Happy Valentine’s Day

14 02 2011

The timing of Valentine’s Day this year makes for a weird posting day. With the Grammy’s being last night, I’m inclined to write a bit about the events of the evening. But if given the choice, I’d much rather share a little song I have been digging lately. It couldn’t be a more appropriate song choice for V-Day. It’s “All I Want Is You” by Barry Louis Polisar. This song is really fun and the lyrics are very sweet. With a wedding in my near future (yes, The GG is getting married), I have been considering this tune for some part of the big day. Stay tuned for more on that.

You may actually recognize this from the Juno soundtrack. Check it out… and share it with your Valentine on this special day.

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Neil Young | Cowgirl in the Sand

13 10 2010

“Cowgirl in the Sand” is a great song from one of my favorite Neil Young albums, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969). It was Neil’s second solo album and his first with backing band Crazy Horse. This album has 3 of his most popular songs on it, all of which were written when he was sick with a 103° fever. Pretty remarkable stuff. “Cowgirl” was one of those tunes, along with “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By The River”. As much as I like the studio version of this song, it tends to sound a little like another one of his great ones, “Southern Man”, at certain parts. But, this live acoustic version really makes it feel like it’s own song, and a fantastic one at that. It’s quintessential Neil Young. Although difficult to tell for sure, I believe this performance is from his solo acoustic show at Massey Hall in 1971. That concert captures Neil at his finest. Check out “Cowgirl in the Sand” and I will be sure to post more songs from that performance in the future.

References:

More info on Neil Young

More info on Crazy Horse

More info on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Studio (electric) version of “Cowgirl in the Sand”





Karen Elson | The Ghost That Walks

9 09 2010

For those not familiar with Karen Elson, simply put: she’s a very talented and beautiful  lady. To elaborate, albeit just slightly, she is a British supermodel who recently released an album on Jack White’s Third Man Records. Interestingly enough, this album has been getting a lot of attention, both positive and negative. The issue is that most people read something like that (“supermodel turned musician”) and immediately condemn the work regardless of it’s merit. For me, not only is the actual material important but the context is key to understanding where she is coming from as an artist. Only after considering both is it fair to opine one way or another. First, let me give you a little taste of the title track from her debut The Ghost That Walks. Then we get into the business…

Pretty good stuff, no? The girl has an excellent voice that is drenched in this moody folk meets gothic style. Here’s the scoop: Karen is a supermodel of significant notoriety (if you follow that world) but she has long been a singer/songwriter, using the guitar as her writing tool. The arts must be in her genes as her twin sister, Kate, is a film maker in her own right. Plus, it’s not like fashion isn’t a creative field. Sure the models tend not to contribute artistically but they need to “get it” as they are a large part of the atmospherics that collectively create a designer’s show.

That aside, She has actually been doing this singing thing for a while now. Many people don’t realize that she is a founding member of a political cabaret troupe in NY called The Citizens Band. Some might say cabaret is nothing but an arcane side show but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These girls actually put on an amazing show that transcends sex appeal covering songs by artists as diverse as The Velvet Underground, Kurt Weill, Elvis Presley, Mimi and Richard Fariña, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Marlene Dietrich. Not surprisingly, Karen is a strong talent that stands out amongst the others both with her fantastic voice and songwriting skills… ok, and the sex appeal too. Live footage of The Citizens Band is very rare but I was able to find this one performance of one of Karen’s originals called “Mouths To Feed”. It happens to be on the new album but it’s not exactly one of my favorite tunes. Not to mention that the video is very amateurish, literally as it was taken by an audience member, and it doesn’t necessarily capture the essence of their typical showmanship. But nevertheless…

This gig in The Citizens Band led to collaborations and supporting work with Robert Plant and Cat Power. But that’s not what produced this great great collection of material. Actually, it’s not what but who produced the work that is most responsible for inspiring her to take it to this new level. I casually mentioned earlier that Jack White was invloved but I purposely left out the details as I find this to be one of the more interesting parts of the backstory. Jack is just her producer, he’s her husband. Karen and Jack met while filming the music video for The White Stripes’ video “Blue Orchid”.

The video’s director, Floria Sigismondi, remarked that “you could sense the energy between them.” They married within the year and now have two kids together. An odd side note: They had a remote wedding on the Amazon River in Brazil where White Stripes manager Ian Montone was the best man and Jack’s ex-wife, Meg White, was Karen’s maid of honor. Anyway, while living happily ever after in their Nashville home Jack found Karen “hiding” away scrolling out these songs. He eventually persuaded her to show him what she had been working on and he was blown away with what he heard. With some more encouragement, she wrote a few more and, like that, the album was born.

White’s contribution is in sound design only as the producer but that is one of the most striking things about this album. It sounds richly organic. He very wisely blends a very gritty instrumental with her beautiful voice to create this fantastic combination that is strangely haunting yet alluring. All and all, I am please to say that she checks out. Her songs are good, her voice is great (so long as she doesn’t go too Stevie Nicks with vibrato) and artistically, there is certainly integrity there. Like many albums in this iPod era, this album is not a complete winner but there is definitely some good stuff there. If I had to pick just a few tunes, I recommend  “The Ghost That Walks”l, “The Birds They Circle”, “Thief At My Door” and this one: “Pretty Babies”

References: 

Karen’s Official Site

Karen’s MySpace Page

Karen on Facebook

Karen on YouTube

More info on Karen Elson

More info on The Ghost Who Walks

More info on Jack White

More info Third Man Records





July 4th

5 07 2010

Independence Day has come and gone… hard to believe we’re this deep into the summer already. Hope everyone had a great weekend filled with BBQs and fireworks. A few songs always come to mind when I think about July 4th. The first is Paul Simon’s “American Tune” from his 1973 solo album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. It’s a great song from his early years (I love that mid-70’s stuff). This 1975 BBC performance is very intimate and really captures the essence of the song. The tone is cool and the lyrics are full of imagery that paints the picture of the true American spirit.

