Remembering Miriam Makeba Playlist

March 4, 2013

Miriam Makeba, nicknamed “Mother Africa” and “The Empress of African Song,” was a South African singer and political activist. Makeba is credited with bringing the rhythmic and spiritual sounds of Africa to the West. Makeba’s social activism and music impressed American Harry Belafonte who served as her mentor and promoter in the United States. In 1968, Makeba married American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, which proved a detriment to her career due to Carmichael’s militant “Black Power” stance. Makeba writes about her life in Makeba: My Story which is available at the library. Here are a few songs that reflect the long and diverse career of Miriam Makeba with a mix of multicultural music, pop, blues and jazz.

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Pata Pata/ Miriam Makeba

A surprise Top 20 hit in the autumn of 1967, “Pata Pata” was co-written and cut by Miriam Makeba, who was then married to Afro/jazz/rock pioneer Hugh Masakela. Musically, it’s not far removed from Masakela’s groove, with a wonderful, slightly samba-esque groove driving the whole affair. Makeba wrote a similar song for Masakela titled “She Doesn’t Write” for his fabulous Emancipation of Hugh Masakela album in 1968. Underneath it all, the hook here is that the only English spoken words are essentially a dance instruction for this Johannesburg club favorite. However, unlike most “dance instruction” records, “Pata Pata” transcends the cheesy genre with a gorgeous groove, performance, and vocal. Available on the excellent Collectors Choice ’60s rarities anthology, Buried Treasure.-allmusic.com

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I Still Long For You/ Miriam Makeba

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa of Zulu origin, Miriam Makeba has been affectionately and deservedly dubbed “Mama Africa” by millions of fans worldwide. This 1991 release by South Africa’s queen of song embraces several different styles of music.

“I Still Long For You” has a distinct R&B flavor, while “Don’t Break My Heart” is a sorrowful jazz ballad that features the great Dizzy Gillespie singing in duet with Makeba, and also playing a beautiful trumpet solo. Songs such as “Thulasizwe/I Shall Be Released” and “Thina Sizonqoba” evoke Makeba’s South African roots, the latter also featuring a fine performance by Nina Simone. Finally, “Vukani” spotlights the unique trumpet stylings of Makeba’s ex-husband, Hugh Masekela. More pop-oriented than some of her earlier work, EYES ON TOMORROW finds Miriam Makeba making a bold attempt to combine commercial musical genres with rootsy African music.-allmusic.com

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Umhome/ Miriam Makeba

Now back home in South Africa, Makeba hadn’t done much recording in the 1990s prior to this release, so Homeland amounts to a way of introducing herself to new audiences and updating older fans. Alas, the voice of the mighty Makeba, who was in her late sixties when this CD was recorded, frequently sounds worn and quavery (these sessions may have been an aberration, for she could still summon much of her spine-chilling power of old at the Hollywood Bowl in summer 2000). But for those who followed her turbulent career through the struggles over apartheid, it will be heartwarming to learn that she has finally found some measure of peace in her life. The English lyrics (others are sung in Zulu) sing about coming home, healing broken hearts, living for love, and children. In the album’s most touching gesture, Makeba’s granddaughter,  Zenzi Lee, aimed the lyrics of the title track right at her; the dauntless freedom fighter sounds so glad to be home. As a memory refresher, you also get “Pata Pata 2000,” yet another retooled edition of her international hit from 1967, not radically different from previous versions except that Lee lends a hand with the lead vocals. The backing tracks are mostly low-key, controlled, contemporary in feeling; they don’t ignite, but they don’t get in the South African diva’s way either.-allmusic.com

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Ngalala phantsi/ Miriam Makeba

Makeba’s comeback album, her first U.S. release in almost a decade, is a beautiful collection of traditional South African songs with spare production values that highlight the power of Makeba’s vocals. This is an excellent set of Xhosa folk songs she learned as a child. -allmusic.com

