Monday, September 21, 2009

Call of the Milkmen

A few days ago, I was fortunate enough to witness something truly unique. Have you ever even heard of a trio composed of a banjo player, a bass player and a tabla player? Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussein played the second show of their tour at UT and it really was something special. They have a recording out but it is with an orchestra so I'm not sure how it is but it couldn't possibly be bad.

Seeing that show reminded me that so far a key area of my musical interest has gone unmentioned. One might refer to it as bluegrass but I find that label to be far too broad. There is quite a bit of bluegrass that I am not into. First off, eliminate any bluegrass vocals. I have already mentioned I am partial to instrumental music in general and when it comes to bluegrass I have yet to find the exception to that rule. Instead of trying find some esoteric term that captures the exact subset of bluegrass that interests me let’s try and for some basic notion of it through example.

Even back in the late 90’s I had heard the name Bela Fleck but I really don’t think it was until the 21st century that I realized he was not some female vocalist but instead a mind blowing banjo player that a few people recommended checking out. I had heard some bits and pieces here and there but until I had seen the first Bonnaroo dvd I was still in the dark. Some of my friends had made the cross country road trip to attend and when the dvd came out I was treated to many viewings. The first scene shown is the traffic jam to get into the concert. The voice over says something about nature taking its course and sure enough there is a shirtless cowboy hat wearing concert go-er pissing in the woods off the gridlocked country highway. He is a friend of mine and I wish him much more screen success in the future.

The other and far more germane scene is a live performance of a piece entitled “B Song” performed by Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer. On first viewing my jaw dropped. Never before had I any clue that a banjo and bass could come together and create such a masterpiece. I haven’t ever been able to find a recording of the song. For some reason it’s not included on the Bonnaroo 2 disc music collection. In order to listen to it over and over and over, as I do with all music I love, I took an male-male 1/8” cable, plugged one end into my headphone out and the other into the mic in jack and used the basic record to create a .wav file complete with and AIM door opening sound somewhere in the middle. Not too high tech but it worked. A whole new realm of music had been opened to me.

Not long after my first viewing, the live dvd of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones became a viewing staple amongst several of my college roommate and me. While I have seen it a thousand times there is still something new to love on every viewing. The first track with the wah pedal on the banjo as well as the other instruments is probably my favorite. There is one banjo lick that is just so perfect and the bassoon with a wah. Gimme a break. Incredible. Actually though maybe “Big Country” is really my favorite. But then again I can’t leave out at least an honorable mention of Victor Wooten’s rendition of “Amazing Grace”. Regardless, the dvd is a highly recommended purchase. A couple years later I was fortunate enough to see the Flecktones in concert, another highly recommended musical experience. While I did miss the steel pans player from the dvd I found Future Man’s “drum” solo to be far more compelling.

With Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer as my in I began searching for more “bluegrass”. I am fully aware that the music described so far is hardly traditional bluegrass and that is exactly my point. I don’t know what to call what I like but whatever it is, it’s great. Naturally it wasn’t long until I came upon “The Telluride Sessions” by Strength in Numbers. Strength in Numbers was a group of virtuosic bluegrass musicians, including Bela and Edgar, that got together in the early 90’s and recorded one album. The group is rounded out by Jerry Douglas (dobro), of Union Station as in Allison Krauss and Union Station fame, Sam Bush(fiddle/mandolin) and Mark O'Conner(fiddle/guitar/madolin). To hear these gods of their instruments dance around eachother with blistering speed is to understand the true meaning of the whole is more than the sum of the parts. The album is simply awe inspiring and belongs in my list of albums fundamental to my love of music. “Slopes” is hands down my favorite piece of the album and has my favorite guitar solo of all time. Just the other day I learned that this supergroup performed on Austin City Limits. I have seen some YouTube videos of the early 90s recording but I would love to get my hands on a decent quality recording of the entire show, or any show they did not just ACL for that matter. If you have any leads let me know.

