In my last post about Paul Simon I did not mention his early music career with best friend Art Garfunkel. Simon met Garfunkel in elementary school, and when this video was filmed in 1968, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were still quite close friends as well as artistic and business partners. Before the success of songs such as “Mrs. Robinson” (above) and their fame as Simon & Garfunkel, the duo was known as Tom & Jerry and had one charting single called “Hey, Schoolgirl”.
As with many friendships that last this long, their relationship finally became tumultuous. But, even though they had many creative differences, Simon & Garfunkel became one of the most successful groups of the 1960s. With many hits, including “Mrs. Robinson”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “The Sound of Silence”, Simon & Garfunkel have received several Grammy Awards and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. After recording their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM in 1964, they separated on good terms. The album was initially a flop, until the song “Sound of Silence” began to be requested on the radio in the USA.
It hit #1 on the pop charts in the early new year of 1966 and Simon & Garfunkel proceeded to record four more albums between 1964 and 1970. But, after much tension in the recording of what was to be their final album, Bridge over Troubled Water (1970) they split up, never to record together again. Simon went on to pursue a very successful solo career (see previous post) and Garfunkel had some success as both an actor and a musician. Between 1972 and 2010 the duo reunited nine times, including a show in 1981 at Central Park which attracted 500,000 people, and a show at The Colosseum in Rome, in which 600,000 people attended.
Even with a rocky relationship, Simon & Garfunkel’s music has become timeless. Not often have two artist’s voices sounded this angelic together. Simon also has a gift for poetry, and this combo packs a deadly punch (that is soft and melodic…).
A less well known track, “For Emily, Whenever I may find her” shows Simon’s gift for poetry, and showcases Garfunkel’s soft and beautiful voice.
And what is maybe my favorite example of their gorgeous harmonies – “Old Friends/Bookends”.
Check out the new album on Rdio –
Paul, that was silly. Chevy Chase? Really?
But, “You Can Call Me Al” was the most popular song off Graceland reaching #23 in the USA and #4 in the UK. AND it got him some MTV play (anything for MTV!). Check out 3:43 for THE bass solo. BASSically it is the best ever…
For me, Paul Simon’s Graceland is the summer. It is bonfires and beating sun. It is crepes cooked on cast iron shovels lathered with garlic butter, cinnamon sugar, and honey. It is children, smiles and laughs. It is dancing and singing and heat. Graceland, has been the music of my summers for as long as I have been listening. And as I got older, and learned more and more about Paul Simon, the more the album meant to me. Simon has five number one albums and eleven top ten hits. He has received twelve Grammy’s. Not too shabby for a man who has skirted the limelight and kept a cool head. His success was, and still is, rooted in his lyrics and the eclecticism of his music. Throughout the fifty years of his career (he is 72 this year) his reviews praise the social consciousness, the poetry, and the honesty in his lyrics. Critics also admire his range from mellow folk like his early “Peace Like a River” (1972) or, from the same album, the Jamaican inspired “Mother and Child Reunion” which was said to be the first success at reggae by a white man.
“Graceland” (1986) – Warner Bros.
Accordion. Pounding drums. The lyrics, “It was a slow day, and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road”. This how Graceland kicks off. And by God does it kick! The high energy, danceable, African rhythms of the album abound, as well as its lyrical brilliance. Graceland’s lyrics are funny as well as conscious of the times. Simon writes lightly about life in Africa, as well as about personal struggles of romance and family. Graceland is an album about friends, family and life’s journey.
