Dionne Warwick, always a heartbreaker

My first impression of Dionne Warwick was from listening to her pleasant, calming vocals during car rides with my mother 30 years ago. In the ’80s, her music was experiencing a mini revival, gaining new fans from her time hosting “Solid Gold” and riding on 70s hits like “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” and the 1982 disco-jazzy “Heartbreaker.”

My second impression was that she was from San Jose — she must be, because she says so in the song, right? Apparently a lot of people have thought that, which is what she told me during our interview recently. But the Princess of Pop was totally cool with it and doesn’t fault people for assuming she’s from the West Coast. But she grew up in New Jersey – slightly different locale. One of my favorite lines from the song is when she airily suggests dropping $100 to help buy a car. Sounds like a deal to me!

At the time though, I didn’t realize she was part of one of the most successful collaborations in popular music history. The three of them — Warwick and songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David — struck gold with memorable songs like “Say A Little Prayer,” “Walk On By,” and “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”

It’s a massive catalog. If you’ve never taken the time to listen to her hits from the 60s, it’s worth it. Part of it is the Bacharach/David easygoing style of orchestral melodies and brass that makes them memorable, part of it is how Warwick was able to melt so gracefully into the lyrics. “Walk On By” is one of my most favorite songs ever; the piano line is so comforting, like a rainy Sunday.

Some of the songs haven’t aged as well — “Wives and Lovers” has a fantastic, breezy melody. The song is a good example of that ’60s James Bond-style grand sound, but the lines about keeping pretty so your husband doesn’t leave are pretty stale now.

I’ll finally get the chance to see her live tonight in Derry, NH. Hearing songs in person when you’ve had the original stuck in your brain for years is a weird experience. She’s probably not going to sound like she did then, but that’s what will make her performance unique.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under '60s, '70s, Disco, Gospel, New Music, Pop, R&B, Soul

Steve Vai offers statement on Prince’s death

I spoke with guitarist, singer and songwriter Steve Vai nearly a month ago for the Union Leader‘s Weekend section to preview their Generation Axe — A Night of Guitars concert at Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom.

Vai, along with guitarists Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tosin Abasi, will appear at the ballroom on May 7.

But in light of the news that Prince was found dead April 21 at his Paisley Park Studios in Minnesota, and considering Prince’s tremendous impact on other guitarists and the world of music, I reached out to Vai’s representative yesterday to find out how Vai felt about Prince and his legacy.

160421-prince-jsw

Here’s Vai’s statement:

“Deep sadness… Prince, you were extraordinary and we are grateful, but please hurry up back so you can reinvent music once again.”

Watch for my upcoming preview on Generation Axe for Union Leader’s Weekend section.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guitar rock, Music News, My work at Union Leader, Rock, Steve Vai, Uncategorized

Run The Jewels are taken down by the broken prison system in video for “Legend Has It”

Run The Jewels’ newest video places rappers El-P and Killer Mike squarely in the crosshairs of a police state and its standard perceptions that black people and/or rap musicians are criminals.

In the video for “Legend Has It” from RTJ3, the duo mysteriously multiplies as they’re placed in a police lineup. As the song progresses, a little girl, a guy in a full body cast and a nun are later replaced by police officers in the lineup, until just El-P and Killer Mike become the main suspects in an unnamed crime.

Meanwhile, officers discuss who may be guilty, judging by people’s physical description.

“Go with your gut. Which of these gives you a bad feeling?” goes one quote behind the glass. The “woman of God” the body cast guy and the girl are of course let go, until only El-P and Killer Mike are left.

The video also features the view from a dark prison floor, showing the number of incarcerated rising as the decades pass– 1.9 million in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2017. Besides “Legend Has It” being one of the best raps from RTJ3, this is another video where Run The Jewels push boundaries of normalcy as they try to make their point — the U.S. prison system is severely flawed.

There’s quite a lot in the video, but it could have packed even more of a punch if it focused more on those prison numbers.

Watch the video below.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Hip-Hop, New Music, Rap, Run the Jewels, VIdeos

Rebecca Ferguson: I’ll perform at inauguration if I can sing “Strange Fruit”

It’s a New Year.

The U.S. presidential inauguration nears and the line of participants continues to narrow.

British singer Rebecca Ferguson has taken her invitation a step further and today posted she would “graciously accept” Trump’s request to perform at the Jan. 20 inauguration, but only if she can perform “Strange Fruit.”

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-11-16-15-am

“Strange Fruit” is a poem by Abel Meeropol in 1937 and was performed by Billie Holiday in 1939. The melancholy song protests the lynchings of black people by whites and the scourge of racism in America, which is ongoing.

Holiday’s version is haunting, disturbing and explicit. The uneven melody and pointed lyrics, of stinking bodies hanging in the trees “for the wind to suck” are among the most brutal lyrics in American music.

“Pastoral scene of the gallant South/the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth/scent of magnolias, clean and fresh/then the sudden smell of burning flesh” reads part of the song.