Another song I stumbled upon in the early part of the decade that opened another path into bluegrass for me was “The Smoothie Song” by Nickel Creek. When I first found it I listened to it over and over again. Try as I might though I could never really get into any other Nickel Creek song. Again, the singing really killed it for me. Either way, this was a welcome introduction to the mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. His disc "Not All Who Wander Are Lost" is probably second only to "The Telluride Sessions" for me but then again maybe I like it better. Really depends on the day. He features lots of other musicians on it. The track with Bela is awesome and the one with the sax player, while it took me a while to get into, now I love it.

You can imagine then how stoked I was to learn that Chris Thile was coming to town (this is when I lived in LA) to play at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (see images 1 and 2 if you're not familiar) with none other than Edgar Meyer. Even Nabakov wouldn't have the adjectives necessary to begin to capture how incredible that performance was. The only bad thing about it was that they didn't have a cd to sell. We saw it and that was it. That was maybe 5 years ago. Last year they finally released a recording and I like it but it wasn't like the show. If you can get the limited edition one though that comes with the performance dvd, or maybe they sell it separately now, it is well worth it. The video of the two of them working together is almost as great as the performance. Actually, that's not true at all but it is good. It's so cool because Chris Thile grew up listening to and being inspired by Edgar Meyer and now he gets to collaborate and even inspire one of his role models. That must be one of the best feelings one can have in life.

So most of that was in the past. What has "bluegrass" done for me lately? Well, last Friday morning, I was listening to NPR on the radio as always and KUT, the local affiliate, had their segment, The Austin Music Minute (part of their Texas Music Matters thing where in 20 seconds or so they tell you about some band playing locally that night. Friday was probably the first time I have ever even thought about checking out the recommended band but 20 seconds of Milkdrive was all it took. By 9am I had sent out the emails inviting friends and come 8:30pm I was at the Cactus Cafe with the 30 or 40 other people in the know. The opening band, The Marshall Ford band was a solid jazz swing band with some male and some female vocals. It was good enough but Milkdrive was terrific. I bought the cd and it is equally terrific. The only song name I can remember right now is "Call of the Milkmen". Really like that one. No clue why they are called Milkdrive but whatever. They play a ton in Austin ( and I can't wait to see them again.

One final note, a friend that couldn't make the show recommended Devil Makes Three as another group I might like. Haven't heard them yet but worth checkin out.

Editor's Note: There is no editor. There is no proof reading. I understand a blog to be an unpolished work completed in the most expedient manner possible that still gets the message across. Comments and recommendations are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Aaron, meet dubstep

I had heard the name dubstep as genre, or subgroup of electronic music or whatever but never really had a good idea of the exact sound. My only real experience with something that has been labeled as such was the album I bought a little over a year ago, Untrue by Burial. I randomly came upon the album browing on AmazonMP3 and was really intrigued by the whole story. This album is apparently highly critically acclaimed and to my mind is quite unique. The best part though is that no one knows who the guy/girl is.

On first listen, I must say I thought the whole album kinda sounded all the same but man, after a few go rounds you start to love it. It's dark and haunting sometimes but subtle and uplifting at other points. It's cool, check it out. Hernan Catteneo, Argentinian super DJ, threw the track "Archangel" in one of his mixes a while ago. I like the nod but the original is better.

But that was a while ago. A few weeks ago, my interest was renewed when a friend recommended the podcast by FaltyDL. When the bass dropped out on that first track I knew I had found something. If you wanna hear the song on it's own you can check out the MySpace page for the artist, Ultragamma. The song is "Stars Collapse". So good.

I should mention that up to this point I had never really gotten into podcasts for music. Besides "This American Life" I was basically ignorant of any good podcasts. After finding the ResidentAdvisor podcast though, that all changed. In the last couple weeks I've made an effort to find some more good ones. Just linking through the recommended ones in Itunes, I found the Cold Cut podcast. You know the founders of Ninja Tune records(artists include: Amon Tobin, Antibalas, Bus Driver, Diplo, and Cadence Weapon to name a few), are gonna put some good stuff together. Also, XLR8TR maginze has a pretty good one. And Radio 360 is worth checking out. KCRW has their daily top tune that I guess Jason Bentley picks and has great variety but often I'm not it. Still love KCRW though.

