Archive for the 'Easy Listening' 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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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.

02
Nov
11

Coldplay “Mylo Whatever-o”

From Billboard:
“Slowly but surely Coldplay have become the masters of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

I’m here to tell you how much I disagree with the so called “genius” of Coldplay. Being a master of slinging crap at a wall and picking the 12 best turds does not make you a genius. It makes you lazy and complacent.

Oh but wait! You mean to tell me they’re jazzier? Incorporating more R&B and electronic into their sound?
Good. Another band that sold out to the fad of the times. Then again, I’ll at least give them credit for not making the same goddam album a fourth time in a row.

I swear, if you go into your iTunes/WinAmp/whatever and delete all the Coldplay album names, hit shuffle, you’d never be able to tell what song is off of what album. It’s downright pathetic that they haven’t changed a thing about their sound in so long ever… but the fact that they took this route is almost as disappointing as Skrillex leaving From First to Last to do his own crappy version of dubstep. Ugh, dubstep.

My point is, maybe in another decade I’ll look back on this album differently, but for right now, it just sickens me. This constant bandwagon jumping that record execs know will sell. So why not have Rihanna hop on board to sell more albums?!

Because this sound, this album, that’s not who this band is. They’re a remedial ripoff of the likes of U2, Radiohead, and Wilco. They’re a product of a record company exec thinking it was a good idea to recapitalize on the same sound, again.

This album is no different. It’s a capitalization of the current trendy sound. It’s like with Mylo they sat in studio and said “let’s make our version of OK. Computer while repackaging a couple of B-sides from our last album.” GENIUSES! “But let’s add in a bit of an electronic sound to appease the youth.” PRODIGIES! Piss off you yuppies.

I’m sorry, I’ve never dropped enough acid in my life to “groove” “get wrapped up in” or “sway” to a Coldplay song. No, I’m not sorry. Nor should anything Coldplay written be referred to as “dope beats” “massive anthem” or “rally rebellious youth.” You want to rally youth? Listen to the Sex Pistols, The Clash, get angry at the world you sissies! Or better yet, give your album away for free, like Radiohead did. You want to create a massive anthem? Grow some balls with some sort of call to action/sign of the times type song. Are the uprisings in the Middle East not inspiration enough? The current financial and economic ripoffs? The 1%? You want people to rally around your song, make a song against the establishment, or give your album away for free, like Radiohead did. You want dope beats? Listen to something else.

It’s lame. It’s tired, I don’t understand all the praise Coldplay continues to get, they’re not particularly enticing or exhilarating to listen to. No particular musician or real part of a song sticks out as memorable. Which explains why they re-re-repeat re-re-repeat words in “Paradise” so much. I guess this works to their advantage, so they can pump out the same exact crap every 2 years and you’ll still be enticed enough to buy it and think it’s a stroke of genius. It’s not.

They’re the soft rock, UK equivalent of Nickelback. No exceptional talent, crap lyrics, the constant need to bring in entire choruses to make songs sound full and complete. Soft rock for soft people. Soft rock hides the fact that every song you hear on that same lame ass radio station, that usually goes with the title “KISS” (what an insult to the band) or “EZ Listening” or “Lite,” are the same exact songs with a different singer’s voice layered over the top of that shit sandwich.

Do me a favor? Before you take a bite of it? Throw it at the wall and see what sticks. I bet it’s Coldplay.

2/5 — no wait, Rihanna effect: 1.5/5

28
Oct
11

Matthew Good “Lights of Endangered Species”

Matthew Good is a singer/songwriter from Vancouver, British Columbia (that’s Canada for the geographically challenged) and has been putting records out since the mid-90s. Originally going under the title of MGB, Matthew Good Band, the band broke up after the release of the album “Audio of Being.”

Since then Matt has gone solo, both acoustic and with a new lineup of band-mates. He cites the main reason for the breakup is that they were headed towards “rock purgatory.” We all know what this is, a band becomes so successful with one sound that they (or their label) won’t let them take a step in any other direction for fear that it may not bring in the same type of revenue they’ve grown accustomed to.

Well Matt smashed that notion to pieces in 2003 with the release of Avalanche an album that has been on rotation almost on daily basis for me. The diversity in sounds from track to track was noticeable, a trend that hasn’t stopped since he’s gone solo.

Matthew Good has explored the avenues of acoustic, country, folk, rock, jazz, and often uses classical orchestral compositions in songs: Enter Lights of Endangered Species which was released on May 31st, 2011.

