Sunday, August 23, 2009

One of my favorites-Brother John/Iko Iko-The Neville Brothers

I've made no secret over the years of my affinity for New Orleans. Since I moved away,  I am what some might call a 'regular out of towner.' I have traveled to the Crescent City many times in my lifetime and each time I have taken something intangibly beautiful and meaningful back with me. One of the most fabulous aspects of New Orleans is its music. I have soaked up the music of New Orleans like a sponge...New Orleans Jazz, Dixieland, Zydeco, Blues, Rhythm and Blues and Funk all course through my veins and the influence on my own sound is palpable.

In the history of New Orleans music there are plenty of great exports. These include Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Ernie K. Doe and Better Than Ezra. No mention of New Orleans music would or could be complete without mentioning Art Neville's group The Meters which is the music that became known as New Orleans funk. In 1976 the elder Neville Brother would get together with his younger brothers Aaron Neville, who already had a national hit with "Tell it Like it is," as well as sax man Charles Neville and drum virtuoso Cyril Neville to record "The Wild Tchoupitoulas" with their uncle, Big Chief Jolly. This was essentially an album of Mardi Gras Indian chants set to music. This went so well the brothers remained together as simply "The Neville Brothers" and begun officially performing together in 1977.

Their self titled major label debut hit the shelves in 1978 and they were on their way. Their second album and arguably their best "Fiyo on the Bayou" in 1981 saw them reaching deep into their funk and rhythm and blues roots...and also their Mardi Gras Indian family tradition. This is where we pick up the story of Brother John/Iko Iko. Here we have the brothers returning home to their roots on Valence Street in uptown New Orleans. Iko Iko is a song that is based on call and response chants that occur during a parade collision between tribes of Mardi Gras Indians. It was only natural for the Nevilles to incorporate the melodically similar "Brother John" which is also Mardi Gras based-and had already been recorded on "The Wild Tchoupitoulas." The result is a funky redux that is absolutely stunning and may be the best versions of these songs on record. It is impossible to keep still when this song is playing. If you want a song that will take you to New Orleans in your mind every time...this is the one.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

RIP Jim Dickinson

I just heard that Jim Dickinson passed away at 67. This guy was the

primary facilitator of the "Memphis Sound" which was a cross pollination

of rock, pop, blues, country, and rhythm and blues. His work with Aretha

Franklin, Big Star, The Rolling Stones, The Replacements, Ry Cooder, Bob

Dylan and Sam and Dave is some of the finest music of its kind on

record anywhere. It is also notable that Jim spawned Luther and Cody

Dickinson who are better known these days as "The North Mississippi

All-Stars." I tip my hat to his contributions to the world of music.

Rock and Roll Heaven has gained a heck of a producer.

A Milestone for the music business

Atlantic Records announced in November of 2008 that digital music was

responsible for half of their revenue. That is definitely a

milestone...that digital music is now half of a major label's revenue.

Did anyone see that one coming? ;-) The story within the story is that

the overall revenue in the established music business is down

drastically and the trend shows no signs of abatement. This means that

many commercial studios, producers and engineers are struggling or going

under as the paradigm continues to shift. The old order has continued

its catastrophic collapse. This is by no means the death knell of the

music industry...independent artists have more opportunity than ever to

showcase themselves and make a real livable income with music as a full

time career. The money changing hands for independent music downloads

goes through fewer middlemen with a much more sizable cut ending up

where it belongs-in the pocket of the recording artist. There is also

much more choice for the can obtain a wide range of music

that fits your listening preferences easily and cheaply via download. I

came up with the music business of old...but in truth I like the new

paradigm for a solo artist. I can do some shows, sell a few downloads,

make a little money and market myself via the internet with minimal fuss

and investment. What's not to like? Do you really want to go back to the

nation's programmer of 70's Top 40 AM radio telling you what to listen

to? Remember those days...when "You Light Up My Life" was number one for

so many weeks in '78 that you wanted to shoot Pat Boone for being a

daddy? Interesting how much of the music I heard Arnie 'Woo-Woo'