Along the lines of Ultragamma but with more hiphop in it is Bassnectar. I was fortunate enough to catch him playing an intermission for Soundtribe Sector 9 (personal favorite) at Red Rocks in Denver. If you ever have a chance, go see a show there. It's amazing. Anyway, I didn't realize but Bassnecter can have the dubstep label attached to some of his work. Along the lines of the podcast, he's got a mixes for download here. I really like a lot of it. He's playing an ACL aftershow that I can wait to see.

And not that it is dubstep, but now that I mentioned Soundtribe, I'm thinking about the label they're on, 1320 Records, and how I just got an email from them the other day with some new releases from their artists. Pnuma Trio might have been on their but the real news was a new guy, Emancipator. The stuff is a downtempo mix of subtle electronica with intsruments over top A little drum and bass feel here and there to spice it up. So so so good. You can listen to the whole album on his homepage. I was really blown away by how good I thought it was. You never get an email recommending a band and have the music actually be really really good but here, you do. It's great. If you're a fan I would highly recommend the album French Cuisine by Alif Tree that came out a few years ago. I don't know much about this type of music either but I know I like it.

Editor's Note: There is no editor. There is no proof reading. I understand a blog to be an unpolished work completed in the most expedient manner possible that still gets the message across. Comments and recommendations are greatly appreciated.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hip Hop Summer

When I first heard that Mos Def was coming to ACL this year I felt conflicted as I always do when I hear about his shows. His shows are usually pretty fun, especially that one I went at the House of Blues and Talib showed up and it was a just a Black Star bash. But that is just it. The hits are old. Don't get me wrong, I love some Speed Law and Miss Fat Booty but why have all the albums since been so bad? You can't imagine how, well, ecstatic, I was when I first heard his new album Ecstatic at the beginning of this summer. The whole thing is full of hits. "Auditorium" with Slick Rick or "Quiet Dog" are probably my favorites but it's so hard to pick. That was just the first of several amazing hip hop albums I came upon this summer.

Searching around on AmazonMP3 after getting that Mos Def, I found that Zion I had a new album. I haven't listened to any of his stuff since the "Mind Over Matter" album from way back. This new one, "The Takeover" is way different but also great. So many "underground emcees" from back in the day seem to keep putting out albums with that same sound. They're good but usually they sound like slightly weaker versions of their first album which was probably sick. Zion I's new one is not like that. The beats cover so many different styles. The first one starts with a tight djembe intro and then completely unexpectedly he drops the bottom right off the track and krunks it out. The next one, DJ DJ, has the whole breakbeat thing going. And on and on. It's a great album.

I think the next album I found by just noticing somewhere that Myka 9 had a new album comin out. Well I bought that immediatly and wow. Best hip hop album in who knows how long. Absolutly amazing. If you don't know him just buy the album 1969 and listen. He's one of the orginators and surely one of the best ever. He (arguably) invented the fast melodic rap style. He had another album come out recently which is also quite good under the name Magic Heart Genies. It's him and J the Sarge. The vibe is all positive but thankfully not corny. True artist.

Browsing Myka's myspace page I saw his link for the documentary flick "This is the Life: How the West was One". Got it on Netflix shortly there after. Great great documentary if you like hip hop. It's all about the Good Life Cafe which was a health food store in south central LA. In '89 I think it was, they started having an open mic night on Thursdays from 8-10pm with the rule that you can't curse as well as some others to ensure that the art of lyricsicsm and creativity with the spoken word was preserved. What came out of that place was just pure genius. A couple examples, Freestyle Fellowship (Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, Myka9, another guy), Jurassic 5 (Chali 2na, Cut Chemist and three other guys).

