If you’re among those who only know Randy Newman for his work on Pixar’s soundtracks, you might be excused for writing him off as a one-note hack long past his prime. The rest of us, however, know he’s hands down the most brilliant songwriter and satirist of the last century, well deserving of his chance to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the 2013 class.
I hadn’t heard much of his music prior to taking Andy Hollinden’s Rock and Roll History course at Indiana University back in 2002, but hearing the brilliance of “Sail Away” led directly to my infatuation with that entire album, and then its successor Good Old Boys, which did more to explain the whole “duality of the Southern thing” than anything Drive-By Truckers ever concocted. From his deft dissection of the mock American dream spread through the slave trade on “Sail Away” to the stark honesty of “God’s Song,” distilling the plight of Job through a modern examination of why believers still follow such a vengeful God, nothing tops the audacity and wit of a Randy Newman original.
A few of his greatest songs, described in his own words, below.
It was fast. I think I got into a character, this sort of jingoistic type of fellow. You know, it isn’t the type of song I wanted to write much of. Not that I didn’t love Tom Lehrer, but I don’t want to be, like Don Henley says, “What’s this, another novelty song” (laughs). And I do write a lot of those, songs that are meant to be funny in a form that listeners take the people in it more seriously than literature. (1)
That was actually one of the rare events where I actually saw the character. I saw Lester Maddox on The Dick Cavett show. They sat him next to Jim Brown, the audience hooted at him, and he didn’t say a word. Maddox didn’t get a chance to be bad on that show. And I thought, “Now, I hate everything that he stands for, but they didn’t give him a chance to be an idiot.” And here he is, governor of a state—these people elected him in Georgia, however many million people voted for him—and I thought that if I were a Georgian, I would be angry. I would be angry anyway, even if I were a nice, liberal, editor of the journal in Atlanta. And so I wrote that. And there are some mistakes in it, like, that guy wouldn’t know the names of all those ghettos, but, so what. (1)
I think if I had more success it might have pressured me out of writing just whatever I wanted to write– I don’t have that strong a character. But when I did Born Again, that was after I did “Short People”, which was a hit but a novelty hit. And Born Again, just looking at the cover, seems like a reaction to that, presuming that people would know I’m not just some asshole with makeup on. They’ll know who I am. Which was a mistake– they don’t know who I am. That’s the weirdest album I ever made. But “Short People” was the worst kind of hit to have. If you can have a bad hit, that would be one of them. (2)
I’m Dreaming of a White President
I have some concern that kids will hear this and think, “What is he talking about?” If you have a kid and you try irony out on them, they don’t get it at 7, 8 years old. “What do you mean, you’re dreaming of a white president?” It’s a problem. You can’t really hide the Internet from kids. It worries me some particularly because I’ve done Disney and Pixar stuff. In Toy Story, there’s my voice saying, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” And then here’s my voice singing that I want “A real live white man / Who knows the score.” I’d like it to be clearer which side I’m on. Of course, it comes a little late. (3)
I Miss You
I think as an exercise I’m going to write just some straight love songs to see if I can do it. I know I can, actually. So I will. But “Marie” has an idea. With “Marie” a guy’s drunk and he’s able to tell her these things, and he recognizes that. It’s a simple, kind of humble thing but, you know, honest. Things he’d never say. “Losing You” has an idea that at a certain age you reach a point where you don’t get over stuff that happens. You don’t live long enough to do it. And “Miss You” is about giving up on a first wife, and it’s about writing. It’s about saying, ‘I know all the harm this is doing, but I’d sell my soul, your soul and my soul, for a song.’ And I would. Almost. That’s kind of writerly bravura. You know, I’d dig up my mother for a song. I believe that it’s true of me, that it’s important enough to me that I would sacrifice quite a bit for it. (4)
1. Hutchison, Lydia. “Randy Newman: A Character Study” Performing Songwriter — http://performingsongwriter.com/randy-newman-songs/
2. Klein, Joshua. “Interviews; Randy Newman” Pitchfork — http://pitchfork.com/features/interviews/7535-randy-newman/
3. Yagoda, Ben. “‘I’m Dreaming of a White President’: Randy Newman on His New Song” Slate — http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/09/18/_i_m_dreaming_of_a_white_president_randy_newman_talks_about_his_new_song_.html
4. Trucks, Rob. “Interview: Randy Newman on ‘Harps and Angels” and Hurricane Katrina” Village Voice – http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2008/09/randy_newman.php?page=2
Ravi Shankar once said pop changes constantly, but great music is like literature. We’ll miss his immensely.