She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow
Needing some inspiration in the mid 1980’s, Simon decided to go to Africa. Good call Paul! Graceland was the result of the journey. Mostly recorded in South Africa, Graceland features many native groups and musicians. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose fame became worldwide after Graceland’s release, does much of the backing vocal work and takes a lead on “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless”. The album also features many non-African musicians including The Everly Brothers, who sing harmony on the title track, Linda Ronstadt on “Under African Skies”, and Los Lobos on “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints”. The talent on Graceland is so obvious it is almost tangible. The heart and soul of the music seeps out of the speakers, through my ears and embeds itself in my brain. The rhythms, synths, guitars, drums, accordions and voices meld together and create a timeless album. Grooveshark provides the playlist below:
Favorite Song:“I Know What I Know”
Favorite Segment:0:40-0:57 “I Know What I Know”
Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth, plays alone. On stage, and in the recording studio, his guitar and his voice is all he needs to captivate his audience. And oh my does he ever succeed. Twice I have had the pleasure to experience him live, both in Vancouver, Canada. Both have been emotionally overwhelming and breathtaking. Usually performing in a sleeveless tee shirt, and seemingly having the time of his life, it is almost unbelievable how much the audience loves him and bends to his every word and whim. Having a folk sound calling upon rolling fields and open air, we can’t seem to place him. I think of early Neil Young and how he seemed to embody the prairies of Canada. Matsson embodies something similar. Maybe the back country of Sweden, and maybe just the thoughts of love and adventure in the backs of all our minds. Compared often to Bob Dylan, Matasson would not be disappointed at this, as artists such as Dylan and Nick Drake are his inspiration. But, Matsson is not even slightly reserved on stage like Dylan. And to top it all off, he comes off as honest and genuine. This is his secret. The audience believes him, and can’t help but feel nostalgia for a time that does not exist.
The Tallest Man On Earth’s second full length album, is a dream for lovers of acoustic singer/songwriters. I would mention stand alone heroes, but I would end up listing most of the tracks. All but two songs are catchy. And, whether it be the guitar licks or the inflections in Matsson’s voice, you more than likely will find yourself humming one of the tracks on your way to work. The album is brimming with poetic wilderness imagery and complex metaphors of love and adventure. Through this, Matsson shows his skill as both a poet and a song writer. He switches often between electric and acoustic guitar, and we hear complex picking structures such as in “Troubles Will Be Gone” and “The Drying of the Lawns”, and quick strumming patterns like in “The Wild Hunt” and “King of Spain”. The golden song on this album is “Love is All” with its hypnotic four note theme played on the guitar and also sung.
The final track on the album “Kids on the Run”, is by no means a hit, but it shows Matsson’s skill on a piano and is a pleasant closing song. Some may find Matsson’s voice trying at times as it is both gruff and high pitched (sometimes at the same time). But if you can overlook this, you will see Matsson’s uncanny ability to evoke both joy and melancholy in his tunes. And he somehow avoids prevailing sadness. No regrets, the album says. Keep on truckin’, take in the world’s beauty, and love life!
Grooveshark provides the playlist for us here:
Favorite song: “Love is All”
Favorite segment: 2:25-3:15 “Love is All”
Bombay Bicycle Club should be awkward on stage. They look too young. The lead singer, Jack Steadman, looks like a seventeen year old math wiz with a physique like David Byrne of The Talking Heads. I mean, seriously, check out the music video below for BBC’s fourth biggest single “Always Like This”. Yes, this video was recorded four years ago, but really, they don’t look much different now. And Jack, the baggy tee-shirt and wristwatch don’t help.
But, Bombay Bicycle Club (BBC) ARE young dudes. Twenty-three years old, and their age shows through their music in a positive way. The quartet played a severely entertaining show at the Vogue Theater in Vancouver on October 22, 2012. It was high energy, and fun, with enough skillful jamming out to satisfy the more analytic concert goers.
I also made a very fine discovery with the openers Vacationer. Vacationer provided an extremely unique set that left the five of us attending gabbing about them just as much as the headliners. Vacationer’s album “Gone” is a bundle of fulfilling happy-pop songs dominated by light percussion and well chosen samples. To accompany their already lively stage presence, projected on the Vogue Theatre’s curtains, was a seamless music video of patterned dreamscape sequences that made you want to be “gone”, preferably to a hot country where swimming and surfing is the main priority. The show made me want to pull a Marry Poppins and attempt to jump into the video right then and there. Listen to them in the car with the sun streaming in on your face through the drivers side window. That would be good…
Check out Vacationer’s one album “Gone” on Rdio. Here is the link:
It is amazing the plethora of information (much of it crap, but some interesting) available on musicians if you only do a bit of searching.
