I hate to sound like a grumpy old man, but I'm a little worn out with all of today's wacky collaborations between seemingly divergent recording artists. One need only check the YouTube footage of Paul McCartney singing "Yesterday" with Lincoln Park and Jay-Z to see how far south that idea can fly.
No one has ever accused the Black Crowes of being innovators. Some say their sound is derivative, others say imitation. I find them somewhere in the middle depending on which record you're listening to. They've made one truly great album ("Southern Harmony and Gospel Companion") and a few really good ones, mostly towards the beginning of their career.
Warren Hellman is a man with deep pockets and a deep appreciation of traditional bluegrass music. The fact that he lives in San Francisco is just a matter of good luck for its citizens. This year marked the ninth consecutive year that he's gifted Shaky Town with his Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, and it's an event that locals are loathe to miss and travelers are eager to see.
World-renowned studio mastering engineer Steve Hoffman is currently working on the re-mastering and re-release of many legendary rock and pop titles including classic Nat King Cole albums on SACD and 45 RPM vinyl for Acoustic Sounds/Analogue Productions and 24 Karat Gold CDs (The Doors, Linda Ronstadt, The Pretenders, Alice Cooper, etc.) for Audio Fidelity (among others).
When I think of Duke Ellington, I think of Big Bands and his "Live at Newport" album from 1956. I bought "Money Jungle" based on the album cover and the fact that it was released by Classic Records. The cover photo shows The Duke and drummer Max Roach commiserating at the piano while the formidable Charles Mingus looks on in the background with his bass. It's in black and white. The music is not.
At this point, I'm not expecting Son Volt to release any experimental electro-pop or klezmer-inflected jam funk. Son Volt makes straight ahead country tinged rock and roll music. Almost exclusively. Jay Farrar has the voice for it. He's good at it. He's known how to do it for decades, and he doesn't seem to have any interest in changing his ways this late in the game. Besides, Farrar got a little risky with some alternate tunings and unorthodox song structures on some solo releases a while back, and no one was buying.
I came to the Iron and Wine game late.Â I bought 2007's "The Shepherd's Dog," amongst the disapproving howls of his audience who seemed to think he'd abandoned his sound.Â You'd have thought he'd started rapping or something.Â "Around the Well" is a collection of B-sides and rarities that span the length of his career, and I can kind of see his fans' point in retrospect.
There are few popular recording artists that have their very own genre of music. I mean, you can probably count them on one hand. Tom Waits comes to mind. That's about it, really. There are probably others, but even someone like Neil Young can't be said to have his own genre. His music is instantly recognizable, and derivative of no one's work, but it's still rock and roll at the end of the day. Junior Kimbrough played the blues. But he didn't play the blues like anyone else played the blues. He played his own style of Hill Country Blues, and it varied so severely from his neighbors' styles that you could almost say he created something new. He created something new that sounds like it pre-dates time. It's a sound that's as complex as the region that spawned the artist. It's a place and a sound that time seems to have forgotten in a lot of ways.
Now, Blitzen Trapper is a little more my speed. From the first note of their newest album, "Furr," you know that these guys are most assuredly not traveling minstrels. These guys like to rock and have a good time. They have song titles like "Fire and Fast Bullets," and "Black River Killer." They sing about shaking it on a Saturday night and their guitars are loud and appropriately distorted. They infuse elements of folk, country, soul, and more to form an original sound that never veers too far from the rock, and keeps the listener alert and on their toes until the last acoustic notes of "Lady On The Water."
Janelle Monae doesn't lack for ambition. That much is for certain after just a cursory listen to her debut E.P. "Metropolis: The Chase Suite." Monae has some heavy hitters in her corner, and they bring a lot to the production side of the recording. It's Monae's voice, however, that carries the day on this concept record. It gives the listener the impression that she can handle any style of vocal delivery that the job calls for, and many of those styles are accounted for during this brief first offering.
Dan Auerbach's new album is called "Keep It Hid." It starts out quietly enough, but anyone that is familiar with Auerbach's work with the Black Keys should know that this wouldn't last. The man is capable of beautiful melody and quiet interludes, but he can groove too and this is best done loudly. All of his most obvious talents are on full display on "Keep It Hid," and the results are intoxicating.
Neil Young has been making music for well past 40 years now. His catalog is extensive. His disdain for his labels' expectations is legendary. The man was sued by his own company for making records that didn't sound like Neil Young. His live setlists are frequently populated by songs that the casual fan has never heard. His concept albums have been brilliant (see "Tonight's the Night") & confusing (witness "Greendale"). His next release is rumored to be an album about an electric car. I'm serious.
What is there to say about Bob Dylan that hasn't been said already?Â His fans pore over his every word, dissect every couplet, and assign their own meaning to an artist that has made a career out of evading definition.Â Every release is studiedÂ and reported upon in chat rooms, barrooms, and living rooms.
San Francisco's Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival , August 22-24, seemed like a big deal to me from the time I first heard about it. Maybe too big. It was a huge event with giant main stage acts that would cover a large area of Golden Gate Park with a wide variety of events & diversions. Sounds swell. It also seemed like a big risk to me for some reason. We have other festivals in the Park (Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is right around the corner...), but this one seemed perilous. Is it gonna be a madhouse? How are we gonna get there? Are people gonna pay that much money? Is the Park gonna be left standing? Why has there never been a "legal" nighttime concert in Golden Gate Park before?