Archive for the 'country' Category

12
Dec
14

Bob Dylan and The Band – Basement Tapes Complete

Dylan_BasementThe 7 Modern Wonders of the World are as follows: Itaipu Dam, The Golden Gate Bridge, The Empire State Building, CN Tower, Panama Canal, Channel “Chunnel” Tunnel, and the Netherlands North Sea Protection Works, however, I feel there is now an 8th, the release of Bob Dylan and The Band’s Complete Basement Tapes, finally in their entirety!

I have been a die hard Dylan fan for years, and the legends and myths surrounding the legendary basement sessions is well known  among Dylan fans worldwide.  Although Dylan and The Band (his backing band during his initial going “electric” and the primary musicians on the Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde albums were known as “The Hawks”) released a snippet of these recordings in 1975 as an actual album, the 24-songs released were a mere “crumb” of the actual 130+ songs  recorded between 1967 and 1968, now available in the 6-cd set just released this past November.

I’ve only delved into 3 of the 6-disc set and so far it’s been very impressive; you hear a mature Dylan jamming with a group of musicians, often free form, making up lyrics on the fly, and sometimes just re-working some of his own songs, and those of others, such as Johnny Cash (Big River and Folsom Prison Blues) in a relaxed atmosphere of artistic freedom and exploration.  Absent are the artistic pressures of multiple takes in order to “get it right”, instead the mood is melancholy and silly at times, as heard in “See You Later Allen Ginsberg”. The majority of the recordings were made in the basement of Big Pink, a house in West Saugerties, NY that was rented by members of the band, thus the recordings allow the listener a raw and unadulterated room full of musicians doing what they love.  The music allows you, even briefly, into the world of Dylan’s writing and creative spirit, and also the talents of his peers who roll with the every changing tempo and mood that Dylan wanted at a moments notice.

Although it may sound outlandish to say, I really love every track on what I have heard thus far; it would not be an exaggeration to say so.  The Basement Tapes are a fun collection of music that allows the listener just another glimpse into the mystery of Dylan as an artist.  There has always been a shroud of mystery with Dylan; it is well known that he is a recluse, often avoiding the limelight and media a majority of his career; although it is gems like this whereas one feels that Bob is toying with his fans; giving them just one more taste of what they crave, more mystery, more unheard of tracks lying around in a moldy box awaiting to be discovered 40 years later.   And that is what the Bootleg Series has been about, about: Dylan not allowing the fan to truly know who he is, not willing to open up entirely, but yet giving hints here and there and keeping the fans enthralled.  Dylan is not quoted in any of the liner notes, and from what I believe, has not provided any interviews regarding the release of the official bootleg series; so on one hand he is exposing the essence of his inspiration and creative genius, and on the other hand hiding behind the curtain that he always has.  The release of The Basement Tapes Complete is the 11th volume of the Bootleg Series that Columbia Records has made available thus far; so who knows how much more is out there?

I recall many years ago while visiting a long forgotten record shop in Saratoga Springs, NY, right down from Café Lena (a folk mecca where a young Dylan spent a great deal of time), I came across “Great White Wonder”, a well known and well sought out bootleg album that circulated for years; this album contained a few of the songs found on the Basement Tapes, an other rarities, many bootlegs have surfaced since then as well.  Each bootleg, of which there are many, contained odds and ends of other songs from the Saugerties basement sessions, so the myth for so long has been that there clearly were more, but where, and who had them?  Often waived off by members of The Band and perhaps Dylan himself, that additional tracks existed, clearly they did.  It is my understanding that last year someone was able to obtain the collection of the remaining basement tapes (100+ songs) and put out a bootleg for the masses; upon learning about this Columbia Records (in partnership with both Dylan and remaining members of The Band) decided it was true and that the majority of unreleased tracks had been made available decided to make an official release (with even more tracks!) available finally.  My question  is why had they waited so long, and perhaps worse, allow time for someone to release the additional tracks?  These guys had 40+ years to get this stuff out there!

The fun things about this box set is that all is revealed “warts and all” of what actually happened in that basement in West Saugerties; with most bootleg recordings one would normally expect grainy poor quality but these recordings have a haunting quality of clarity. If you are a Dylan fan this is a must listen without question. If not, and are then curious about Dylan, although an exhaustive collection for the first-time Dylan listener, this is a great introduction to the dynamic range of style Dylan was capable of, and introduces one to the persona of Dylan himself.