Confirmed by CNN, Ravi Shankar died Tuesday evening at age 92. From his influence on George Harrison to his modern compositions harmonizing sitar work with orchestral instrumentation, Shankar took Eastern-inspired music into the mainstream. I’ll let his music speak for itself, but lovers of great music lost a legend today.
Hey Rosetta! just made themselves a permanent part of my Christmas music listening, thanks to A Cup of Kindness Yet, their wonderful EP which features my new upbeat-yet-dark Christmas song, “Carry Me Home” (sorry, Tom Waits). The song beautifully sums up the numbing loneliness of being a musician on tour during this most festive of seasons, though it channels Paul Simon far more than it does the “smells of hospitals in winter” written of by Adam Duritz. No, this is a hopeful tune. In the end, despite the sour surroundings of a depressing hotel room, Tim Baker still sings of hope that St. Christopher might bring him that southern wind or surprise homecoming which might make Christmas bright. The end result is uplifting, a reminder of what really makes this season special, from a Canadian band we could stand to hear much more from.
Blaudzun’s debut Heavy Flowers set for American release in January, featuring hauntingly ethereal title track
Heavy Flowers takes only a single listen to turn listeners into fanatics. The title track alone left me speechless upon first hearing its shifting melodies of stark brutal richness coupled with Johannes Sigmond’s peerless vocals. The album, to be released on the 15th of January, seems poised to introduce the Holland-based indie-folk songwriter to the wider American audience he richly deserves. Based on the live performance below, expect Blaudzun to be the toast of SXSW when he performs there in March.
Biffy Clyro’s “Black Chandelier” video premiers online, with Opposites coming to American listeners in March
Those who have followed me through my writing on this site and others over the last five years will know I’m a huge Biffy Clyro fan. But being a fan of the band in America means being something of a second-class listener — they don’t sell out tours here easily, and we rarely get to hear new music at the same time European fans do. Still, it’s hard to bitch too mightily when the longer waits just make the new music sound all that much sweeter when we get it.
When I commented on their last album, Only Revolutions, and the ensuing Foo Fighters tour which came from that album’s promotion cycle, I’d opined that perhaps at long last the band “may have finally gotten the break they need to smash through to success in America.” Alas, that didn’t happen. Still, I hold out hope that their upcoming album Opposites might deliver the outpouring of radio play their layered blend of poly-rhythmic punk-rock and melodic pop deserves.
“Black Chandelier,” out now on YouTube, illustrates the continued evolution of their sound. “I’ll sit in silence for the rest of my life if you like,” Simon Neil sings at the start, and, building on the pop smarts of previous singles like “Mountains” and “God and Satan,” I’m immediately reminded why I frequently praise the depth and quality of their singable choruses. Even as the “drip drip drip” of the song’s opening salvo quietly drills into my skull, ensuring this melody won’t leave my lips for days, I’m inking the March 12 US release date on my calendar. With any luck this will break its way onto the Hot 100, announcing for the rest of America what those of us in the know spent years shouting, praying as we did that Neil never follows through on that threat of silence.
Breakbot’s “Baby I’m Yours” proves French DJ’s hooks have mainstream appeal — full album out today in US
Breakbot, already well regarded among DJs in France, is a multi-instrumentalist with talent and hooks to spare, something made immediately clear when listening to By Your Side. Out today in the US on Because Music / SIre, the LP features “Baby I’m Yours,” an ear-catching blend of pop, eurodisco and funk, eerily reminiscent of Jamiroquai. Breakbot (a.k.a. Thibault Berland) explains his musical intentions: “I guess you could say my album is more a pop songs album than a Berlin techno record with water drops sounds in it – I wanted to make a pop journey that would have all my influences, without being a reference catalog.”
The result, an album which features guest appearances from Irfane, Ruckazoid and Bjorn Synneby, showcases Berland’s ability to craft ear-catching dance pop without sacrificing his instrumental integrity. “By Your Side” (Parts I and II) and “Programme” establish both sides of Breakbot’s effective style — and if he continues in this direction, he’s liable to establish as much of a name for himself here in the States as he has in Europe.