The second tune is an incredible performance from one of my favorite musicians David Bowie. It’s actually a cover of yet another patriotic Paul Simon song, “America”, from the post-911 concert for NYC. This live version really displays Bowie’s prowess as not just a musician but an artist. The arrangement is really cool. He plays a toy keyboard while sitting cross-legged at the front of the stage all by himself. Although you will hear some strings behind him at points, it’s all him… out there, front and center doing what he does. I love this one so much I often bring up this clip just to check it out, regardless of the time of year.

References:

More info on Paul Simon

More info on “American Tune”

More info on David Bowie

More info on “America”

More info on Concert for New York





Joni Mitchell | California

1 07 2010

I’ve been super busy settling in out here in CA. The last 2 weeks have been pretty crazy but yesterday we took the day to enjoy it a little bit. We took a hike with the dog up in Runyon Canyon and checked out some other areas of Hollywood. A friend took us to his old place up in the hills… a very cool area. He explained that at one point long ago Joni Mitchell used to live in one of the units in the same building. It got me thinking about this old tune, “California”. It’s from her 1971 album Blue, of which Mitchell has said the following:

“The Blue album, there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.”

It’s a fantastic album full of great songs and was recorded with the help of some really talented personnel, including Stephen Stills and James Taylor among others. Below is a great live version of “California” from a BBC session. In this performance it’s just Joni and her dulcimer. It’s really raw and intimate, which is perfect for this material. Although, the studio version with Taylor  (guitar), Sneaky Pete Kleinow (pedal steel) and Russ Kunkel (drums) is pretty cool too… check it out HERE.

References:

Joni Mitchell’s Official Site

More info on Joni Mitchell

More info on Blue

More info on the Dulcimer

More info on James Taylor

More info on Sneaky Pete Kleinow

More info on Russ Kunkel

Buy Blue on Amazon.com





Still Crazy After All These Years

1 04 2010

I recently found this video of Paul Simon doing one of his best songs “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”. This is a period for Simon that I think is his best. It’s off his  album Still Crazy After All These Years, recorded in NYC in 1975. I listen to this one on the turntable a lot. Typical of Simon, the whole album features an incredible line up of sidemen including renowned session drummer Steve Gadd, jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker, keyboardist Richard Tee and bassist Tony Levin to name a few. He took most of this band on the road to promote the album, which you can see in the live BBC performance below. *Brecker is replaced by David Sanborn.

If you listen to Steve Gadd’s drum part on this song, you will hear that it’s a bit unusual. It fits perfectly into the song, even creating the “hook” but it’s unorthodox to say the least. This short video shows Gadd breaking it down… drummers will love this.

There are two other songs on this album that I really like. The first is the slow title track and the second is “My Little Town”, which actually features Art Garfunkel on the album version. It reunited the two after a 5 year split. Unfortunately, differences must have gotten the best of them by the time of this performance as Garfunkel is not in attendance. Both theses videos are from the same BBC concert as “50 Ways”.

“Still Crazy After All These Years”

“My Little Town”

Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio have recorded instrumental versions of both “Still Crazy” & “50 Ways”. They are fantastic. For a while I listened to “Still Crazy” on repeat, I just couldn’t get enough”. Mehldau and his  trio have done a lot of cool unexpected covers (for the jazz world, anyway). They have done Radiohead, Oasis, Nirvana and more… they are all spectacular. The Paul Simon covers are here if you want to check them out: “Still Crazy” & “50 Ways

More info on Still Crazy After All These Years (album)

Buy it on Amazon.com





She & Him | Vol. II

26 03 2010

I just picked up the new She & Him album, Volume II, which came out earlier this week. For those that are not familiar, “She” is actress/musician extraordinaire Zooey Deschanel and “Him” is indie rock impresario M. Ward. She is not just an actress but also a gifted vocalist as seen in a few of her films. What most people don’t realize is that She also knows her way around the piano and banjo. M. Ward has made a name for himself with his own work but decided to partner with Deschanel after a chance meeting on set. She told him that She has been writing and recording demos for years but never thought much of doing anything with them. Soon after, She sent those recordings to Him and with a little tinkering they had Volume I. I have to be honest, I prefer M. Ward’s solo material to this… but only slightly. I think it’s because She & Him is a bit more alt country/indie folk than indie rock but it’s great nonetheless. I particularly like Vol. II. Below is the first single from the new album, “In The Sun”.

This is “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” from last year’s Volume I.

*She & Him doing “I Put A Spell On You” live at LA’s Disney Concert Hall… great version of this classic song but, the recording is abbreviated as the taper was interrupted by a pesky usher and forced to stop filming.

* Zooey doing the War tune “Why Can’t We Be Friends” from the movie, The Bridge To Teribithia.

Fun Bio from the She & Him site

Find more on the official She & Him website

Volume II on iTunes

Vol I & Vol II on Amazon.com

PS- See the comments section of this post for a more comprehensive review… I guess I wasn’t feeling it until prompted by a really well informed peer and good friend PBeat & J.  ~GG








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