Did you know that jazz singer Norah Jones’s father is famous sitar player Ravi Shankar? Well known for teaching George Harrison of The Beatles to play sitar, Shankar led to sitar being incorporated on the track “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” in 1965, and therefore introducing the sitar, and Indian Music, to the contemporary rock scene.
Did you know that at Anthony Keidis’ (front man for The Red Hot Chilli Peppers) babysitter was Cher?
Okay, so the facts behind Bombay Bicycle Club (BBC) may not be AS interesting, but they are pretty cool (sorry, I mean shool). And, learning about BBC did lead to spending forty-five minutes more than planned watching a YouTube video on contemporary classical music composition. It blew my mind.
The drummer for BBC, Saram de Saram, has a father that is fairly famous (we might say he is a Fairly Famous Father, or FFF for short). Rohan de Saram (the father) is Sri Lankan in nationality but was born in Britain and made his name primarily as a classical cellist. In his early years, he was recognized pretty much as a musical genius, and was offered to study in Britain under John Barbirolli, and in Puerto Rico under Pablo Casals, who is widely regarded as the Pre-eminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century. Presently, as well as being involved with the Arditti Quartet (YouTube above) he is heavily involved in the advocacy of contemporary music.
Jamie MacColl’s (BBC’s guitarist) grandparents are Ewan McColl (19l5-1989) and Peggy Seeger (born 1935). Ewan MacColl, a renown political folk singer and actor in the 1950s, married three times and with his second wife he had two children, one being Kirsty MacColl, who sang a lead part in The Pogues most famous song “Fairytale of New York” (reaching #2 on the UK charts and #1 in Ireland).
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger wrote the song “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” which was a #1 hit for Roberta Flack in 1972 and used in Clint Eastwood’s debut film “Play Misty For Me”. Flack also made “Killing Me Softly With His Song” famous in 1973.
Did you know that…Brian May, the guitarist for Queen, has a degree is astrophysics?… Now you know!
Although Bombay Bicycle Club (BBC) are three albums and eleven singles into their career, I ask you this, can you picture their twenty-three year old youthful faces? Have you ever even heard the name Jack Steadman, Jamie MacColl, Ed Nash, or Suren de Saram? No? Well, don’t get too depressed, it’s okay (just don’t do it again). BBC’s record sales have never been legendary, and their singles have not sky rocketed up the hit lists. But, consistently selling out 10,000 seat venues, BBC have become well known for their riotesque, verging on hyperactive, live performances. They also won Best New Band at the 2010 New Music Express awards, beating out now giants like The XX and Mumford and Sons. The two tracks below may get you to say “Ohhhhh, thats them”! “Shuffle” is the most recent hit (2011, reaching #64 on the UK charts) but it did not climb as high as “Ivy & Gold” (2010, reaching #56).
“I HAD THE BLUES BUT I SHOOK THEM LOOSE” (2009) Island Records
The basic beginnings to this album with the track “Morning Contraception Blues” is fortunately not a accurate representation of the rest of the album. After almost a minute and a half of relentless guitar hammering, having the “it might be fun at a concert but not on an album” feel, the opener slides effortlessly into the first real track “Lamplight”. “Lamplight”, although not the best tune on the album, is a perfect example of what to expect from Bombay Bicycle Club’s first full album. We immediately hear Suren de Saram’s (yes, that IS his name) tight drumming, the soft shoegazy chords from Jaime MacColl’s guitar, and the flowing bass from Ed Nash. The smooth bendy notes from Jack Steadman’s guitar kick in, and finally his somewhat nasally, but clear, fresh, and somehow beautiful voice wraps it all up into a nice package deal. “Lamplight” also may surprise you, as will a couple of the other tracks such as “Ghost” and “Magnet” with their “take it down a notch” outros. Here, Steadman’s (who also does most of the writing for BBC) solo influence is obvious. Check out his stuff on YouTube, especially “Cheating” to see the similarity. Here, I’ll make it easier for you:
The alternative rock album stays strong with a perfect mix of nineties rock and indie folk rock. Those of you who grew up with The Wallflowers and Weeezer, and now take a bit of MGMT in your Modest Mouse, this album is for you! Strong tracks such as “Dust on the Ground”, “Always Like This” and “Cancel on Me” make for a killer album start, but in “Autumn” and “The Hill”, Steadman’s voice takes a back seat to the pounding guitar and drums and my interest wavers. But, “What If” brings me back as it jumps around from punchy power chords to rhythmic picking structures. The chorus is a bit overwhelming but is saved by the catchy inflections in Steadman’s voice. The closing track “Giantess” seems to be getting you prepared for BBC’s next album (although they hadn’t written it yet so that is not technically possible). The song’s acoustic picking and drum machine changes things up drastically. Seemingly out of place at first, “Giantess” does well to explain all the other seemingly out of place outros and jams. It is needed for the album’s coherence.