I don’t like using the “reblog” function on WordPress — it’s so impersonal, allowing bloggers to simply take the work of others and regurgitate it, assuming no role in the creative process. But I stumbled on this post from commenter Mister STAP‘s Blog Stand There And Play and it got me thinking about the role of album covers and poster art in fueling our collective obsessions with rock music in general. His post is well worth the visit even if only to gape at the astounding collection of posters he’s able to stare out at every time he writes. But I have to wonder as well, which art reaches out to you, my readers? I have long been attracted to the work of Wes Freed, whose creations for the band Drive-By Truckers are unmistakeable in their immediate visual hook.
Have any artists in particular inspired you as listeners with their distinctive album or poster art? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
It’s not just all physical
I’m the type who will get oh so critical
So let’s make things physical
I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical
Forget everything you think you know about Tegan and Sara. Based on the thumping single “Closer,” the first hint of what their upcoming album Heartthrob will deliver upon its January 29 release, expect the duo to bring the hooks in quantities even pop radio programmers can only ignore at their peril. These two have always brought a flair for powerful, memorable hooks when the right song demanded it (“Walking With A Ghost” anyone?) but never before have I heard anything from these two with such an undeniable sense of accessible fun. In a world overrun with Mumford clones and Adele wannabes, Tegan and Sara could finally have a breakthrough with songs that simply turn their already top-notch indie-pop up to “11.” Expect this to be the first pop album of 2013 worth getting excited about!
Give thanks! Don Ryan lets it all hang loose with “Vulture,” proof that alt-country and punk serve up perfect together
As though there weren’t already about ten thousand reasons to love the hell out of Don Ryan’s flamethrower-punk version of alternative country, “Vultures” will prove he remains at the top of his game. This three-minute barrage of fast-strummed acoustic guitar and a full-on bullet-train of percussion and frantic vocals, the song features Ryan’s signature sound laid bare in all its glory. If the country establishment hadn’t ruined Hank Williams III forever by forcing his Grandaddy’s sound on him in the 90s, he might naturally have come along with something akin to this firecracker when Curb had their shot at him. Instead, Don Ryan’s fighting the good fight in relative obscurity. Shine a light, musical brothers! Music this good deserves a wider audience. Play it for Grandma at Thanksgiving dinner and see if she doesn’t agree!
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Check out footage from the filming of this video (available on Thanksgiving), plus get a copy of the new song via the band’s Bandcamp page. The single will be on Ryan’s forthcoming, as yet untitled, EP. For more information about Don Ryan, check out these older posts on “Hear! Hear!”
- UNDER COVER: Don Ryan – “This Lullabye” (April 8, 2012)
- ARTIST TO WATCH: Don Ryan (October 25, 2011)
“She’s In The Wild” speaks well enough for itself musically, Northern Youth can leave its “Girls Gone Wild”-inspired video on the cutting room floor
Update: I do not like to change content once I’ve published it on “Hear! Hear!” because I don’t want any appearance of dishonesty. I have removed the link to the video in question, however, as it was not officially produced by the band as the YouTube page made me believe. Luke Messimer was unaware it had been published as the official video for the song, and the video has also been removed officially from YouTube for copyright infringement. The text of the review, however, remains as originally written. I’d encourage you all to listen to the album below, because the music here truly is good, video or no.
Dancing hot chicks sell music, so it’s easy to see why Northern Youth (a.k.a. songwriter Luke Messimer) chose to market his song “She’s In The Wild” the way he does via the Girls Gone Wild aesthetic of this rather shameless video. That’s a shame, because the over-sexed video overshadows what’s really a solid indie pop single, as Northern Youth successfully merges recent Noah and the Whale’s eighties-inspired pop earnestness with distinctive vocals he can call his own. The infectious chorus should draw listeners in to hear more from full-length debut Home. Trust me, when we set aside unnecessary gimmicks and let the music speak for itself, everyone wins.