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13
Dec
11

Mike Gordon show review: 12/11/11, Albany NY

Mike tunes up at the Egg

Isn’t it great when things turn out even more awesome than you ever expected? This is exactly what happened at the Egg in Albany on Sunday night, as Mike Gordon (best known as being the bass player for Phish) and his band blew the doors off the place with three hours of incredibly diverse music, long, intense jamming, and just plain fun. The theater was about 75% full of Phish heads (it might have been more had the show been on a Friday or Saturday), and the small venue provided an intimate setting for the final show of the band’s brief fall tour.

Gordon and guitarist Scott Murawski, Brooklyn drummer Todd Isler, keyboard player Tom Cleary, and percussionist Craig Myers started things off with Horizon Line, which turned into a long jam segment that featured a lot of tempo changes, dueling solos between Murawski and Cleary, and most unexpectedly, moments of dark, progressive sounds that blew me away. From what I’ve heard of Gordon’s solo work, it’s fairly mellow with a slant toward country/bluegrass, jazz and rock. This show explored vast soundscapes of varying textures and themes – it was far more than I ever expected. The Phish song Only a Dream followed, and the band once again jammed out the middle section, taking the song to new heights and arrangements that made the studio version of the song seem even more insignificant. I’m Deranged, The Way it Goes, Just a Rose, Voices, and River Niger kept the first set rolling, with most of the songs continuing the jamming and overall magic; some of the jams did lose momentum and probably went on a little longer than necessary, but that was far from the norm. The band then did a great version of Marvin Gaye’s Baby Don’t You Do It, keeping the soul of the original in tact but giving it a more intense, country rock feel, with Cleary passionately hammering out the vocals. Then they segued back into Horizon Line to bookend the set, which clocked in at about 90 minutes.

Scott Murawski and Tom Isler

After a brief intermission, the crowd roared back to life with the opening notes of Funky Bitch, a Son Seals song that Phish has played hundreds of times. Gordon’s band’s version was fairly close to Phish’s version, but different just enough that it didn’t feel like we were watching a Phish cover band. The Phishiness continued with Gordon’s tune Sugar Shack (from Phish’s Joy album), with Murawski easily handling the guitar melodies and jamming it out a bit. Then they played a cover that I never could have predicted (although if I knew Mike Gordon’s solo history better I might not have been as surprised) – Hand in My Pocket by Alanis Morissette. I’ve never been a big fan of Alanis, but I’ve never really disliked her either, and Hand in My Pocket is actually one of her songs that I do enjoy. The band rocked the hell out of it, with Murawski belting out the vocals with great passion and intensity. Dig Further Down, Crumblin’ Bones, Skin It Back, and Hap Nappy continued the terrific set, with all band members firing on all cylinders as the jams kept going. Gordon announced that the final song was dedicated to a longtime friend in the audience, a song they played together in high school – the Who’s Don’t Get Fooled Again. It was a good version, a fun way to end the set.

The Dude of Life!!!

For die-hard Phish fans, the encore was by far the highlight of the night. An additional microphone was brought to the stage, leading everyone to assume a guest vocalist would be joining the band. It turned out to be none other than Steve Pollack, a.k.a the Dude of Life. Pollack has been collaborating with Phish from the very beginning, and on Sunday he graced us with his presence for a song he wrote with Phish, Suzy Greenberg – the crowd was bouncing off the ceiling.

The whole show was a wonderful surprise for me. I expected a more laid back, moody and offbeat show, much like Gordon’s solo albums. But the jams went to crazy places I never imagined, and Murawski, who many know from the band Max Creek, is in fact a guitar god. He would go from dark riffs to lightning-fast solos with the utmost precision and clarity; his grooves were so impressive and crucial to the overall sound of the band. He was a genuine joy to hear – I’ll have to check out Max Creek now. I’m looking forward to seeing Phish in the near future, but when Gordon brings his act to town again, you can bet I’ll be there too.

Mike Gordon at the Egg gets 4.5 out of 5 stars!

01
Dec
11

Last.fm

In the digital age we live in music has excelled, not beyond anything we thought it might become, but in how it’s delivered to us. The past 20 years saw the decline of the cassette tape, compact disc, and physical formatting is now all but dead.

So as physical media phases out we turn to more convenient ways of obtaining music (not always done legally now is it?) from services such as Morpheus, Kazaa, Limewire, and most famously: Napster.

So we learned that the RIAA severely dislikes not making money on album sales… so we downloaded even more, torrenting sites becoming more and more popular, The Pirate Bay, for example.