It debuted at #5 on the Canadian chart and the centerpiece of this album are the songs “Zero Orchestra” and “Non Populus” as they bring the past decade of his work into a synergy of sounds.

The best quality of Matthew Good is his live performances. Though he brings politics into the show and talks about current events between songs, he has this brashness of common sense that makes you wonder how nobody has been able to figure out ways to solve these problems before.

I digress, back to the album…

While I know not many of you reading this know who Matthew Good (+/- Band) is, you probably aren’t familiar with his catalog of music. As a fan who does, it’s pretty cool to see him rocking at the age of 40 as if he were still 25.

Between “Non Populus,” “Zero Orchestra,” and “Extraordinary Fades” I can forgive the fact that it’s only a 9 track album. I can forgive that he’s made songs that sound exactly like “Shallows Low” or “In the Place of Lesser Men” on prior albums. I can forgive those because they’re still good solid stand alone songs to someone that’s never heard them before.

And man do these two songs simply blow me away. The fun and the big band swing sorta feel from “Zero Orchestra” and then straight into “Non Populus” which is some serious post-apocalyptic triumph movie score material. The time, effort and willingness to take a chance on something less commercial is especially commendable. Making the best song on the album around 8 minutes long will put some record companies into a real bind to get it on the radio. But I give Good and producer Warne Livesey immense credit for going out and bringing in other artists to do the brass and string sections of the album.

Anyone who’s ever worked in a collaborative effort knows what an absolute clusterf*ck of ideas and egos can spell disaster for an entire effort (Metallica & Lou Reed anyone?) this was almost the case here as well. Luckily strings were pulled (pun intended) and Lights is a huge success in my mind due to the fact that an artist is willing to take on new challenges and produce great new material in directions you and I haven’t seen before.

4/5

04
Nov
10

Iron and Wine 2010-11 Tour Dates

 Iron and Wine’s website currently updated its tour page for the remainder of 2010 and beginning of 2011.  Clearly Sam Beam and the band are far more comfortable playing in warmer weather than venturing up Northern East Coast, specifically HiFi’s Centrals home city of Albany (c’mon Iron and Wine, play at The Egg!!!!)

The mid-West and South will have the pleasure of seeing Iron and Wine so get your tickets as quick as you can, often these shows sell out quickly.  I did notice that there is a gap between the end of November for US dates and then February when he begins a European tour; so perhaps there is a chance the band will buy a hat, scarf, and some mittens in the meantime and grace us with their presence.

I’ve never seen Iron and Wine since they rarely tour New England area; at least I don’t know if the band has ever played the Albany area.  Looking at past tour dates since 2008 they have jumped over Albany and played in Buffalo or NYC; clearly the capital city is not worthy enough I guess.

It appears to happen quite frequently that good acts often jump over Albany and I’m not quite sure why that is; clearly not a lack of music lovers or venues.

Thought you might want to know the band is on tour this month and playing “select” cities, let’s hope one is yours!

To see the tour listing for 2010-2011 click here!

20
Oct
10

The Passing of Musical Mr. C

Here at HiFi Central we are in a state of mourning as are most 30, 40, and 50 somethings that heard the news today of the passing of Tom Bosley. 

The television show Happy Day’s was on every day after school when I was a kid at 4 pm; I never missed an episode.  There was something about that show that was so sappy, goofy, and the acting really sub-rate, however, it was an addictive masterpiece of 70’s programming.  Happy Days was the first time that I learned about Bill Haley and His Comets 1954 classic “Rock Around The Clock”, it was re-recorded in 1973 as a cover song for the shows opening. 

Looking back I appreciate the quick wit and clever timing one-liners of Mr. Cunningham played by Tom Bosley.  Although most people consider Arthur Fonzarelli the fixture of the show, underneath it all was the wisdom of Mr. Cunningham who dealt with the choatic household of a bird brained wife named Marion, a chronically crisis stricken daughter named Joni, and a clean cut naive American as apple pie son named Richie.  It was a classic show and one that will always cause me to stop my channel surfing and settle into watch a story line that was always predictable yet entertaining for some reason.

Most people do not realize that Bosley was in a 1959 Broadway musical called Fiorello based on the life of New York City mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia; Bosley played the main character and actually won a Tony Award for “Best Featured Actor in a Musical” in 1960.  You can buy the 1959 Original Broadway Cast on cd at Amazon.  I thought this little tid bit of information about Bosley was cool and up until today most likely a little known fact to many.

Mr. C I’m sure that there is a place for you in heaven and you will be greatly missed.

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.