There’s nothing “Artificial” about the love the Local Strangers show for all things folk on Left for Better
Nothing puts insomnia in its place better than the discovery of a post-worthy track. Something about the Local Strangers’ “Artificial Love” jumped out at me after their album Left for Better had accidentally slipped to the back-burner. But this Seattle duo brings the Midwestern charm of Over the Rhine to this bare-bones piano and vocal showcase, as Aubrey Zoli channels Karin Bergquist even as she adds her own smoky charm to the recording.
And though this is the album’s sedate closing number, the rest of the album is equally worthy of praise. “Uptown,” featuring Matt Hart on vocals, is a cross between Glassjaw Boxer-era Stephen Kellogg with slight touches of modern Mumford folk, with a hook which won’t quit. And “Daniel” lets Zoli shine yet again, making believers out of all of us as her voice melts over the carefully paced bluegrass melody and harmonies which would make Fleetwood Mac melt in their prime. “Can’t you make it look easy?” Hart sings over a hand-clap march of percussion and banjo, slyly answering their own question as the harmonies soar.
This is a keeper you’ll hopefully still be praising well into the new year.Left for Better is an assured album from a duo ultimately comfortable enough in their own skin to produce a album deftly merging varied tastes into one of the year’s best intimate listening experiences.
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I see your mouth moving
But there’s a circus coming out
Believe every word I say — the new collaboration between the always credible Ben Harper and blues-harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite is unstoppable. Musselwhite, with more than twenty albums to his name in addition to collaborations with everyone from Tom Waits (Mule Variations) to INXS (Suicide Blonde) teamed up with Harper for Get Up!, Harper’s upcoming new album (due out January 29, 2013 — mark that calendar!). The result is a full frontal assault of tasty blues, the raw hook slathered in a tasty sauce of grungy guitars and harmonica insanity. “Blame it on hard living,” Musselwhite sings, but there’s no blame needed in this aural algorithm — input what Rolling Stone dubbed “a scuzzy howler,” and output a tasty blues explosion powerful enough to heat any long cold winter.
Lift up your voices and say “Amen” as Paper Tongues lay down the best pop song of the year, bar none
You just gotta lay your weapons down
Forget about your problems
Just do you
No one else can solve them
That quote bears plenty of truth, but don’t underestimate the ability of a pop-heavy track to lift one’s spirits. Paper Tongues‘ “Amen is that song. Lay it all down and play this song, then repeat until it soaks into your soul.
Paper Tongues owe their career to a series of stunningly addictive tracks off their debut album Paper Tongues, which featured the infectious blitzkrieg attack of “Ride to California” — one listen made me an instant fan, as the audacious hook punched me in the throat, demanding I fist-pump as I gasped for breath. “If you were me, you’d do the same for sure!” lead singer Aswan North sneered and I had to agree. If I rocked like that, I’d write my own damned ticket.
Now they’re back, bigger than ever but without the weight of a major label holding them back. It’s all about the music, and with hooks like this who needs anything else? You best believe they’re bringing flaming nuggets of pop to your headphones, so when their EP Crowd Surfing hits next week you’ll be ready. Music today is all about virality, and in the case of “Amen,” you won’t be able to hold your tongue, paper or no.
The brightest spot in New Orleans’ pop music scene has to be The Winter Sounds, a band which brings the best of Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons and Snow Patrol together into one meaty sound worthy of repeat listens. The band’s latest, Runner, comes out November 27. Today we have an exclusive on their brand new video for single “The Sun Also Rises,” a shiny pop nugget with the pop hooks of Snow Patrol merged with the sonic heft of “Intervention”-era Arcade Fire. You can watch the video below, and download the mp3 for free here!
I never cared about your bucks
So if I run up with a mask on
Probably got a gas can too
And I’m not here to fill her up, no
We came here to riot, here to incite
We don’t want any of your stuff
Keep sticking to the script, mane, we never seen that shit
We knew the secret before they went ahead and Wiki leaked it
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P.O.S.’s We Don’t Even Live Here got at least a taste of wide exposure, peaking inside the top fifty of Billboard’s album chart upon its debut, but the album deserves greater reach, limited by the Doomtree member’s need of a kidney transplant. Unable to tour the nation’s hip hop clubs and win fans over one by one live, the album’s material has to speak for itself.