Now I don’t know about you, but in my education I’ve found out that artists usually sign a contract and make most of their money up front. A label will give you, say, $2 million, to buy equipment, record, produce, create music videos, and finish an album. How much of that gets spent on production is usually at the band and manager’s discretion. They are then, most of the time, offered some ridiculously low royalty percentage that means even less after you divide it up between band members and management.

So artists generally don’t make that much off of album sales, but usually off of touring. Ever notice that’s why Bruce Springsteen doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about putting out new albums but will sell out stadiums on a yearly basis? Or that U2’s music has been in steep decline since the late 80s but still manage to have gigantic concerts where they rake in obscene amounts of fans a.k.a. money? (And they don’t even pay taxes to the Irish government!)

Before my tenure at Hi-Fi started I was dealt several cease and desist letters for uploading music just to my former blog’s domain just for personal use. Talk about touchy by the record companies!

So where’m I going with all of this? Well, today’s digital music playground is found through music streaming services such as Spotify, Grooveshark, iTunes, SHOUTcast, Pandora and the least famous… Napster.

I’ve tried using all of those, and iTunes, while on my home computer is fine, because I have my library there too, is not viable on the road. With the rest of these you can build and tag artists/genres you like, but c’mon, that’s a huge hassle for us to list all the bands we like and may have an itch to hear.

Last.fm takes care of that. They have a nifty piece of scrobbling software that will record what songs/artists you play the most, it even makes charts! But by far the best thing is, is that you can take your library with you wherever you go. For free. They offer your library streamed to you, they also offer your library with suggestions for similar artists. Which keeps the likes of Maroon 5 the hell out of my easy listening playlist and doesn’t turn me into a fit of rage.

So, if you’re going places, constantly on the move and let’s say maybe you’re trying to preserve some hard drive space, Last.fm is the way to go, take your own music with you and still gives you a taste of similar artists or you can just play a channel as you would on those other streaming sites.

It gives you everything… and what’s yours.

03
Aug
10

The Essential Bill Monroe 2-Disc Set (1945-1949)

Recently on a canoe / camping trip to The Adirondacks in Upstate New York my father asked me for some music that would inspire him during the drive though the Eastern High Peaks Region.  Instantly I thought of Bill Monroe, if you are not familiar with this bluegrass icon you should be, this is vintage bluegrass at its best.

I picked up this box set a few years ago on a lark since I wanted to add some dimension and variety to my music collection.  I had been familiar on a superficial level with Bill Munroe and Earl Scruggs (a protege of Monroe) and liked what  I had heard, normally the only time I listened was on my local college radio station (WRPI). 

I had picked up the two-disc set of Allison Krauss and Union Station Live and was really intrigued by bluegrass and modern country. If you are not famliar with Krauss’ live album it is one of the best live albums I’ve heard, incredible.  I’ve never been one to feel compelled to pick up a Tanya Tucker, Merle Haggard, or Willie Nelson album; that type of Country/Western music never really has appealed to me.  However, vintage Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. always has, so I figured that why not Bill Monroe .  Luckily my bet paid off and this 2-disc set is worth every penny as an introduction to the roots of bluegrass.

Although Monroe had many hits over his 40+ year career, one of the highlights of his music was his hit “Blue Moon of Kentucky“; this song is featured on this collection; one can plainly see why this song was so appealing, but there are 39 other songs as equally as impressive.  The biggest gripe however about this box set is that a majority of the songs are not the actual studio hits, many are alternate versions or unreleased studio tracks of hits.  There is a companion cd that Columbia released “Bill Monroe: 16 Gems”, this is more of a “best of” album than anything else, good yes, but for a purist I feel that the box set is far more a better investment.

The overall sound quality is good but not incredible, most of the tracks were recorded in the early to mid-1940’s so you can understand why it may sound “boxy” at times.  You can get a used box set for about $12.00 on Amazon.  Do yourself a favor if you are a bluegrass fan, or looking for an inspirational album to set the mood as you head on your epic camping trip.

The Essential Bill Monroe (1945-1949) 2-disc set gets 4.0 out of 5.

23
Jun
10

Print Mafia – Ltd. Edition KISS Prints

Back in April I posted an article entitled The Art of The Music Business that looked at the cool side of underground and mainstream artists who create limited edition art for the music industry.

