors that music opened. In God's goodness, quite a few also found the time or occasion to pause and return to the things that mattered.

[Nick is at camp this week, so I have finally been able to post something on this site.]

Friday, July 23, 2010

Exciting Music News #1

By Nick
Jack White, Singer and guitarist for the White Stripes and about fifty other bands, gave Ben's There And Nick Heard That new details into his newest side project, The Tenacious Stripes, a collaboration between him and actor/singer Jack Black.
“I thought it would be cool, because we have last names that have colored-themes, and also have a strange addiction to old watches and Ramen noodles.”
White and Black met at a Wolf Expo concert earlier this year somewhere in Indiana. The concert was attended by only three people, one of whom left because “The rest of their songs didn’t sound like the one on Eclipse.” This gave the two Jacks some valuable bonding time.
“We’ve learned a lot from each other.” said White, noting that Black gave him some weight-gaining tips and in return White told him the secret to never getting a tan.
The upcoming CD, Skinned Knees and Existentialism, is set to release at an undefined time. Meg White, also a member of the White Stripes, plays drums on the record using her most experimental kit yet, consisting of a crockpot, a toy piano, and a box of cheerios. Meg tells us that she’ll set up a copy of the healthcare bill for her kick pedal during live performances when Jack White is not looking. MewithoutYou vocalist Aaron Weiss will be not playing bass, and White has hinted that the late drummer of Avenged Sevenfold will be contacted via séance to play the accordion.
Musically, the album promises to go in a bold and fresh new direction. “We’re working on a raw, experimental sound for this record, without guitar solos, kick drums, or tunes.” says White, who also told us that it combines “[T]he energy of the Stripes, the energy of Tenacious D, and the energy of an ice chest full of Vaults. At one point Meg got so energized that she started hitting her drum kit with a sledgehammer. It was awesome.”
The guitars are more experimental on this record too, as White has gone beyond traditional amplifiers and hooked his guitar up to a Sony Walkman, a beehive, and a guy holding the other end of the cable making vaguely guitar-like sounds with his mouth. The album also showcases White “playing a tuba with a guitar pick. Jack [Black] swore it wasn’t’ possible, but anything is possible. I even trained a choir of Gila Monsters for one of the songs.”
Jack White is also involved with his other side projects, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and the Microwaves, and is also in the running for the Ugliest Man contest, competing with Steven Tyler, Allen Greenspan, and your mom.
“On this record, we’re going for the rawest, grittiest sound possible.” says White, who is set to appear on the television show Glee performing a disco version of “Seven Nation Army”. “We want to be a band that’s authentic and real, not one of those commercial sell-outs.” White’s compositions have appeared in insightful, artistic films such as Eclipse, Napoleon Dymamite, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
“I’ve been privileged to work with some great artists on this record, like Jack Black, Bob Dylan, and the nice plumber who came by an unclogged the studio toilet. For a while I was jumping up and down on one leg, so to speak.” White also says there’s a possibility of another side project in the work, inspired by his work with Aaron Weiss. “I want to start a band with myself, Weiss, Till Lindemann of Rammstein, and Soulja Boy Tell’em, thus combining the four most unmusical people in the industry.”
On the possibility of adding new members to the Tenacious stripes, White is hesitant. “We’ve considered adding Judge Joe Brown, but the name White, Black and Brown just didn’t flow. He’s also not a musician, but that’s not much of a problem.”
On the whole, White is optimistic about his new band. “We’ve already gotten two pre-orders for the record, (Thanks, Mom!), and we’re planning on touring with Ray Price, Iggy Pop, and The Dancing Terror Pigeon Revolt to support this album. We’d like to thank our fan for his support.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Recent iTunes purchases-pt. 2

By Nick
Due to the fact that iTunes prices all the good songs thirty cents higher than everything else, I was not able to download any of the good stuff (I.e. "Crazy Train"), so I settled for these musical discoveries.

