Archive for September, 2008


Nicola Conte – Other Directions

So the economy is in the shitter now….so, now on to the program of awesome music you should own with very little financial risk.  Music like Nicola Conte’s 2004 effort, “Other Directions.”

Some of you may remember Conte from his first album, 2000’s “Jet Sounds,” that firmly planted his flag on the mountain of the electro jazz movement. With it’s lead single “Bossa Per Due” getting play from people like Thievery Corp and Gilles Peterson, and appearing in commercials as well,  the album proved a huge international success.

Born in Bari, Italy, Conte was trained as a classical guitarist when he began DJing and producing.  Sharing a love of Bossa Nova, Italian and French Jazz, as well as the Acid Jazz scene, Conte and his like minded friends formed a group called “The Fez Collective” and a label called Schema. (you’ll find more on that in my post about Gerardo Frisina HERE) As Producer he has helped cull the careers of such acts as Paolo Achenza Trio, Rosalia De Souza and a slew of funky remix jobs that I can’t even begin to list here. As a DJ he, like a lot of DJs, has a love of all things old and awesome…which brings us to “Other Directions.”

After “Jet Sounds,” Conte could have followed the same formula and still seen success. I think a lot of people bought “Other Directions” expecting just that…but as a musician and DJ, he felt the compulsion to go back to the past and bring it into the future…and the listener gets to reap the rewards. Released by the mighty Blue Note label “Other Directions” is a 1960’s fusion album, released in the 2000’s.  Backed by a full jazz band and playing guitar, Conte weaves a jazzy tapestry that borrows heavily from the past but still incorportaes  little glimpses of the future. My favorite track, ‘Kind of Sunshine’ (hear it up top) takes the old time song ‘You Are My Sunshine’ on a jazzy ride that you have to hear to believe.  What stands out, aside from the stellar production and the almost House-y beat…is the sound.

That incredibly stylish sound.

I love jazz, but I mostly love old jazz because the stuff that comes out today sounds over produced and a little too safe for me.  Nicola’s work here sounds almost as if it was plucked from the dusty record shelves yesterday and the warmth of the sound is undeniable. I listened to this album on a loop at work until my cube-mates forced me to stop. I wish I had ten albums like this.

If you like a stylish retro vibe as much as you like your downtempo jazz, you really will piss yourself over this album…but in a good way.

Apparently it is out of print and regularly goes for around $35 these days.

I say fuck that shit.


Faith No More – Angel Dust

It’s been one of those weeks when a quiet moment of inactivity has been hard to come by, and last night was no exception.  I headed up to Santa Monica to support my friend Sean’s big show at the Temple Bar.

I like the Temple Bar.  It’s dark, well appointed, and they usually have a lot of great music. It’s a shame they’re closing down after ten years of success, but that’s how the scene goes.  Start with a bang, do a decent business and close it down when it starts to get stale…so you can remodel and open as an entirely new space!

Such is the life cycle of the LA Club.

But I digress.  I was over at the bar taking pictures, because having my camera gives me something to do, when this Asian girl walked up to me.

“What are taking pictures of?”

I explained I was trying to take a picture of the TV.  She started talking cameras with me and laughing at my jokes.  Suddenly I thought to myself:  “Is she hitting on me?”  I already have a girlfriend, and I really didn’t find her attractive, but I was flattered and was mentally patting myself on the back thinking:

“Oh yeah…you still got it!”

Then (as if on que) she stopped laughing, handed me a flyer for a band she was promoting and walked off to the next guy.

So, I guess I don’t still have it.  And that’s the news…humbling isn’t it.

Anyways, such happenings often leave me wistful for the glorious past. And the glorious past makes me think of the nineties, and the nineties make me think of Faith No More.  It should come as no surprise that someone who likes Mr Bungle also likes FNM, they practically go arm and arm…although FNM was the more mainstream of the two bands.  And in 1992 they reached their peak with their fourth studio album “Angel Dust.”

Personally, I like to think of it as their second album since the band never really took off until Mike Patton joined the band, and this was his second album with them. Their pre-Patton days were not very pretty.

