Archive for the 'Instrumental / Experimental' 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
Jun
12

Live Bait Vol. 7 – Free Phish Download!

Yes, it’s a been a while since Phish has provided the masses with any continuations of the amazing Live Bait series of free concert samples, however, just when we here at HiFi Central were about to give up hope….viola!  Live Bait Vol.7 was released about two weeks ago (sorry for the very late notice), and is available for free download for those who sign up or have an existing LivePhish.com account. 

There is no sales ploy or gimmick, it’s on the up and up for being totally free; all you need to do is just sign up on their website and you are eligible for the download.  It is important that you if you do intend on downloading this that you don’t lolly-gag since the Live Bait releases are for a limited time and then taken down.

You can find the prior six volumes on their website, but at this time they are no longer free, sorry.  Regardless if they charge you or not, they are gems and worth grabbing if you can.  Check out the website and free download at www.livephish.com and enjoy!

11
Apr
12

Fergies Pub – A gem in the heart of Philly!

Ok, so before you think Hi-Fi has “jumped the shark” and become a blog about pubs and beer read on and give us a chance.  Last month I was in my hometown of Philadelphia, PA to catch the Flyers versus Canadians game; a that allowed them to clinch a playoff spot for this current season!  I make the pilgramage to “The City of Brotherly Love” every year for my birthday, and beforehand I always plan my weekend out hour by hour, so that I make the best of my time.  One of the key things in my life is food and beer (aside of hockey and music) so with a vast array of incredible places to eat in Philly, you really need to plan ahead.

After putting in a hard day of blogging at Hi-Fi Central, I decided to explore recommended pubs in Philly – always worthwhile and a deserving reward after trekking any major city is a good microbrew…or two.  During my search I came upon a blog that recommended a place called Fergie’s Pub; Fergie’s seemed to offer a fine array of ever revolving microbrews, and also the added treat of live music!  I planned to visit it pre-Flyers game, eat some dinner, and get a good buzz on prior to my trek to the Wells Fargo Center. 

Part of the appeal of visiting Fergies Pub is that it was also located on Sansom Street, a street that my ancestors once resided on in 1870, so to walk the very street seemed very sentimental, and again, a good excuse to perhaps have a (ahem) third beer in honor of their memory.

I had been staying at the Sofitel on 17th and Sansom, so the location seemed right, but prior to departing I decided to ask the concierge what they thought of Fergies.  Instantly their eyes lit up and the looked at each other with disbelief, apparently few of the clientele of a Sofitel ask for a good seedy Irish pub when in Philly.  All three suggested that I go and said that timing (3:00 on a Saturday) was perfect since at 4:00 “The Sessions” begin; “sessions” I asked, what is that?

I was informed that at 4:00 this group of regulars comes in, parks it at a table with their pints and plays a few hours of free form Irish music; but space becomes limited very quickly.  So, I rushed down and found Fergies Pub, entered and was instantly welcomed by the waitress asking us how many and before we sat down what we would like to drink.  The beer menu offered about 15 beers on tap, and the food was excellent.  After we got settled we drank a pint and sure enough the waitresses started moving the tables around to make room for a group of people, about 4 in all, to sit down and prepare to play.  The group consisted of a guitarist, two fiddles, and an accordian player, it didn’t take long for them to get started and the music was excellent.  Much of the music was impromptu jamming and at times they would just fade out and drink their beers and then start up again by sheer impulse, clearly they knew each other rather well and their timing was spot on.   At one point a mother walked in with her daugther (I think about 9) and the little girl got out her fiddle and jumped right in not missing a cue; it was excellent!

Philadelphia, if you’ve either never been there or have visited only a few times is truly a fun city.  Last year I blogged about visiting a church on 20th and Christian streets called St. Charles Boromeo where my great-grandparents were married in 1907, just to find out the church and the mass had converted into an amalgum of both Catholic and Gospel influences, just something completely unexpected. 

Check out Fergies Pub on a saturday afternoon if you are every visiting Philly, the beer, food, and service are excellent, but the music just adds a special twist.

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!

02
Dec
11

Free Phish Friday!

HiFi recently received an update on the companies iPhone that Phish will broadcast highlights of the legendary 1997 Hampston/Winston-Salem shows Thursday (yesterday), Friday, and Saturday at 2:00 via the LivePhish.com website radio.  There is no need to sign up; it simply requires a click of your mouse on the Listen link and viola!

I listen to the LivePhish.com radio station on a very regular basis and have found it easy to use and often updated with fresh live material.  This special stream they are offering at 2:00 should be a treat, check it out if you can!

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.

29
Nov
11

Opeth – Swedish metal fun!

Recently during the wee hours of the morning when I was having trouble sleeping I decided to check out my list on Tivo of shows that I randomly decided to record and check out later; one was another installment of the 2011 Sonisphere concert.  I had seen the past installments with Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth but not some of the lesser known acts.  For example, this particular artists featured this included Sum 41, Cavalera Conspiracy, Diamond Head, In Flames, and Opeth.  To be fair, these are not household names around the halls of HiFi Central, but perhaps they are in your abode.  Clearly they are “popular” to someone otherwise they would have never made the bill for Sonisphere in the first place. 