Ginsberg play on WMEX AM back when has vanished into the sunset...but

the stuff we heard the Woofa Goofa and Charles Laquidera play on WBCN in

the early 70's is now called 'Classic Rock.' Don't tell me those

anti-establishment types didn't know their music!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review Redux-Cropper/Cavaliere-Nudge it up a Notch

Another review-this one from 2008. -AC-

There aren't many in the world of music of any color that have the soul credentials of Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere. These two often found themselves competing in the top forty back in the late 60's. Cropper is notable for his work at Stax records as sideman on the releases of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave and his own group Stax house band "Booker T and the MG's." Felix is lead vocalist and organist on such great Rascals hits as "Good Lovin'" "Groovin,'" and "People Got to Be Free. Here we are forty years on and these two old farts have not only still got it, they're proving it with their original song collaboration-"Nudge it up a Notch."

This album delivers exactly what you'd expect-Cavaliere's rich soulful vocals coupled with Cropper's pithy and perfect guitar work. It is as if the last forty years have melted away and these guys are in their heyday again-writing songs, just playing in the studio sandbox together and having a big time. "One of These Days," "To Make it Right," and "Without You" are full of strong Stax inspired grooves that show Cropper and Cavaliere playing inspired parts that weave in and out of each other perfectly. The level of perceived nonchalance and ease heard here can only be attained by professionals at the top of their game. Throw in a couple of great instrumental tracks such as "Cuttin' it Loose" which give Cropper and Cavaliere ample room to show off their guitar and organ chops and you have the combination that will no doubt make several "top 10 lists" of music critics this year.

"Nudge it up a Notch" Five out of Five.

Review Revisited-John Fogerty-"Revival"

A 'review redux' from 2007-I'll post some 'oldies' here from time to time...for the sake of posterity.

"Revival" is John Fogerty's first album of all-new material since finally burying the legal hatchet regarding his past once and for all. Interestingly enough it sounds like history has repeated itself. The obvious history you'd expect from Fogerty is here...sparse driving rock songs elegant in their simplicity with lots of open string chiming riffs and swampy linear runs. It is unfortunate that there is deeper history here as well. Some of Fogerty's best stuff from CCR's halcyon days was written about an America deeply divided by war, income disparity and moral arrogance. These situations are arguably worse here and now than ever.

"Long Dark Night" and "I Can't Take It No More" are angry anti-Bush rants that rock as hard as anything Fogerty has ever done. The frustration in these songs is palpable...the urgency in Fogerty's voice is chilling. "Don't You Wish It Was True" is reminiscent of "Proud Mary" with that loping New Orleans groove...and a much more positive message. I suspect Fogerty will get some one star reviews based on dissatisfaction with his politics...they conveniently forget that Fogerty has always made rebel music...and never been a Republican! "Who'll Stop The Rain," "Run Through The Jungle," and "Fortunate Son" are so well written and memorable that it is easy to forget that all three are at their core Vietnam War era protest songs. Fogerty has always unfailingly looked out for the average working man with his music.

"Revival" is retro, but not a rerun. The musical elements are familiar because Fogerty consciously sounds like himself. He is getting back to work doing what he does best-playing "swamp rock." This is one of the absolute best albums of 2007...four and one half stars out of today!

Les Paul

I've let my blog languish for quite a spell without posting...but I couldn't let this day end without mentioning the death of one of the electric guitar's greatest innovators...Mr Les Paul. His death today from complications of Pneumonia at age 94 was not totally unexpected, but leaves me stunned nonetheless.

I'm still processing the breadth of Les Paul's legacy. No one other individual did more to advance the state of the art of electric guitar and recording techniques. His recordings with Mary Ford frustrate me to this to get that sound...and how to get that technique under your fingers...not an easy task. Rock and Roll heaven is rejoicing as the electric guitar's first and best innovator finally joins the band.

Without Les Paul's recording innovations...there would have been no George Martin...and without George Martin...none of those incredible sonic portraits on latter day Beatles records. So much that is taken for granted today by sound engineers and guitar players was invented or aggressively perfected by Les Paul in his lifetime.