Originally formed in 1982 as Faith No Man (gag) with Mike “The Man” Morris as singer, but by all accounts he was a bit to much of an asshole, so they dumped him and became Faith No More.  The band tried out a number of singers, including a young Courtney Love, before finally going with Chuck Mosely on lead vocals.  They released their first album “We Care Alot” in 12985 on the small Mordam label before getting picked up by Slash records and putting out their first full length album “Introduce Yourself” in 1987.  The only hit was a revamped version of their single from the first record ‘We Care Alot,’ which wasn’t too bad and got some time on the MTV video rotation.

But the band was not doing well, despite their modest success. Plagued by friction and fighting, the band had descended into sheer collective hatred.  Mosely was fired for his crappy behavior and guitarist Jim Martin suggested a young kid named Mike Patton to replace him.  Patton was still playing with Mr Bungle at the time, but soon dropped out of college to join the band.  All the music was already recorded, but in two weeks Patton had written all the lyrics for what would become the bands biggest album to date, “The Real Thing.”  Soon the band was a household name, and now the hated nemesis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers who felt that FNM has stolen their sound…to which I say “In your dreams RHCP!”

But it was their next effort that really hit me on a hard gut level that “The Real Thing” didn’t.  As “The Real Thing” was dominated by Patton’s singing and songwriting, 1992’s “Angel Dust” would find the whole band becoming more involved in the recording process and Patton experimenting with new sounds and direction for the group.  Where most bands would have followed the success of their previous album by sticking to the same formula, FNM decided to take a risk…and it paid off.  Mirroring the album artwork (a snowy white egret on the front and a butcher shop window on the back) the sound would run the gamut between beauty and barbarism. It would be the known as the final album before Jim Martin left the band.

The new found cohesion in the band made for great listening with songs like ‘Midlife Crisis,’ ‘Be Aggressive’ and ‘Land of Sunshine’…but the album also does a great job with their cover of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ as well as super heavy tracks like ‘Crack Hitler.’ Not only was the music heavy and raw, but also made use of samples from such a varied array of artists as Simon and Garfunkle to the Kronos Quartet.

“Angel Dust” finds a sonic balance that few artists or their albums could ever hope to achieve and it does so extremely well.  The group would make two more albums after this…each more experimental than commercial, before they called it quits, but the influence of the album can still be heard in music today though the likes of Korn and Linkin Park to name a few.

Pulling it off my shelf the other day, I was surprised how well the music had stood the test of time, especially when so much from that era has now been tossed in the novelty music bin.  But the part of me that knows better, knows that it won’t be long before college kids are hosting 90’s parties, and music like this will be heard once again.

If I didn’t like it so much, I’d shudder at the thought.


Curtis Mayfield – Curtis/Live!

You know what sucks about Curtis Mayfield…aside from the fact that he’s dead?

What sucks is that a man with such talent and skill is only known for one album.  Really, most act as if he simply appeared, made “Superfly,” and promptly disappeared from the face of the earth.

This isn’t to imply that “Superfly” isn’t a superior album, because it is.  What bothers me is that it’s a poor representation of a much larger and more expansive career.  I find it reminiscent of the people who claim to be Bob Marley fans, but only own “Legend.”

Most people are unaware that Curtis’s career started in 1956, when he dropped out of High School to join The Roosters with the Brooks brothers, Richard and Arthur, and Jerry Butler.  It was two years later that they would become The Impressions when they added Sam Gooden to their line up.  When Butler left the group, Curtis suddenly found himself the lead singer and began composing for the band, a talent that would become his vocation for the rest of his career since he ended up being extremely good at it.

Mayfield also became known for his falsetto singing style and unique guitar tuning.  Word has it that he tuned his guitar to the open F-sharp of the black piano keys, giving him a sound that set him apart from th rest of the pack.  Why?  Because he was a bad ass!

As the sixties moved on, The Impressions gained in popularity due to Mayfield’s ability to infuse his work with social commentary. He also began to extend his songwriting career, penning hits for Jerry Butler and The 5 Stairsteps to name a few.  And to top it all off, he was now the owner of the Mayfield and Windy C labels.

Curtis Mayfield was a one man music industry.

In 1970 Mayfield left The Impressions and started yet another label, called Curtom, that would become home to such soul luminaries as The Staple Singers, Leroy Hutson and Baby Huey as well as releasing Mayfield’s solo works…like “Superfly.”