"Live It" by The Cherryholmes.
A free "discovery download". It's kind of sweet and mild-don't expect some sort of super depressing Ryan Adams alt-country-but it's bluegrass, and bluegrass is like pizza-when it's good it's good, and when it isn't good, it's still pretty good. This is good.

"Where Did You Sleep Last Night" By Nirvana.
And on the other end of the bluegrass spectrum, we have this haunting track from Nirvana's landmark Unplugged In New York. Nobody could sound like Kurt Cobain, and his raspy voice fits this dark Appalachian ballad perfectly. The cello adds a faint glimmer of hope, and Cobain's screams at the end capture the sense of loneliness and desolation. Admit it, haters: Nirvana is awesome.

"Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town" by The Killers
And also in the category of country songs redone by rock artists, we have this gem from the Killer's B-side album, Sawdust. The musical arrangement isn't very different from the original Kenny Rogers version. What sets this version apart is the difference between Kenny Roger's whispers and Brandon Flower's well-developed, though restrained, tenor.

"Life" by Beckah Shae
Yes, I admit-I am a sucker for electronic pop. Ever since I heard "Believe" by Cher and "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" by Eiffel 65 (You know, "I'm blue, if I was green I would die..." and so on.) I have periodically lost my musical credibility and indulged in the world of electronic beats and synthesizer powered anthems. This song is a decent pop effort, though a little weak on the lyrical side, but it was free.

"My City Was Gone" by The Pretenders
You may recognize this as the theme music from the Rush Limbaugh radio show. Aside from its ability to bring fear into the hearts of liberals, it's a good song in its own right. It's got driving drums, a funky bassline, and rockablilly-enfused guitars, but the real star of the show is Chrissie Hynde's vocals, which take us back to the time when girl singers relied less on vocal affectations (Oooh-ooh-ooh!), and more on the ability to belt it out.

"Devil's Dance Floor" By Flogging Molly
Flogging Molly blends pennywhistles with punk on this track. Sounds like the soundtrack to a pub brawl or a pirate attack.

"Summer Thing" by Troy Olsen
Another free track. It's by-the-numbers radio country, but it's not bad, and it's not Kenny Chesney, which are two things in its favor.

"Paris (Ooh La La)" by Grace Potter and The Nocturnals
If this song had come out in the Seventies it would have been a number one. It sounds like Heart meets The Eagles with some Cream thrown in. Be on the lookout for Grace Potter and The Nocturnals to make some of the best classic rock music ever, then become famous and start making techno songs.

The Band Who Wasn't There

By Nick
House of Heroes was scheduled to play a show at I Love Evelyn on the 11th. Being a huge fan of the group, I naturally wanted to go. The last two Evelyn shows were in the Broad Street Park, a sort of enclosed place in the middle of downtown with some picnic tables and such. The doors were supposed to open at 7:00, so I headed down their about 6:45.
As I passed the "park", I could not see anyone there. There were no tables set up like last time. There was no tell-tale fifteen passenger van. It was completely empty. It was like one of those poorly-written end-of-times movies-"Where did everybody go?"
After cruising around downtown for 45 minutes, and finally getting some help from a helpful dude (props to you, whoever you are), I found out that I Love Evelyn was not having any events until a film screening on the 31st. This was aggravating. All the online tour dates posted on Myspace and Facebook showed House of Heroes playing in Texarkana on the 11th. There was no sort of cancellation notice from I Love Evelyn in any form, except for a cryptic message on their old building to the effect that they were "taking a break", and would be "coming back stronger". The entire sequence of things was surreal. Given my fertile imagination, I have come up with several possible scenarios of why House of Heroes never showed up.
1. They all got drunk. In Christian Rock circles, the hip way to say this is "Their van broke down".

2. The band was in a hospital in Minnesota, waiting for the return of their bassist's spirit to his body from his travels through hell, purgatory and heaven. He plans to write a book later titled AJ's Divine Comedy.

3. Their drummer, Colin Rigsby, was in love with a Russian spy, and as a result the entire band had to go to Washington to testify to his innocence.