Print Mafia is made up of two artists out of Bowling Green, Kentucky who have been creating some very cool and affordable prints since 1997.  Obsessed with vintage images and retro Americana, Print Mafia often comes up with some very cool designs that appeal to broad spectrum of collectors.  Whether its vintage robots, Evel Knievel, KISS, Johnny Cash, Burt Reynolds, even KFC’s Colonel Sanders, they are incorporate the genre into their art prints. Their designs are nothing short of clever and creative. They normally produce limited runs of their prints (usually under 100) and offer them in a price range that is incredibly affordable, thus enabling a newbie or seasoned collector to obtain great art.

Print Mafia just released prints of all four members of the legendary music group KISS and they are very cool.  This run is limited to only 60 prints and right now they are offering all four prints (I would assume with matching numbers) at $90, a steal!  These are silkscreen prints(serigraphs) and are of very good quality, not cheezy flimsy poster prints.

With the newly announced KISS tour for the summer it is the perfect time for the KISS collector or KISS fan to grab some very cool wall art.

If you would like to learn more about the prints that Print Mafia offers, click here.

12
May
10

Tommy Emmanuel – A Living Legend (and touring!)

I was talking to a friend the other day about great guitarists and great guitar songs; the name Tommy Emmanuel came up (along with Al DiMeola, Wes Montgomery, Strunz and Farah, Aucousticl Alchemy, George Benson, and many others) and his classic rendition of “Classical Gas”; many of our younger readers have never heard of this classic song, nor Emmanuel for that fact.  I remember that my father had an album featuring Classical Gas and it was the one song I played over and over again, it’s just a remarkable composition.

I had long forgotten about the Tommy Emmanuel and decided to Google him after watching the video below; they guy is alive and well…and currently touring!  As usual he is playing everywhere but HiFi’s home turf (Albany, NY), but you never know who will roll through this town at the last minute; we’ll keep our fingers crossed.  His tour is quite extensive and he is hitting many top cities across the country and the World, so if you’re lucky to have him swinging through…get your tickets and PLEASE tell us about it.

Click here to see Tommy Emmanuels 2010 tour schedule.

24
Nov
09

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (2007)

Per Amazon’s website the pairing of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss was like  putting together “the duo of King Kong and Bambi”; and they are right. Plant and Krauss are the last two I would have thought would collaborate.  To my surprise and delight, after listening to this album I would agree that they are the perfect pairing. 

As one would realize, gone are the days of the wild Robert Plant who’s antics included trashing rooms and riding motorcycles down the hallways of the Chateau Marmont Hotel.  This album seems to take its rightful place and home to todays more mellow Plant.  After Zeppelin it can be seen how Plant decided pursue more mellow outlets than he originally had been identified with, this can be seen with his 80’s project The Honey Drippers.   It has been known that Plant has an insatiable appetite for world music and a drive to explore different avenues and styles for his future albums.  If this album was to be Plants last (which it is not I’m sure) it would be the perfect ending to a musical life well lived.  However, I do not think we have heard the last from him.

Alison Krauss is a household name in the bluegrass world, she is one of the most sought after musicians in Nashville and often is featured as a guest on many bluegrass and contemporary country albums.  Although I’m not the biggest fan of country, I do appreciate bluegrass (Ricky Skaggs, Bill Monroe among my favorites), I must admit that I am a big fan of Alison Krauss and her band Union Station.  I highly recommend her live 2-disc album if you get a chance to grab it, simply incredible.  I’ve converted several of my friends that were “anti-country/ anti-bluegrass” with that album.

Raising Sand is for playing on rainy days, background music when you are having people over for dinner, long car rides out to Buffalo, or cutting your cats nails.  It’s not for getting in the car and cranking it up really loud to relive your Zeppelin glory days.  Raising Sand is a sincere, well produced, and personal album that reflects the gifts of two excellent vocalists, two who compliment each other on every song.

The majority of songs on this album are soft and smoky, cleary a reflection of what producer T Bone Burnett can create with right combination of artists.  Burnett has produced albums for bands such as Counting Crows, K.D. Lang, and The Wallflowers.

Highlights of this album are cleary the opening song Rich Woman (nice use of harmonies and reverb together),songs Killing The Blues & Please Read The Letter;  both created the most noteriety for  much of this album.  Lastly,  Fortune Teller is a fun romp (possibly the most upbeat song on the album) full of reverb, raw acoustic bass, and Plant’s strong, emotional vocals.  Let Your Loss be your Lesson is one my favorites

Raising Sand gets 4 out of 5 in my humble mellow music opinion.