The fantastic Rdio provides the playlist for the album here:
Favorite Song: Ghost
Favorite Segment: 2:22-3:15 “Lamplight”
In my first post ever (Congrats to ME!!!) reviewing Jack White’s album “Blunderbuss” (2012), I wrote about my favourite song on the album “I’m Shakin'”. Little did I know, this is not actually a Jack White original. “Duh” you say? Well, excuuuuuuuse me! I’ll take the ridicule in exchange for finding out about this 1960 R&B classic. “I’m Shakin'” by Little Willie John is a goody of a tune.
On Jack White’s version, the electric guitar rips the melody. However, as you can hear, Little Willie John’s hopping saxophone funkifys (I made that word up, deal with it) the tune. Rudy Toombs, the writer of “I’m Shakin'”, also wrote “Tear-drops in My Eyes” which became the first hit for the lovely lady known for bringing the pop feel into the R&B scene, Ruth Brown, “The Queen of R&B” (1928-2006).
A little visual comparison of all the artists who have sang “I’m Shakin'”:
As if to pay tribute to Willie, White even says “nervous” the same way as Willie near the end of the track – “nooyvis”. Check it out! It’s fun to compare them. White also adds back up singers. Nailed it! Lets not forget the Blasters though. A sort of blues/punk/rock group formed in 1979, they also covered the Little Willie John original. You can hear the Blasters version as well as Jack White’s below.
Jack White designed a green, doublecut Gretsch guitar with a retractable bullet harmonica mike built into the body. Check out this video for a killer guitar solo, and go to 3:35 to see him use the harmonica mike.
In my last post on Jack White I asked the question, “Jack, is there anything you can’t do”.
It seems I must be forced to answer this question with a resounding NO. Front man to grunge blues-rock legends The White Stripes, and current bands The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, and his solo mission, he currently has three bands on the go. White also has two children (Scarlet and Henry) and runs a recording studio/live venue/record store/lounge in Nashville, Tennessee called Third Man Records. He produces many well-known artists including Wanda Jackson, Laura Marling, Tom Jones, Beck, The Black Lips, Cold War Kids, Reggie Watts, and Alabama Shakes. An impressive line up for anyone’s standards. In the music industry, White is notoriously known as a workaholic, and no wonder. White grew up the youngest of ten, and as you may hypothesize, this means standards are high. For more details on his childhood and life, check out this article by the Georgia Straight entitled “Jack White’s got something left to prove”.
Third Man Records: http://thirdmanrecords.com/
As you can see if you even just glanced at the front opening page of the website, it has colour and class. But the yellow and black colour scheme of Third Man Records is not new by any means. After an apprenticeship with an upholstery at age 15, White formed his own upholstery company named Third Man Upholstery. His tools were yellow, his van was yellow, and he wore yellow and black to every job. At one time, he and another upholsterer (Brian Muldoon) formed a band called “the Upholsterers”. They pressed one hundred copies of a single and hid them inside furniture they were restoring! “Not one’s been found yet,” Jack chuckles. “They were on clear vinyl with transparency covers, so even if you x-rayed the furniture you wouldn’t be able to find them. I know where a couple of them might be, but it’s very funny in that sense” (Georgia Straight article link above).