But before all that happened, Curtis played at New York’s Bitter End Club in 1971 and released his first live recording from the tapes.  Accompanied by a stripped down band and playing in such an intimate setting allows Mayfield’s work to shine in a way that nearly eclipses the work he would continue to do in the years leading up to that tragic accident that would leave him paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Consisting of songs written both for his years with The Impressions and material from his first solo work “Curtis” (released a year earlier,) “Curtis/Live” brims with a warmth and intimacy that most acoustic sets can only hope to achieve. Songs like ‘Stare and Stare,’ ‘Gypsy Woman’ and ‘Mighty Mighty’ find new life outside of their original orchestral arrangements and draw you into the experience like you were there at The Bitter End yourself.

Originally released as a double LP set with 12 tracks, the 2000 re-release on Rhino felt it necessary to add bonus tracks that included ‘Superfly’ as if to remind people who they were listening to.

But after listening to this album, you’ll never need reminding again.


Sixto Rodriguez – Cold Fact

Wednesday night ended up being much drunker this week than I expected…but I’ve really come to enjoy the idea of the mid week tension breaker. Billy and Brian showed up around 9ish and started in on the beers and Sailor Jerry. Then Deven appeared after 11 with two old friends Crum and Tyo (their last names…not their first.)

Tyo is what we call a magnificent asshole. The kind of guy who will tell you exactly what he thinks, regardless of the situation…then tells you to fuck off. I love him anyway because he has one of the sickest collections of sixties era furniture I’ve ever seen, and he collects the most disgusting high-end audio equipment you could imagine. The kind of shit that was designed in Germany and costs several grand.  Jeff buys that stuff like groceries.

But Tyo has a real thirst for funk and jazz, like myself…and Wednesday night found us deep in my loft digging through said sections for treasure and playing a little game of “have you heard this?” One of the albums I pulled out was Sixto Rodriguez’s 1970 album “Cold Fact.”

Unless you’re one of the crate diggers over at Soul Strut, or fan of finding obscure music, you probably don’t know Sixto, but that’s why I’m here, and why I write about this kind of thing. It deserves to be known. It doesn’t seem to fall into any particular genre, but seems to borrow a little from the latin, funk, folk and psyche categories and forms a unique creature of it’s own.

Sixto was born in Detroit, the son of middle class Mexican immigrants.  In 1967 he released his first single ‘I’ll Slip Away’ under the name of Rod Riguez on the Impact Label.  It would be another three years before he released anything else, and not until he signed on to Sussex records where he cut two albums: “Cold Fact’ and ‘Coming From Reality’.  But although of high quality, neither album took off.  Most critics didn’t get it and the album sold poorly, leading the label to drop Sixto who subsequently gave up his career as a musician.

But then something strange happened.  He albums began to gain steam over seas in countries like Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. By 1975 the original run of “Cold Fact’ was sold out and an Australian label called Blue Goose Music bought the Australian rights to Sixto’s catalog, giving both albums their first major label release.  This was all news to Sixto, who discovered that his album had gone platinum in South Africa.  He toured Australia twice, once in 1979 then again in 1981 before he went home and resumed a normal life.

With a voice somewhere between Cat Stevens and Jose Feliciano, Sixto’s music definitely falls under the label of ‘deep’ with his semi political leanings and social commentary.  The best album cuts include the smooth ‘Sugar Man’ (which you may recall from the Heath Ledger movie: Candy ) my favorite ‘This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst’ and ‘Rich Folks Hoax.’

And of his two albums, “Cold Fact” remains the best.  Sixto can still be found playing occasionally under the name Rodriguez…although mainly in Australia.  Check it out, folks.


U2 – Achtung Baby

On Demand recently tossed up some classic films in their HD section and I couldn’t be happier. Aside from the greats like “Dirty Harry” and “The Shining,” they also through in some nice cult films like the Mark Hamill vehicle “Corvette Summer.”  F-Yeah!

All they need to do now is make my HBO ON Demand all HD too and I can stop going out at night!

While perusing the listings the other day with my girl, I discovered that she had never seen “Annie Hall”…which I couldn’t allow.  It was a worst travesty than my Ex several years back who had never seen “Jaws.”