Trust me — this is the kind of album Rhymesayers has built its name on, lyrically incisive and sonically diverse, ready to dominate the speakers of anyone who plays it for the indefinite future. AV Club called the album:
… a solid, confident step forward for the Minneapolis rapper, taking his confrontational punk-rap style and injecting it with a dark, danceable energy that sacrifices none of his signature hardcore edge.
But don’t take their, or my, word for it: give the album a listen, from the raw confrontational blitz of “Fuck Your Stuff” to the ominous keyboards and taut vocals of “They Can’t Come,” the album never lets up the intensity. It’s flame through both headphones, a frantic assault on weak-willed radio hip-hop, ultimately indispensable as 2012 stumbles to a close.
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Though I aim for this site to cover all forms of pop music, sometimes I let real guilty-pleasure bubblegum too easily slip through the cracks. Mandy Barry’s music clearly aims for the top 40 radio aesthetic, with a sound akin to early Rihanna, before “Umbrella” made her a household name. Having heard two of Barry’s songs (the other being the four-to-the-floor Britney-esque club track “Girl Break Up”) it’s clear she’s got an ear for hooks.
What she doesn’t have is a producer with a deft touch. It’s a shame “Second to Breathe,” which overall is her strongest single, doesn’t take its own title’s advice. The overwhelming mix drowns a hook-laden, keyboard-heavy hook in tribal percussion and broadly-defined synth touches — the song, though solid, can’t completely shine through the mess. There’s a great deal of pop potential here if she takes the time to focus on stripping these pop tracks down to their strongest elements. Each track is worth a listen to hear what pop hit-makers sound like before they get their big break and the studio opportunities and advice which frequently come with such. Mandy Barry’s not all the way there yet, but I like her chances.
Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave pushes the boundaries of audacious art-rock, the year’s first outright stunner
When I first heard Alt-J’s genre-slaughtering blend of dubstep, alternative pop and infectious art-rock, I didn’t believe my ears. I searched for these songs in as many iterations as possible, reaching for what made them so damned explosive. Clearly there’s a reason the album An Awesome Wave is a front-runner for England’s prestigious Mercury Prize — these college students turned alt-music saviors don’t care about the lines they’re about to obliterate. They’re simply out to make music that makes you feel something.
The album plays best as a whole, letting the art-rock through-line electrify the circuit. Still, for such a high-concept piece of experimentation, An Awesome Wave brims full of staggeringly infectious melodies. “Fitzpleasure” on its own serves as their ultimate example, almost Jethro Tull-ish in its ability to morph through countless genres and mini-songs in the course of a four minute pop jam. It also benefits from the dirtiest lyric ever to sneak its way into an otherwise radio-worthy hook. This is Dark Side of the Moon meets Hot Chip, and the mad juxtapositions stack the deck. You cannot listen to this and not want to move! It’s an unimpeachable imperative.
Music fans willing to subvert their expectations and delve into an album which is as much pop as artful, daring genre exploration will find much to savor about Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave. By decimating the line between art-rock and the mainstream, the band creates new horizons for every listener who confesses to give a shit about music as a creative art-form. Google around every corner, layers upon layers make this the year’s most surprising outright stunner.
If Dexter Morgan had The Racer’s album as his dark passenger, he wouldn’t need to settle for serial murder — they’ve got “killing it” handled!
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Don’t let the first thirty seconds fool you. Monroe (New York)’s The Racer delivers with their latest single “Settle” from their sophomore album Passengers, due out November 11. At first the song echoes classic Coldplay — heavy on the pianos but advocating the tried and true slow build. No doubt, however, they deliver the payoff — the subtlety of the keyboards and vocals during the first verse makes way for the blistering chorus. Instantly there’s no doubting the band much more comfortably compares to Matthew Good. You won’t escape the earworms once the band drops all pretense and lets Steve Kondracki’s blistering guitar solo take over. “Tell me, who are you?” Pete Marotta wails on the refrain, and quite frankly, I’m asking the same question about them. I can’t wait to delve into the whole album!
“HEAR! HEAR!” EXCLUSIVE: From Mumbai to Los Angeles, Natania’s “Cherry Love” will tie your heart in knots
Stream and Download Natania’s single “Cherry Love,” exclusively here at “Hear! Hear!”