This is typical of White, always creative, and mindful of detail and design. His live performances run in a similar vein. I had the pleasure of seeing him headline at Sasquatch Music Festival in 2012 where, with Washington’s The Gorge in the background, he played a mix of tracks from all four of his bands. White showed impressive stage set up. A colour theme of white and blue dominated overall. White himself wore in a dark blue pinstriped suit while a white stand-up piano radiated from centre stage. The stage itself was layered in white fabric, and two twenty-foot tall white retro stage lights cast a blue hue down on the band. It was unforgettable.
Jack White’s favorite song: “Grinnin’ in Your Face” – Sun House.
So John Anthony Gillis, aka Jack White, I just have one question; is there anything you can’t do?
If racking your brain STILL doesn’t have you conjuring up images of the blues rock legend, well shame on you! To help you out, I suggest thinking back to 2003 and Jack White as the front man of the White Stripes. Does the mega hit “Seven Nation Army” ring a bell? An anthem of a track, “Seven Nation Army” circled the world with its hypnotic drum beat, and fucking catchy bass line (actually played on a tuned down acoustic guitar). It won best rock song at the 2004 Grammies, has been remixed by The Glitch Mob, and was played as the teams walked out onto the field during the 2008 European Euro Soccer Championships. Anything yet? Check out the video below to jog your memory:
“BLUNDERBUSS” (2012) Third Man Records
Jack White’s first musical endeavour with only his name in the title, Blunderbuss is an eclectic mix of catchy, riffing tunes chock-a-block with his unique guitar stylings. Reminiscent of the variety displayed by John Frusciante on Stadium Arcadium, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers 2006 double album, Blunderbuss lures you into distorted-power-chord heaven on “Sixteen Saltines”, hypnotizes you with the grungy seven note riff of “Freedom at 21”, and makes you pick up your heels and dance with the hopping licks of “I’m Shakin”. Brilliantly, White finds a new sound for each track. This fact alone would give the album its inevitable longevity, even if most of the tracks weren’t as catchy or as fun as they are. Featured even more frequently than Jack’s (is it all right if I call you Jack?) guitar savviness, is the piano and the organ. On the lead track, “Missing Pieces”, the piano rules the day with a flowing low tune, whereas, on “Hypocritical Kiss” we hear a fun, classic piano sound. But, “Missing Pieces” also incorporates one of the best guitar solos I have heard in a long time. The solo is typical of White’s style with its high tone and short length. It is unique, and that is what makes it great. White is the Miles Davis of the rock world. Note choice is key, not speed or length. White also shows his skill with ballads, as the simple beauty of the trilling piano and the calming bassoon on “Love Interruption” led to it receiving much radio play and becoming an instant hit. Grooveshark provides the playlist here:
Favorite Song: I’m Shakin’ (music video below)
Favorite segment: 2:43-3:20 “Weep Themselves to Sleep”
“I’m Shakin” is a prime example of White’s ingenuity and creativity. He keeps it fun, colour coordinated, and professional! On his 2012 tour to promote Blunderbuss, White decided to tour with two completely separate bands. You can see the all male band (the Buzzards) face off against the all female Peacocks in the music video above.
White goes through all this extra work to keep things fresh, and push the envelope. And he seems to be succeeding. In the documentary “It Might Get Loud” (2009), a musical collaboration with “The Edge” (guitarist from U2), Jimmy Page (guitarist from Led Zeppplin), and Jack White, skill is definitely abundant. But it seems only White is doing something different. White doesn’t use technology as a crutch. He plays plastic guitars from Sears, and “fights” with his instruments until he wins. “If you want it easy, pick up a brand new Les Paul or Stratocaster” White says. The Edge, concentrating on a plethora of digitally processed guitar sounds, is heavily contrasted with White. At the start of the documentary, we watch as White makes a guitar out of a piece of wood, a glass bottle, and a string, puts a pickup in it, and rocks the fuck out!