A sangoma is a traditional healer, one who channels the ancestral spirits who advise the living. On this impeccably produced CD, Miriam Makeba returns to her roots, singing the songs of her childhood, and in the process seeks to heal the wounds of apartheid and 30 years of exile from her South African home. The songs here are parables, lullabies, and gathering songs, deeply spiritual and moving. They are songs of struggle and perseverance delivered by Africa’s best-loved voice. Mama Africa (Makeba’s nickname) is joined by a group of soulful women singers. Some songs feature understated percussion; others are gloriously unadorned a cappella. This is an essential timeless album from one of the world’s greatest singers. –Jeff Grubb

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Quit It/ Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an icon of South African music, beyond dispute. It’s a status she’s earned over the years, and it gives her the luxury to release a smooth album like this, where she can show a great deal of her range. There are new versions of two of her most famous pieces, “Pata Pata” and “The Click Song,” updated to fit in with her new musical outlook (although it has to be admitted that the originals were much better). There are also a couple of Brazilian pieces, which wok wonderfully well for the relaxed quality of her voice, especially on “Xica da Silva,” while a French ballad, “Comme une Symphonie d’Amour,” unfortunately turns to the incredibly syrupy. She fares much better on a song like “Love Tastes Like Strawberries,” with its delicious airiness and strong lyrics, where she can really shine, and on the bluesy “Quit It,” which offers another, grittier side of her talent. A couple of the tracks come from the pen of her ex-husband, Hugh Masekela, admittedly not the strongest work on the record. She can still sing gloriously, and there are some cuts here that show that. Sadly, too much of it feels like coasting, but she’s entitled to that. Hopefully next time out she’ll challenge herself a little more.-allmusic.com

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Beware Verwoerd = Naants’ indod’emnyama /Miriam Makeba

The soundtrack to Lee Hirsch’s documentary is recommended to people who enjoyed the film and anyone else who’s interested in South African freedom songs. As noted in the album’s liner notes, this is “only a snapshot of South Africa’s musical landscape.” It is mostly limited to protest music and is not as good an overall album as The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, for example. But it does feature a fine assortment of carefully chosen tracks that flow together relatively smoothly despite the differences in musical styles and recording dates (which range from “Meadowlands,” released as a single in 1955, to tracks recorded in 2000 and 2001). It offers listeners a chance to hear studio and field recordings, chants and choral pieces, spoken word snippets, prison singers, and internationally renowned artists such as Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Hugh Masekela.  It also serves as a showcase with several tracks by Vusi Mahlasela, whose credentials include guest vocals on the Dave Matthews Band’s Everyday and a performance at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president. The songs on this album are unified by an inspiring desire for freedom that makes Amandla! more than just a musical sampler and historical overview.-allmusic.com

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The Click Song/ Miriam Makeba

On May 2, 1960, Harry Belafonte returned to Carnegie Hall for what was supposed to be one of the last concerts in the venerable hall’s last season. Carnegie was scheduled to be torn down, although this was an edict that was thankfully short-lived. The hall was instead renovated and remains one of New York’s premier showplaces. The first Carnegie Hall recording from the previous year had had such an impact on the recording industry that it opened up new vistas for live recordings. Belafonte faced the challenge of living up to his own legend. For this concert, he began what would be a concert tradition for him: sharing the spotlight with up-and-coming folk performers. Representing the new collegiate folk singing group trend was the Chad Mitchell Trio, currently appearing at New York’s Blue Angel, where Belafonte had seen them perform. South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba, another Belafonte discovery, also performed, as did folk and blues singer Odetta, and the Belafonte Folk Singers. The guest stars nearly upstaged Belafonte, but this turned out to be de rigueur for his concerts. Highlights include Odetta’s powerhouse medley of the work songs “I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain” and “Water Boy,” the Folk Singers’ exciting “Ox Drivers Song,” Makeba and Belafonte’s charming duet on “One More Dance,” and the Mitchell Trio’s exuberant Israeli song “Vaichazkem.” For a finale, Belafonte turned to the Mexican folk dance “La Bamba,” treating it to an eight-minute-long heels-flying festive romp.-allmusic.com

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Here Comes the Sun: A Playlist for Your Seasonal Affective Disorder

February 9, 2013

Are you suffering from the winter blues?  WBER DJ Kelsey has provided this playlist to help fight those blues!