It’s been covered numerous times over the years. Nina Simone’s performance  gives the song a wrenched elegance. Jeff Buckley’s acoustic version wanders almost aimlessly, and wallows in the melody. But Holiday’s song grips the hardest and doesn’t let go.

There’s a pretty good chance Ferguson won’t get the chance to perform the song in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20, but if her statement generates renewed discussion in the song and its explicit ties to America’s dark history, then she’s done her job.

lynching-of-thomas-sh-007-1

Abel Meeropol was inspired by this image, of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abe Smith, to write “Strange Fruit.” (AP)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under American history, Billie Holiday, Blues, Jeff Buckley, New Music, News, Nina Simone, Poetry, Protest music

Charles Bradley cancels tour dates due to cancer diagnosis

Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires have canceled their upcoming tour dates. In a statement released today, the soul singer, 67, announced that doctors have found a cancerous tumor in his stomach.

Bradley wrote part of the statement:

In the past few months, I have had to cancel a number of shows due to illness, taking me away from my beautiful fans.

My doctors recently discovered a cancerous tumor in my stomach.  

I’m getting the best medical care and we are all extremely optimistic. I will fight through this like I’ve fought through the many other obstacles in my life.

My upcoming tour dates will be postponed so I can concentrate on healing.

Thank you all for understanding. Music is how I share my love with the world, and the love that my fans have given back brings me so much joy. I look forward to seeing your gorgeous faces soon, and to continue to share my love through music.

Bradley has been on the road for much of 2016, but has recently canceled several shows  in light of his health issues. The press release states part of his time off will be for treatment and recovery. 

After Bradley worked as a cook for 10 years, he lived in various cities across the country, playing  at small venues and working menial jobs for about 20 years. His career began again in 1996 under the alias “Black Velvet,” as a James Brown impersonator. He was later discovered by Daptone’s Gabriel Roth. His first single was 2002’s “Take It As It Come, Pt. 1” and “Take It As It Come, Pt. 2.” Since 2011 he’s released three albums, including Changes, out this year.

Read more about Bradley in this 2011 story.

While I haven’t covered much of Bradley’s music on the blog, I’ve admired his music and soulful style, and I hope he makes a quick recovery.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music News, R&B, Retro Soul, Soul, Uncategorized

Black metal band’s album cover stirs controversy

While music is always about personal expression, there’s a level of humanity that can still be found in the darkest of music genres.

The album cover for post-black-metal band Numenorean is of a young dead girl who appears to have been brutally murdered.

That’s shocking enough, but the album has also received positive reviews from at least two music sites, one of which is not exclusively about metal (that site failed to post an image of the album cover, which makes perfect sense now.) Another site I found does call attention to how the image overpowers the music — good for them. I’m not going to post the image here, or links to Numenorean’s album, because I just don’t think I should. I’m including the band name because without that, this post would be completely irrelevant.

Every music site out there has its guidelines and rules for what they will or won’t cover, and that’s perfectly within their right. I don’t know if any soul-searching had to be done at those sites when it came to this album, but it certainly got me thinking.

If you read the band’s description of the album (which you can easily google), they explain how the only way people can experience a child’s innocence again is through death, and how listeners will eventually come to realize that as they keep looking at the picture of the dead girl.

I’ve heard the EP and thought the music was intriguing, but couldn’t get past the cover. The image of the girl, with what looks like a faint smile on her face, to me speaks 100 times louder than the music. It’s horrific and it’s terrifying. All I wanted to know was: Who is she? How and when did she die? How was this band allowed to use this picture? Where is the girl’s family and what do they think?

I had more questions about the picture than about the music: Was the entire band in agreement that this was OK? Did they consider how this might personally affect listeners? It was no longer about the music; it was disturbing to the core. This one crosses the line.

A few screenshots of comments about the album show a brief cross-section of what is giving some pause.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 12.24.18 PM

(So far I’ve only been able to turn up this with regards to who the child might be.)

Another music site contained positive and negative feedback:

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 1.01.38 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 1.00.17 PM.png

Some apparently thought the image was Photoshopped:

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 1.29.57 PM

More conversation, with a mention that if the band had the copyright to the image then it’s fair game:

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 2.02.06 PM

 

Again, every music site has its own goals and guidelines as to what’s OK to publish, and that’s what the internet is all about — freedom to say and post what we feel. As a journalist I try to be as unbiased as possible. Maybe I’m taking things too seriously, maybe I’m soft, maybe I’m making a big thing out of nothing. But I think it’s important to note how much music and imagery can happily coexist and to remember those rare times that combination can send the wrong message.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Album covers, Commentary, Metal, Uncategorized

DC’s Pure Disgust is back with a timely, rage-filled album

Pure Disgust’s self-titled album, released on Bandcamp on July 13,  is take-no-prisoners punk to the extreme, with boiling hot lyrics that match seething, agitated vocals like “The new racism is a denial of racism.” Rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Some songs, like “White Silence” or “Untitled,” begin with deceptively calmer throwback intros, but then let loose like an angry dog, linking timely subjects like No Child Left Behind with the failing prison system. Some songs end on a fade, which is not always appealing for a punk anthem, but that’s only a minor point.