There’s a part near the end of the movie though where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are on a plane back from LA and they realize their relationship is over. Woody Allen says “A relationship is like a shark…it has to be constantly moving forward or it dies…and what we have here is a big dead shark.”

And in a way, that sums up music as well.  It has to keep evolving, or it just dies out. Luckily, this was something U2 understand very well, as displayed by their 1991 masterpiece “Achtung Baby.”

Formed in 1976, the group of Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton really weren’t very adept musicians to begin with…but they learned, releasing their first album “Boy” in 1980.  They were and still are a great live act,  but despite some great 80’s albums they had no real commercial success until the release on “The Joshua Tree” in 1987.  I was tempted to go with “Joshua Tree” for this post because it rocks so fucking much…and introduced much of the world to U2’s signature sound.  But for real musical growth and maturity…as well as a truly rocking time it’s hard to beat “Achtung Baby.”

The problem with bands like U2, that have a signature sound, is that they run the risk of becoming stagnant.  I mean, how long can you listen to someone do the same thing?  So in 1990, when the band started working on their seventh album, they were faced with that dilemma.

The eighties were over, music was changing and the tide was shifting…how would they stay relevant?  Bono and The Edge had a plan to incorporate new sounds that the band hadn’t delved into before, like electronic, dance and house.  Larry and Adam weren’t so sure, and didn’t want to loose their “sound.”  The argument nearly broke-up the band.  The tension lasted until one day in the studio, while working on two bridge sections of the song that would become ‘Ultraviolet’, producers Brian Eno (always on point) and Daniel Lanois suggested that he combine them into a new song.

When said song began to merge into the hit single ‘One,’ Larry and Adam saw the light and rallied around the track.  With tighter producion and more personal writing from  the band, “Achtung” was ready to take flight. The band had worked it out, and thank God they did.  The result was a perfect blend of what made U2 so popular in the past with and what would make them more popular in the present.

Now, I’ve always liked U2…and if you’ve ever seem them live, you know that their performances are more than worth whatever you paid to see them.  I saw them on the Zoo TV tour back in the high school and walked away shaking my head at the sheer hugeness of it all.  U2 plays stadium anthems, and there aren’t many bands left that do that still. To  tell the truth, there isn’t a bad track on this record…and living in a world where one good song seems enough to launch a band’s career, that seems like no small feat.


The Strokes – Is This It

Sadly, I was never very popular in junior high and high school.

In junior high I got beaten up a few times, I was teased relentlessly, and only had a few friends(the same best friends I still have today, though!)  I remember one day having a remedial gorilla named Kyle run past me in the hall and spit an huge loogie on to my arm.  Thinking about it now makes me kind of ill but at the time it seemed so natural that I had simply walked over to a fountain, washed it off, and went about my day.

High School was a little better, but only because the beatings stopped and people tended not to say so much to your face. ( At least I kept the same friends from grade school.)

Anyway, the years of enduring this unpopularity led to my lifelong quest to one day become “cool.”  I don’t think I ever cared if I was popular, I couldn’t stand most of the popular kids anyway, but I figured I would settle for just being considered cool. That would be enough.

Whether or not I ever succeeded in this remains to be seen, but some people have.  And a few of them are called The Strokes.

Initially formed in 1998, the band began picking up members as the original trio of Julian Casablancas (vocals and songwriting), Nick Valensi (guitar) and Fab Moretti (drums)attended different schools.  Soon, with the addition of Nikolai Fraiture on bass and Albert Hammond Jr on guitar, the band began playing New York’s Lower East Side.  They made quite an impression.

Such an impression that Ryan Gentles, who booked the act at the Mercury Lounge, soon quit to manage the group. After working hard on a twelve song set, most of which would eventually become “Is This It,” the band released ‘Last Nite’ as an mp3 download on NME.comas part of a build up their their first release “The Modern Age EP” in early 2001. The bidding war that ensued soon ended with the band signing on to the RCA label. 

“Is This It” was actually released in August 2001 in the UK with this cover:

According to sources the gloved woman’s hand was a nod to Spinal Tap which, if true, would be totally awesome because who doesn’t love Spinal Tap. (I actually know a few people who don’t, but I don’t really associate with them.)  The band released the US version in October with a new cover that you see on top, and the omission of the anti-authoritarian track ‘New York City Cops,’ which if you’ve heard it would have been in extremely bad taste after 9-11.  The song does rock though and you should track down a copy.