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Sun is Shining/ Bob Marley

It’s pretty tough to have the blues when listening to this music, with these lyrics:
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet
Make you want to move your dancing feet
To the rescue, here i am
Want you to know, y’all, where i stand

We’ll lift our heads and give jah praises (repeat)
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet
Make you want to move your dancing feet
To the rescue, here i am
Want you to know just if you can
Where i stand, no, no, no, no, where i stand
Sun is shining, sun is shining

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Good Day Sunshine/ Beatles

“Good Day Sunshine,” as its title portends, radiates optimism and good vibes, even by the high standards the Beatles themselves set in those categories throughout their career. How many days like that in “Good Day Sunshine” do most people experience in their everyday lives? Well, they’re not everyday occurrences, if people are honest with themselves. But on those occasions when they do arrive — one of the first fine days of spring, just after you’ve fallen in love or started a vacation — “Good Day Sunshine” is an appropriate soundtrack. Principal composer Paul McCartney was to agree that the good-time mid-’60s hits of the Lovin’ Spoonful, such as “Daydream,” were an influence upon “Good Day Sunshine,” although “Good Day Sunshine” isn’t as folk-rock-based as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s records were. The track’s corn-eared hook is its frequent chorus, when the Beatles come together for some of their most uplifting harmonies.-allmusic.com

Alabama Shakes

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Rise to the Sun/ Alabama Shakes

Pitched somewhere between the retro-purist vibe of Sharon Jones and the nervy revivalism of Jack White, Alabama Shakes possesses a curious character: they’re rooted in the past but it’s clear they’ve learned their moves musicians removed some three or four generations from the source. Instead of playing like refractions from a hall of mirrors, Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls emphasizes how American roots music is now grounded in the ’60s notion of blues & soul, all filtered through the prism of ’70s classic rock.-allmusic.com

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In the Sun/ She & Him

It’s hard to be ambivalent about Zooey Deschanel.  She’s a polarizing personality, one whose deadpan movie roles and big Bambi eyes are either charming or too cute for their own good. The same can be said for She & Him, a soft rock duo that features Deschanel doing what she does best as a film star: acting utterly adorable alongside a quiet, talented male character. Her co-star in this case is M. Ward, who produces the band’s second album and frames Deschanel’s voice with a Spector-sized pile of instruments. Those who already take issue with Zooey’s acting will almost surely pick this record apart — it’s too reminiscent of her cutesy turns in movies like (500) Days of Summer to change many minds — but for fans of retro pop (and Deschanel in general), Volume 2 is a gem.-all music.com

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She’s only Happy in the Sun/ Ben Harper

Ben Harper is a musical preacher of sorts, never one to be shy in speaking his mind about social conformity. Diamonds on the Inside marks Harper’s fifth studio effort and this time he’s emotionally in touch with what makes his heart burst. This is a passionate album, no doubt. His signature Weissenborn guitar joins him once more and Harper’s classic groovy funk is heavy; however, Harper adds worldbeat to his musical plank. From the Marley-esque vibe of “With My Own Two Hands” to the African soundscapes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo on “Picture of Jesus,” Harper’s purist presentation is smooth. “When It’s Good” gives a little country blues twang, while “Touch From You Lust” is a sexy haze of writhing riffs.-allmusic.com

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Sun It Rises/ Fleet Foxes

Despite drawing from so many sources, there’s a striking purity to Fleet Foxes’ sound. Robin Pecknold’s voice is warm and sweet, with just enough grit to make phrases like “premonition of my death” sound genuine, and the band’s harmonies sound natural, and stunning, whether they’re on their own or supported by acoustic guitars or the full, plugged-in band. Even when the songs aren’t as brilliant as Fleet Foxes’ highlights, the band still sounds alluring, as on the lush interlude “Heard Them Stirring.” Throughout the album, the band sounds wise beyond its years, so it’s not really that surprising that Fleet Foxes is such a satisfying, self-assured debut.-allmusic.com

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Sunshine of Your Love/ Cream