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Two years ago Natania left her home in Mumbai for Los Angeles, with a guitar and a dream. She’d always thought of her music as a hobby, but arriving in the US, she took a leap of faith, enrolled herself in Berklee College of Music’s five-week summer program, then followed that with Musician’s Institute’s vocal program. From there, a hobby became her way of life.
Now she’s ready to take the indie-pop world by storm with her ear-catching blend of Ingrid Michaelson and Sarah Bareilles. “My cherry love / you taste like chapstick on my tongue / when you tie a stem I come undone,” she sings over a melody crafted of acoustic guitar, tasteful keyboards and slightly off-kilter percussive riffing. It’s just the kind of pop confection to give you a perfect pre-Thanksgiving sweet tooth, with a singable hook you won’t easily extract from your head … or your tongue.
Download the song through the SoundCloud app above, and sound off below in the comments — what do you think of Natania’s first single?
Mixed Blood Majority ready to take 2013 by storm, Mayans be damned! If you’re not listening to “Fine Print” on repeat, you’re doing it wrong
The best thing about rap music today is how, among underground collectives, there’s been a trend toward collaborating on entire records. A rapper might work with several fellow collaborators on material, allowing for a constant stream of amazing music to reach the listeners. Get ready, because the next big super-collaboration has arrived, in the hands of Mixed Blood Majority, which brings together Crescent Moon (Kill the Vultures), Joe Horton (No Bird Sing) and the ever-talented Lazerbeak (Doomtree). The group’s first single, “Fine Print,” heralds the eventual arrival of a full-length in early 2013.
Now we’re all fine with the words that confine us
Defined by the climate designed by the fine print
Did you read the fine print?
No, but I signed it
Soon you’ll be reciting it like poetry
Lazerbeak’s thundering beat flips the switch to midnight as Horton and Crescent moon flip consistently incendiary verses which showcase the state of music today — seemingly trapped by a previous generation’s ruined paradigm, these three use their collaboration to flip convention on its ear, “staggering their tracks to wake the sleepwalkers.” No more need for frustration or fatigue — fuck the fine print, it’s a new hip-hop revolution. If you’re not playing this song over and over, steeping in Mixed Blood Majority’s dark twisted view of where modern hip-hop is headed, you’re doing it wrong. Get in on the ground floor — based on what this single offers, the full-length should be required listening.
The last time I wrote about Skipp Whitman he just wanted to be famous, and knew he meant it. Now he’s got the confidence of ten men and he’s ready to take the rap life by storm. 5AM is a rare sophomore effort which exceeds its predecessor without changing what made the first album work. These songs flow together and showcase Whitman’s laid-back Jay-Z inspired grooves even as he further stylizes his own flow.
“Strangers told me I should be patient / angels sitting on both my shoulders / telling me ‘don’t go changing’ / just to try to please anybody at all’ / but I told them I was having a ball!” he raps on “Won’t Change,” marking a template for the rest of the album. It isn’t that he’s changed, it’s that he’s built on what came first and improved it, making for a fresh listening experience. “LA in the Rain” speaks of what pressure there is to “make it” in an industry where you have to be confident enough to say no to the hangers-on who will ditch you surely for every next big thing. The thundering repetitive drone of the backing track makes the song stand out as claustrophobic like a traffic jam, echoing the restlessness Whitman’s experienced coming up in the world of hip-hop, fighting for every opportunity.
The album’s clincher, however, is its most radi0-ready track, “The Upgrade,” which features the best of Whitman’s rhyming coupled with a sung chorus featuring Louie Bello that brings the hook times ten. “Here’s to the people who said it would be years / before I got any music-related bread,” Whitman sneers, making cracks about hangers-on who want to get a taste after even the slightest success. The melody of the beat will stick in your head, and you’ll be singing Bello’s chorus long after the song’s come to an end.
Skipp Whitman’s building his reputation as a brashly fearless rapper who understands his skills and is willing to work to get to the top even if it has to be one album sold at a time building a fanbase on the ground. 5AM stands tall as a sophomore album which avoids the slump frequently plaguing hip-hop artists who experience sudden fame and can’t handle it. He’s not rapping about making millions and getting a stable of bitches. It’s a matter of his smaller goals being reached, or at least becoming attainable. “I told you that I couldn’t straighten up and sitting on the sidelines ain’t enough,” he raps on “When I Let Go.” “Just being a spectator ain’t on par with how I see my life going.” This is the hip-hop album for those of us who first dream big, then do bigger — no apologies.