I’m imagining a Pure Disgust show ending in a sweaty, frothy, beautiful mess.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Hardcore punk, Punk, Speed punk, Uncategorized

The Julie Ruin’s Hit Reset is out now

Hit Reset, Kathleen Hanna’s latest installment of her off, on musical project The Julie Ruin, can be ordered online today, but you can still hear it through Spotify and read Ann Powers’ take on the album at NPR Music here.

If you haven’t heard Hit Reset yet, Hanna sounds just as good as the first Julie Ruin album, a bit more reserved than Le Tigre, and with all the fire she’s had since she was 9, when she first heard Gloria Steinem speak.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/4D4vLiYKRycKzBSX1Y1sjg

Watch The Julie Ruin’s video for “I Decide,” with Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee, wearing a Yoko T-shirt, walking down a thoroughfare at South By Southwest.

Leave a comment

Filed under artpunk, Feminist punk, Garage Punk, Hardcore punk, New Music, Punk, Riot-Grrrl, Uncategorized, VIdeos

Open Windows 3: Deap Vally grinds and Alexis Taylor unwinds

Prince’s influence on the music world after his death continues unabated. Via FactMag, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor has now covered the Prince unreleased rarity, “Old Friends 4 Sale,” with heartfelt, somber piano notes. Taylor unplugging himself from his electro-synth world is jarring enough; Taylor explaining how he wanted to relearn the song as a tribute to Prince is even more emotional.

 

Deap Valley’s finally got new music on the horizon, and we’re thankful they haven’t changed their stripes. The female duo continues their blues-punk, guitar-dripping sound with the slow-burning track “Royal Jelly” and some advice for those who want to rule the world.

Deap Vally’s album Femijism, produced by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner, will be out Sept. 16 on Nevado.

Watch the video below:

Read NPR’s blurb on Deap Vally in their “New Mix” wrapup: http://www.npr.org/player/embed/484374847/484377500

Deap Vally also released the video last month for “Smile More,” a tender ode to guys who try that advice on others.  “I am not ashamed of my age/ I am not ashamed of my rage,” Lindsey Troy sings. Deap Vally always knows the right thing to say.

 

The first two songs off Lando Chill’s upcoming album are more than just promising. The Tucson hip-hop artist spits honest truth, whether he’s feeling just fine rolling a bowl on “Early In the Morning” or fighting demons like depression on “Coroner”:

“There’s no more to say, no more to pay, no world to save / I’m not the man you believe in, see I’m just the man you were leaving,” Lando Chill says rather calmly on the song, and you believe he’s got something bubbling underneath the surface.

His album, For Mark, Your Son, will be out Aug. 12 on Mello Music Group. Listen on Bandcamp:

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Covers, Electro-pop, Garage Punk, Hardcore punk, Hip-Hop, Indie electronic, Open Windows New Music, Uncategorized

Catch The Buzzcocks on their brief U.S. tour

British punk originators Buzzcocks have announced an eight-date U.S. tour, welcome news for fans.

They kick off Sept. 22 at Vic Theatre in Chicago and wrap up Oct. 1 at Irving Plaza in NYC. Tickets go on sale June 17 but an AmEx presale starts tomorrow (6-14). They’ve already been touring in Europe as part of their 40th (!) anniversary.

For the U.S. dates visit BrooklynVegan.com, while the Buzzcocks‘ site lists their UK/European dates.

Not that you need a refresher, but check out “Something’s Gone Wrong Again” (one of my favorite songs):

Leave a comment

Filed under '80s, Garage Punk, Post-punk, Punk, Tour Dates, Tour Info, Uncategorized

Sir Weston’s EP “Over” touches on the mellow side of indie folk

Sir Weston (Matt Martin and Weston Taylor) is an indie/folk/pop group that creates well-crafted hooks that are extremely pleasing to the ear, begging to be memorized.

According to Sir Weston’s Bandcamp page, Weston Taylor, of Atlanta, has been writing for more than 10 years. Sir Weston’s slightly skewed, heartfelt style recalls the sound of Soul Asylum or early Coldplay vocals from the “Yellow” era. The moody guitar notes drives “Waking Up,” and a more rock and roll indie sound dominates “Pretty Pictures.” Hold a torch for the soothing acoustic title track, which gives a shoutout to classic ’60s pop of the Beatles and the Byrds; “Cure For Cancer” is a standout.

Check out their Over EP, which was released in October 2015:

Leave a comment

Filed under bandcamp, Indie, Indie folk, Indie pop, Indie Rock, Uncategorized