“Sunshine of Your Love” was Cream’s most famous and popular recording, making #5 in 1968. If Cream, the band, were one of the ultimate intersections between hard rock, pop, and psychedelia, “Sunshine of Your Love” was one of its ultimate examples of such a hybrid. The big hook of “Sunshine of Your Love” is a grinding, instantly memorable hard rock riff, stuttering between two notes before hellishly descending for a few more, then rising in an upward squiggle. That riff continues throughout the verses, only changing in that it sometimes changes keys. Jack Bruce’s lead vocal is charged with operatic angst without becoming overbearing, a difficult balancing act to be sure, but one that he deftly maintains. The verses are broken up by an equally memorable chorus-bridge, a circular three-chord pattern in which the rhythms become tenser, mirroring the lyric’s growing anticipation and waiting for the sunshine of his lover’s love.-allmusic.com

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Brighter Than Sunshine/ Aqualung

Using the nom de rock Aqualung, singer/songwriter Matt Hales merges material from his two U.K. discs on Strange and Beautiful, his appealing U.S. debut. Vocally reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Hales’ musical approach will likely win converts from fans of the aforementioned. The title track, which gained significant attention after it was used in a U.K Volkswagen commercial, is a compelling piano ballad with enough experimental touches to put it in the company of Coldplay and Keane, but there are equally good offerings like “Brighter Than Sunshine” and “Left Behind.” With the former, Hales finds love by surprise (“I didn’t believe in destiny”) with a Beatles’ ballad pace, but it’s not all optimism. Devotion turns to devastation on “Falling Out of Love,” a jazzy number with a heartfelt delivery. On rare occasion, the material feels sluggish (as with “Tongue-Tied”) but by and large, Aqualung’s U.S. entry is a breath of fresh air.-allmusic.com

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Aquarius/ Let the Sunshine In/ Fifth Dimension

Easily the most ambitious and successful record by the 5th Dimension, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was originally the musical centerpiece of the monumentally popular Broadway rock musical Hair. Like the stage play, the lyrics illustrate the possibilities of a generation, coupled with references to universal love and astrological references. Musically, it’s a multi-part, full-blown suite that tested the boundaries of Top 40 radio. The 5th’s version went to number one in the spring of 1969, and it was one of the last gasps of the ’60s-positive legacy that was, unfortunately, to fade away with the horrors of the Charles Manson murders and the Rolling Stones’ Altamont concert just months later. Opening with a beautiful, avant-garde, psychedelic fragment, the song immediately shifts into a combination of soul, pop, and rock, with an added taste of Broadway spice. The chorus is an uplifting, pop/rock movement, culminating in a dizzying choral pattern, not unlike “McArthur Park.” A funky, gospel/rock pattern emerges during the “Let the Sunshine In” section. This is a perfect bedrock for Billy Davis Jr.’s spontaneous gospel wailing, which, incredibly, was laid down in one take. The song is continually used in ’60s documentaries, as well as period films.-allmusic.com

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Bird of the summer/ A Fine Frenzy

What a difference two years can make. Alison Sudol introduced herself as a piano-playing pixie on 2007’s One Cell in the Sea, stuffing her debut album with lilting vocals and fairy tale lyrics. Although that combination spawned several upbeat songs, ballads proved to be Sudol’s bread and butter, and she soon found herself saddled with the unfortunate task of re-creating the album’s intimacy in a live concert setting. Two years after Sea’s release, Sudol returns with a second record, having taken a lesson from the road and fine-tuned her music accordingly. There are still several ballads here, particularly during the album’s latter half, but Sudol knows that faster tunes work better in concert, where both the band and the audience can share in the same catharsis. Accordingly, Bomb in the Birdcage is a lively piece of work, with songs that take flight and arrangements that couch her vocals in tasteful heaps of strings, harmonies, and piano.-allmusic.com