4. The group took a wrong turn going from Dallas to Texarkana and ended up on the gulf coast, where their van and equipment was ruined by an oil slick. After that, they came up with a genius plan to plug the leak which involved stuffing the members of Seabird in the hole headfirst. The plan was abandoned as it involved the possible destruction of endangered species, and they decided to use the bass player from the Wedding and stuff him in the hole instead.

5. The members of House of Heroes are in actuality superheroes, and were busy saving the world from thugs, terrorists, and The Backstreet Boys.
6. Jared Rigsby, their guitarist, had to take time off for his other job as a stunt double for Jerry Seinfeld.

Jerry Seinfeld

Jared Rigsby

7. They were kidnapped by pirates. They are now at work recording their newest record, Yo-ho-ho And A Bottle of Rum, in the belowdecks of the Leviathan. A recent interview confirms this.
Interviewer: How is the new album shaping up?
Tim: Aargh!
Colin: It be just fine, thank ye.
Interviewer: Are you going to add any new sounds to the record?
Tim: Cannons!
Colin: And screaming people!
Interviewer: What is that parrot doing on Jared's shoulder.
Tim: He no talk. The parrot talks for him.
Parrot: Squawk!
Interviewer: What do you feel was your personal song on the new record?
Tim: Methinks he asks too many questions. Make him walk the plank.
Colin: Toss the scurvy dog overboard.
Interviewer: But, this is for the fans. They want to know all about the new record.
Tim: Dead men tell no tales!
Colin: Have fun interviewing Davy Jones, hahaha!
Parrot: Squawk!
Interviewer: No, you can't, this is-
Tim: Belay the gab, landlubber.
Transcript ends here

Friday, July 9, 2010

Carbon Leaf-Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat

By Nick
During a recent trip to Little Rock, the proprietors of this blog were able to enjoy the many benefits of travel. Texarkana's stagnant air, squalourous living conditions, and lack of record stores make it the perfect place to get away from. But here, in the highlands of central Arkansas, Hastings is just a few exits away, and the record stores flow with milk, honey, and cheaply priced CDs.

I picked up Carbon Leaf's CD Love Loss Hope Repeat for two dollars at the abovementioned store. I had heard good things about them from Laura Ingraham, (usually a good judge of music), so I decided to pick it up. I do not regret it.

Carbon Leaf's style could be described as guitar-centric pop, or rock without distortion. The guitar plays a moving line instead of traditional rock power chords. The vocals take a bit of getting used to (Their singer has sort of a weird half-British accent), but other than a bit of talking on the title track, its decent.

The opening track, "Learn To Fly", does what an opening track should: it showcases the artist's style without being overly long. The next song, the title track, is a fun pop number that for some reason in my mind associates itself with shopping for antiques in some town in Arkansas. All randomness aside, it's a solid song, other than the bit where the singer says "Take a walk downtown" in an odd talking voice. I guess its just to remind us that, other than Aaron Weiss, singers should sing, not talk.

The band goes for a harder edge in the intense "Under The Wire", picks a little mandolin in "Royal One", and delivers a great pop song in "A Girl And Her Horse", which should be all over the radio. The songs are upbeat, and you'll be singing along with the choruses the first time you listen. The biggest surprise, though, is the ballad "The War Was In Color", a song from the viewpoint of a grandfather telling his grandson about his experiences in the war. It's an incredibly well-written and moving song, yet it doesn't feel out of place among the songs about girls. After the set-piece, the album closes out with "Bright Lights" and "International Airport", two appropriately happy songs to keep the album from ending on a dark note.

Carbon Leaf's music feels like you've heard it before. Every song is radio friendly without being some sort of electro-pop nonsense, and the lyrics are solid. For great music to listen to over and over again, in the car, in your house, or incarcerated (we hope not), check out Carbon Leaf.

And also be sure to buy Carbon Leaf Cereal-part of this balanced breakfast!