I love Hero Jr guitarist Ken Rose ‘s explanation of what his band’s song “Ann Boleyn” really means. When you get down to it, he says: “When the going gets rough, don’t lose your head.” These Indianapolis alt-rock darlings, having received accolades from the Indy Star and Nuvo Weekly, are now ready and willing now to take on the rest of the country. And the music they bring on Backup Plan is more than worth some serious exploration.
Remember when rock and roll seemed to have it all? The band strives to bring together passion, power and chemistry to craft “timeless songs people can relate to.” Lead singer Evan Haughey is gifted with magnificent pipes, his vocals soaring over a guitar-heavy alternative groove which reminds instantly of a cross between nineties-era Tonic and pretty much anything by the Black Crowes or Cracker. Check out “Ann Boleyn” below — if you like it, download it, it’s free and legal! And if you happen to be in the Midwest, check the band out at one of these dates. I hear they bring the roof down every time.
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10/25: The Hideaway Saloon (Louisville KY) – w/ The Delta Routine
10/26: Hamilton St. Pub (Saginaw MI)
11/02: Fearless Radio Unplugged Studio Session (Chicago IL)
11/02: The Bird’s Nest (Chicago IL) – w/ The Delta Routine, The Hawkeyes, Glendenning
11/03: Radio Radio (Indianapolis IN) – w/ The Delta Routine, The Hawkeyes*
11/04: Scarlet & Grey (Columbus OH) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/05: World Café Live (Philadelphia PA) – w/ The Delta Routine, The Hawkeyes
11/06: HeadHouse Restaurant (Philadelphia PA) – w/ The Delta Routine, Boy Wonder
11/08: Fontana’s (New York NY) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/09: The Monkey Wrench (Louisville KY) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/10: Lemmons (St. Louis MO) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/11: High Noon Saloon (Madison WI) – w/ The Lucas Cates Band
11/16: Czar’s 505 (St. Joseph MI) – w/ The Delta Spirit
11/29: Old Haunts (Akron OH) – w/ The Hawkeyes
11/30: Legendary Hobbs (Philadelphia PA) – w/ The Hawkeyes, Late Ancients
12/01: The Place (Indianapolis, IN) – w/ The Hawkeyes12/07: The Crack Fox (St. Louis MO) – w/ The Lions of Gatwood
12/15: Rock House (Indianapolis, IN) – w/ Phoenix on the Fault Line, Veseria, Bullet Called Life
01/05: Uncle Slayton’s (Lousiville, KY) – w/ Po’ Brothers
* Backup Plan CD release show
Today James Blunt comes out of nowhere to let the world know he’s retiring from music, needing to “have time to himself” despite his actions generally speaking for themselves: no album since 2010, no touring since 2011. I can’t help but think of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” where she sings:
I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying: “This is it, I’ve had enough.”
We hadn’t seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space.
Message to James Blunt — no one’s waiting for your new album. As Bob Lefsetz outlines in his email column today, in the modern music industry you either release new material or you die. This ties into rules 3 and 4 as he relays it: “Make new music” and “keep improving your music.” If you need space, we’re perfectly happy to remember the beautiful relationship while it lasted. But let’s be blunt: We’ve moved on.
I’m always glad I follow so many bands on Facebook, because it has helped target the site’s recommendations on my behalf. Case in point: this excellent Oakland band which I never would have discovered had I not seen a note advising me to check out their debut EP via a “pay what you can” promotion on Bandcamp. The music I found upon first listen is a perfect blend of Americana and hints of soulful southern-rock gospel, an excellent way to spend a Sunday morning listening.
“At the End of the Day,” the album’s opener, introduces the band in a subtle way, letting the song’s confident grooves speak for themselves. The Hammond B3 in the background brought to mind Counting Crows, though Erik Yates’ vocals don’t necessarily draw such easy comparisons. But the band really shines on “Let It Fall,” building their strongest groove around a hook which would have sounded at home on a seventies-era Neil Young album. This is just their debut EP, but the nucleus is there — with time spent developing their road show and additional material, this could be the genesis of 2013′s first great album.
Nope, nothing sleepy about it!