The Joys and Annoyances of Being in Love-a DJ Kelsey Playlist

October 2, 2012

Into the Mystic/ Van Morrison

“Into the Mystic” was originally released as the last song on side one of Van Morrison’s third album, Moondance, in February 1970. Moondance, issued 15 months after its predecessor, Astral Weeks, was a very different record for Morrison. Astral Weeks had been dominated by meditations on his youth in Belfast, Northern Island, with an unusual musical mélange that combined elements of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, played by session musicians. By the time of Astral Weeks, Morrison had moved from New York City to rural Woodstock, NY, and organized his own backup band, which played on Moondance. The new album was imbued with the bucolic pleasures he had recently enjoyed, as well as his domestic harmony with wife Janet Planet. The exception was the ethereal “Into the Mystic,” the only song on the album that might have fit on Astral Weeks. The song has an easy groove, beginning with acoustic guitar and including isolated horn and string charts, as Morrison evokes a sailor’s pledge to come home from the sea to his lover and “rock [her] gypsy soul.”- All Music Guide

Be Mine/ Alabama Shakes

Pitched somewhere between the retro-purist vibe of Sharon Jones and the nervy revivalism of Jack White, Alabama Shakes possesses a curious character: they’re rooted in the past but it’s clear they’ve learned their moves musicians removed some three or four generations from the source. Instead of playing like refractions from a hall of mirrors, Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls emphasizes how American roots music is now grounded in the ’60s notion of blues & soul, all filtered through the prism of ’70s classic rock. Unlike White or his Great Lakes cousins the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes aren’t entirely enamored with what they can re-create in the studio — they’re too attached to the power of a live performance, making them an ideal candidate for a T-Bone Burnett or Joe Henry production somewhere down the road — but they bear no special allegiance to the didactic needs of retro-rock.- All Music Guide

That’s What’s Up/ Edward Sharpe &The Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros wear the whole communal free-living throwback hippie jamboree persona to the point where they dip into goofy character sketches and threaten to detract completely from some pretty catchy songs. The album opens strongly, with the undeniably catchy pair of tunes “Man on Fire” and “That’s What’s Up,” both rising to hand-clapping summits of old-fashioned Southern revival and jug band jubilation. Lead vocalist Jade Castrinos reprises her role trading verses with Ebert on these songs and later takes center stage on the electrified “Fiya Wata.” Castrinos’ contributions feel spirited and from the gut, whether they’re put on or not. -All Music Guide

Hot Knife/ Fiona Apple

Much of the charm of Apple’s music isn’t decoding what it all means but learning its internal clockwork, letting the songs take root, so the love songs (“Jonathan”) seem sweeter, the braggadocio (“Hot Knife”) funnier, the pathos (“Valentine,” “Regret”) and paranoia (“Werewolf”) feeling fathomless. Once the startling Spartan surfaces of The Idler Wheel become familiar, similarities to her three previous albums are apparent — she takes certain jazzy strides that hark back to Tidal, there’s a rigorous dexterity reminiscent of  When the Pawn — but what’s new is an unwavering determination and cohesion. Nothing is wasted, either in the composition or arrangement, and this lean confidence binds The Idler Wheel. Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling as she ever was, perhaps even more so.- All Music Guide

In the Colors/ Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals

His lyrics are uplifting, full of determination and hope. This is underscored by the next number, “In the Colors,” which bleeds Southern soul and a killer reggae bass line bubbling underneath. The theme of hope is right there, propping the first track by underscoring in poetic terms the true, just, and beautiful. “Fool for a Lonesome Train,” a backwoods country-rock tune, is maybe the strongest cut on the set; its high lonesome sound is borne out not just in the grain of Harper’s vocal but by the band’s unobtrusive yet utterly engaging support. The lyrics are there; they have the wild and restless in them but it takes a group effort to make restraint an art, underscoring the blood and sinew in Harper’s words. That’s not to say there are no “rockers” on the set. “Needed You Tonight” comes right out of the shouting gospel and electric blues with electric guitars blazing; it alternates its dynamic between that vibe and sweet soul. “Having Wings” is a gorgeous follow-up, with acoustic piano and electric guitars flowing under Harper’s voice.-All Music Guide