So now that we've brought of the Good Life, which has since become a label run by Aceyalone called Project Blowed, we can get all the other albums those OGs put out this summer. Aceyalone is one of my favorite rappers. I don't know what it is because so many of his albums are not stuffed with great tracks. You always know though that some are just gonna be mind blowing. Something about his style is just so cool. Lately he's been trying new stuff. This summer's release was a concept album with a whole bebop r&b soul from 1950's feel. The beats show it as do the G rated lyrics. That doesn't make it bad though. While only about 3 of the beats really do it for me, thats just me. For the most part I'm not really into that whole style but some of them work: Put in on 1, Can't Hold Me Back, and Workin Man's Blues are spectacular. His album from a couple years ago, Lightning Strikes, which had a whole dancehall theme and again, some stellar tracks on that one. The first three are great. The songs I don't like are usually just because the beat is not what I like but the lyrics always have the opportunity to impress. Also, his album RJD2 is of course damn good.

Acey did a song on Lightning Strikes with Chali 2na which is great. Chali 2na is another favorite. How could you not love "your friendly neighborhood baritone". I've been fortunate enough to see him perform with Galactic a couple times and man they tear the roof off. His new album "Fish Outta Water" was another spectacular find.

The best album to listen to all the way through though has to be by my boy Aaron, otherwise known as Abstract Rude. Just get it and listen. Rejuvination should be on my list of top 5 hip hop albums ever. Right up there with Heiro's Full Circle, Eminem's Slim Shady Lp, Myka 9's 1969 and the other ten albums in my top 5.

If you've never heard of Myka, Ab, or Acey, well check them out performing together as a trio, Haiku d'Etat here with their song Mike Aaron and Eddie. The verbal pyrotecnics here were my first introduction to Myka and Ab. They are truly astounding. When you're ready, pick your jaw up off your desk and buy "1969" and "Rejuvination"

Not to be left out, I have to metion the show I saw the other day with another of the masters, Gift of Gab of Blackalicious fame. Mr. Lif opened for him. They were both virtuosic. Really hip hop lyricism and creativity personified. Honeable mention of course goes to some of the other cats on Gift of Gab's label, Lifesavas, Lateef tha Truthspeaker, who is half of Latyrx. The other half being the always astounding ever energetic Lyrics Born.

Mr. Lif, who I have also seen tear it up with Galactic, had a homey performing with him and I bought his album after the show. Willie Evans Jr. The guy is good. Think Slick Rick mixed with MF Doom. Keep an eye on him.

Now one last thing I thought I should include. I recently made a mix cd for my dad to try and show him that hip hop is more that poppin caps and slappin hoes. Here's the tracklist. While by no means an exhaustive list I think all of these songs are essential for anyone that enjoys hip hop.

Or even more importantly, some one that doesn't enjoy hip hop yet and just needs to be shown what they're missing.

Song Artist Album
Get By Talib Kweli Quality (Real Advance) Africa Dream [Explicit] Talib Kweli Reflection Eternal [Train Of Thought] [Explicit] Let It Roll [Explicit] Hieroglyphics Full Circle [Explicit] Mike, Aaron and Eddie Haiku D'Etat Coup de Theatre (1 of 2) The Guidelines Aceyalone A Book Of Human Knowledge Makebalillia Live Aceyalone All Balls Don't Bounce Revisited On The 1 Aceyalone The Lonely Ones Snake Bite Myka 9 1969 Hand Bone Myka 9 1969 Tomorry Abstract Rude Rejuvenation [Explicit] Thynk Eye Can (Haiku D'Etat Mix) Abstract Rude Rejuvenation [Explicit] Auditorium Mos Def The Ecstatic Comin' Thru Chali 2Na Fish Outta Water Swan Lake Blackalicious Solesides Greatest Bumps (1 of 2) ...And I''m Out (Cd) Galactic From the Corner To the Block I Got It ( What You Need) (Cd) Galactic From the Corner To the Block At the Helm [Explicit] Hieroglyphics 3rd Eye Vision [Explicit] Poet Laureate II Canibus Rip The Jacker

Editor's Note: There is no editor. There is no proof reading. I understand a blog to be an unpolished work completed in the most expedient manner possible that still gets the message across. Comments and recommendations are greatly appreciated.