Out of the fore-mentioned bands I found myself listening to the Sum 41 set, which was more nostalgic than eye opening, the guys are good and still popular perhaps, say in Indonesia these days. Sadly, Sum 41 is not involved in the main music scene in the US these days; an underground fanbase I would assume keeps them alive here.  Sum 41 has not put out any radio worthy music in years; and in some ways reminded me of a goofy Green Day wanna be band on Sonisphere.  I’m sure the shoppers at Zumiez or Hot Topic may think they still are incredible, but here at HiFi Central we use their poster as a dart board and cd’s as drink coasters.

Cavelera Conspiracy had my attention for about 25 seconds and then I quickly found them utterly boring, especially when the lead singer Max Cavelera opened his mouth.  It wasn’t until I realized why I knew the name Cavelera and then zingo – Sepultura!  I always liked Sepultura’s instrumentals but never liked the vocals, hmmm, guess what?  Still don’t! After listening to the reincarnation with Cavelera Conspiracy, it was like trying liver again at 40 – I still think it sucks, sorry.

Diamond Head was merely a special reunion for a 1970’s metal band that some of todays bands merit (Megadeth and Metallica) with being highly influential.  Ok I guess, personally for me it was a bunch of old geezers having a good time and if they played my town I would disregard them as a decent garage band, the music was nothing worth really noting and I pressed fast forward (thank the Lord for TIVO!!!) 

After watching this chapter of Sonisphere 2010 the only bands that stood out for me were Swedish metal bands In Flames and Opeth.  I was familiar with In Flames since they recently had a show locally and I am kicking myself for missing the show; they are REALLY good!   Opeth was a complete mystery to me and I was amazed how good they were.

In Flames and Opeth are equally talented bands and exemplify some of the best Death / Progressive metal coming out of Sweden.  I found myself entranced with both bands sound and vocals;  these bands are accomplished masters of the metal sound and have discovered the ability to make quality music.  In Flames, although very good, is somewhat one-dimensional when compared to talents of Opeth. Opeth is clearly more of  a mix of conceptual progressive rock, death metal, and classic rock.  To make it a bit more precise, it would be fair to say that Opeth is a culmination of Dream Theater, early Rush, and Lamb of God mixed all together to create a tasty goop of hard driving riffs, strong choral arrangments, constant time changes, acoustic breaks, and the occasional growling vocals added at the right times. 

What I think appeals to me most about this band is the variety of music they have created over the past decade, albums range from mellow acoustic arrangments echoing with haunting vocals exemplified by the concept albums My Arms, Your Hearse (1998) and Still Life (1999).  Both albums remind me of an early Rush concept album like Hemispheres, not in the vocals but the story line.  In Still Life a character returns to his town after years of banishment due to his faith, a faith that contrasted with the majority and he comes back years later to find his true love. As the album moves forward it introduces those who originally banished him and the bad things that follow. 

Concept albums can be fun; especially when artists use the songs exemplify the chapters and progression of the character and development of a story as a whole; I think Opeth does a good job in these two albums.  As a sidenote, and clearly coincidental, the album My Arms,  Your Hearse offers three instrumental songs, one is named “Madrigal” (as found on Rush’s Farewell to Kings (1977)) luckily it’s not a cover.  Regardless, I still found this humorous; and “Rush-like” quality can be found on the first song off of Still Life called “The Moor”; very Cygnus-X1-like with a journey of soft haunting guitars setting the tone for a deep story full of twists and turns.

Opeth has been smart not to rely on the same recipe for their albums; they keep to a constant style, yet manipulate the arrangments very smartly.  This constant shift from acoustic to metal can be reflected in more recent albums where a much more hard driving non-stop Death metal style of growling vocals and blistering guitars is introduced sparingly.  I liken their albums to a “metal roller coaster ride”, albums may start off with a soft haunting vocal and guitar backdrop and then transition into fast paced dark anger and fury, then back to mellow.  Much of this style can be highlighted on an album such as Blackwater Park (2001); at the same time you can find a mix of both acoustic melodies and metal offered Watershed (2008).  So far I have found that Opeth put out very solid albums that keep the listener enthralled and not yearning to advance to the next song.  It’s actually more anticipation to see what’s next and I like that.

As much as I want to continue writing an indepth analysis about the the body of Opeth’s work, there is simply too many albums and not enough time for me to fairly be overly critical  (positive or negative); however, I can say with great conviction that from what I have heard so far, I am very impressed!

 This band is clearly on to something and I can’t wait to see if they ever have a show in HiFi Central’s hometown of Albany, NY.  If you are interested in learning more about Opeth see if you can snag their Still Life album as a starter; Still Life is one of my current favorites.   If you have seen Opeth or like their music please drop us a comment, we’d love to hear what you think.  If you have not heard them before and decided to check them out via this blog, please let us know if we made a good suggestion or whether we suck at making suggestions.