Wedding Song/ Anais Mitchell, feat. Justin Vernon

Hadestown retells the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in an America of hard times economically, socially, and politically. Hadestown’s narrative, like the myth, steeps itself in ambiguities more than dead certainties. It moves past dualities of good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, while examining how commonly held beliefs about class reinforce poverty, how our desire for security is complicit in giving away our freedoms, and what real generosity in love actually is. This 57-minute work goes by in a flash. Artfully conceived, articulated, and produced, Hadestown raises Mitchell’s creative bar exponentially: there isn’t anything else remotely like it.- All Music Guide

Northern Sky/ Nick Drake

Compiled by Nick Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd, Way to Blue features a selection of 16 tracks from all three Drake studio albums and the Time of No Reply collection. Of course the music is excellent, but Drake’s albums stand so well on their own that this collection of piecemeal offerings doesn’t quite work as the best way to experience his distinctively haunting brand of folk-rock. Though a good starting point, ultimately it will only whet your appetite for the highly recommended, four-disc Fruit Tree box, which contains his complete catalog.- All Music Guide

This Orient/ Foals

Total Life Forever is considerably more subdued than its predecessor, lacking much of the uptempo thump found on Antidotes. In its place is a mellower, more spacious sound. While this new sound is still danceable, it’s far more refined than the angular post-punk riffing that fans might be expecting. Right from the beginning, the album-opening, “Blue Blood” makes it clear that Foals are taking a different, more patient approach to songwriting, letting the song build and build on itself as it methodically works itself into a frenzy before leaving the way it came in. Because of the changes here, fans of the early, pre-Antidotes singles may find Total Life Forever to be too restrained, lacking the youthful vigor of their debut. Where some see restraint, others may very well see refinement, and those who appreciated Antidotes’ more spacy passages will find that Foals’ reinvention of their sound is a calculated risk that definitely pays off.- All Music Guide

More of This/ Vetiver

Tight Knit is Vetiver’s slickest, tightest record so far. From the opening ballad “Rolling Sea” onward, Andy Cabic and crew make music that can only be called easy listening. Not the kind you hear in a dentist’s office, but the kind of music that makes no demands on you as a listener and just wraps you in cottony coziness. Apart from the peppy, perfect for a soda pop commercial “Everyday” and the almost rocking in a lazy bar band way “More of This,” the record is perfectly constructed for lazy days and hazy nights. It takes skill to create a record filled with so little energy and drive, and again, that’s not a criticism though it probably sounds like it should be.- All Music Guide

One Match/ Sarah Harmer

Harmer’s winning blend of country, folk, and indie pop is propelled, in part, by her even, expressive tenor, which comes off as a well-maintained bridge between Suzanne Vega and Leslie Feist. Likable and accessible, it would be easy to write her off as just another capable singer/songwriter in an industry stuffed to the rafters with capable singer/songwriters, were it not for her ability to take a simple melody and turn it into something special. Oh Little Fire is filled with those moments, whether it’s the delayed “t” at the end of the word light on the driving single “Captive,” the damp, dirt-road pacing of “Washington,” or the way she and Case wrap their voices around “Silverado” like two sisters on the back of covered wagon. It’s a subtle record to be sure, but one that rewards those who are willing to take the time to let it enter the bloodstream.-All Music Guide

Hold You In My Arms/ Ray LaMontagne

The best songs on Trouble, the debut release from songwriter Ray LaMontagne, draw on deep wells of emotion, and with LaMontagne’s sandpapery voice, which recalls a gruffer, more sedate version of Tim Buckley or an American version of Van Morrison, they seem to belie his years. The title tune, “Trouble,” is an instant classic, sparse and maudlin (in the best sense), and songs like “Narrow Escape,” a ragged, episodic waltz, are equally impressive, with careful, cinematic lyrics that tell believable stories of wounded-hearted refugees on the hard road of life and love. Most of the tracks fall into a midtempo shuffle rhythm, so the words have to carry a lot in order to avert a sort of dull sameness, and when it works, it works big, and when it doesn’t, well, LaMontagne is so serious and sincere about his craft that you tend to forgive him instantly.- All Music Guide