This album rocks, and when I first heard it, it held the same energy and promise that I had felt when Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ was released.  Full of catchy hooks and rocking pop sensibilities, it’s easy to see why the group had exploded onto the scene with such ferocity

and earned reviews that christened them the new kings of garage rock.  ‘Last Nite’ is the kind of rollicking raucous pop hit most bands would die to have as a single…as are ‘Take It Or Leave It,’ ‘Hard To Explain’ and the awesome ‘Modern Age.’ 

The album simply wastes no time.

Unfortunately, the band seemed to kind of fizzle a bit after it’s release.  Their follow up, “Room on Fire” felt like a retread of previous material, but their last album “First Impressions of Earth” did give me hope though.  Even though it has been the most criticized of their works, it displayed a certain courage that only comes from trying something drastically new.  The band is on hiatus now, but plans on releasing a fourth album in 2009.

Let’s hope that it’s just as cool.


A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders

No matter how crappy Hip Hop has gotten as a genre lately, I still hold out hope that it will come back…bigger and better than ever.  But lately the only thing I’ve heard that was even remotely good was the new Atmosphere records. (He really does release an amazing amount of material…and if you don’t know him I suggest you seek him out, maybe here?)

For a while, I had hoped that the DJ movement was going to bring it back.  I figured that DJ’s started Hip Hop and DJ’s would eventually save it as well…but even that hope has dwindled.   All we seem left with is Lil Wayne who, despite his obvious skills, just looks too silly for me to take seriously.  Kind of like a cartoon version of every rapper from the last five years smooshed together.

But as the mighty KRS-1 once pointed out “Rap is something you do…Hip Hop is something you live!”  So I figure those who love hip hop and want it back have to do something with our lives to bring it back to the forefront.

I doubt we’ll ever see an album like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” though, because one listen kind of makes all other hip hop albums pale in comparison.

Formed in 1988, they released five albums in ten years, with three being certified classics:  “People’s Instinctive Travels And the Paths of Rhythm,” the amazing “The Low End Theory” and it’s sister album “Midnight Marauders.”  After that it became obvious that the band was spent, both personally and artistically, with the last two albums getting progressively weaker.  But the shining pinnacle of their career was dropped in 1993, and became a high water mark for all other acts to reach for.

Following the success of “The Low End Theory,” the group was hard pressed to top it.  Yet, top it they did.  Building on the minimal jazz infused sound that had propelled “Low End,” the group finally went in a direction they had so far avoided…they added a little commercial appeal to their work.

While this is often a sign of a group selling out, in this case it simply made their sound that much more digestible to the audience at large.  “Marauders” also finds MC’s Q-Tip and Phife Dawg finally hitting their stride vocally, elevating their lyrics up a notch or two to the transcendent category. DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip also pushed their sampling style, moving from dark jazzy to a decidedly funkier slant…but still keeping the flavor.  Not an easy task. The Wiki page HERE has a nice little breakdown of their samples, by song.

Yet as commercially viable as they were becoming, the group’s trademark of socially conscious lyrics was carried over…especially in songs like ‘Sucka Nigga’ or getting spiritual with ‘God Lives Through.’ But at it’s heart, “Midnight Marauders” is a party record, and it doesn’t skimp on backyard anthems like ‘Award Tour,’ ‘Oh My God’ (It’s Busta on the roof!!!) or one of my favorites ‘We Can Get Down.’  This is one of the first hip hop albums from the golden era that grabbed me all the way through, and still does to this day.  Their use of the ‘Midnigt Marauder’ narrator really pulls the album together nicely…which is great because the gimick could have fucked it up just as easily.

Will the Tribe ever make a comeback?  Maybe.  But their time is over, and we have to look to new faces to bring the kind of energy and flavor they did in 1993.  If only Lil Wayne had their kind of chops…

BONUS:  Check out Vincent’s post on THIMK for a full detail of all the artists that appear on the album cover.  Thanks for scanning that Vincent, so I don’t have too!

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