Heartbeats/ José González

Don’t let the name fool you; singer/songwriter José González is a Swedish-born and -raised son of Argentine parents. His debut album, Veneer, is a striking collection of hushed and autumnal indie pop bedroom songs that reside on the hi-fi end of the lo-fi spectrum. González is definitely a member of the “quiet is the new loud” school as founded by Elliott Smith and the Kings of Convenience. Veneer is about as intimate as they come; it sounds like he is sitting right on the end of your bed singing just for you. At times, González is a little more forceful than most of his schoolmates, often working himself into a tightly spinning ball of emotion (as on the driving “Lovestain” and the bluesy “Hints”). At these moments his voice is reminiscent of Mark Kozelek, only without the wild flights of pretension. Mostly though, he is content to cruise along on mellow vocals double-tracked behind gently plucked and strummed acoustic guitars. The beautiful “Heartbeats,” “Deadweight on Velveteen,” and the gently rollicking “Stay in the Shade” are the high watermarks of a remarkably focused and promising debut. González is a welcome addition to the q-school of indie pop.- All Music Guide

I Will Follow You Into the Dark/ Death Cab for Cutie

Thematically, Plans is the Death Cab for Cutie suitable for graduate students, world-weary and wiser from their experiences, realizing they can no longer be love-starved 20-somethings without a clue yet hopelessly cursed to face the same issues. And there’s merit to be had in acknowledging that maturity, for even blink-182 figured out their age and released their “serious” album. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it’s this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.- All Music Guide


Rochester Summer Music Scene Playlist

June 19, 2012

The city of Rochester comes alive with music every summer with some great events that showcase a variety of bands and artists that are as diverse as the community. The 16th annual Party In The Park kicks off every Thursday evening from 5-10 PM  for ten weeks starting on June 7 through August 9 at the Riverside Festival Site on the corner of Court Street and Exchange Boulevard across from the Blue Cross Arena. All concerts are FREE! The Big Rib BBQ & Blues Fest starts Thursday July 12 and continues through Sunday July 15: lunch, dinner and live music! Highland Bowl concert highlights include Wilco and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. Here’s a sampling…

I might/ Wilco

The Whole Love is the work of a band that’s stylistically up for anything, from the edgy dissonance of “The Art of Almost” and the moody contemplation of “Black Moon,” to the ragged but spirited pop of “I Might” and the cocky rock & roll strut of “Standing O,” but more so than anything the band has done since Being There, The Whole Love sounds like Wilco are having fun with their musical shape shifting.- All Music Guide

My Body/ Young the Giant

The West Coast jazz-evoking album jacket of Young the Giant’s self-titled debut doesn’t exactly paint an accurate picture of the California quintet’s breezy modern rock sound, but it does complement it quite nicely. Here’s a band signed to a heavy metal label, whose music is anything but, and which actually excels through recurring shows of subtlety, not force. That’s not to say Young the Giantdon’t know how to rock; tracks like “My Body,” “Garands,” and “St. Walker” plug the guitars in and crank them up to that “tough but hooky” sweet spot inhabited by the Kings of Leon and sometimes even My Morning Jacket. -All Music Guide

Boom Boom/ Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds

The Dirty Birds navigate every twist and turn Sister Sparrow throws their way (or is it the other way around?) with ease. Check it out: here we have some smoky big-smile reggae (“Boom Boom”, “Vices” – Blondie lives!); over here we find 70s-vintage bluesrock reminiscent of J. Geils on a hot night (Arleigh’s harp-blowing brother Jackson channels Magic Dick on “Quicksand”); and over here we find a few things that just can’t be labeled so easily (the tango-on-acid of “Baby From Space”, for instance), but are fun nonetheless. And through it all are woven threads of sexy funk. Bottom line: this album is just plain fun. – Jambands.com

Pockets/ Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad

This one is about as straight-up as roots reggae gets: one-drop and rockers rhythms, socially conscious lyrics, and dubwise production flourishes are all in evidence here, and if the politics get a bit ham-handed sometimes, the grooves are relentless and powerful. Highlights include the excellent one-drop anthem “All Night Music” and a fine sufferer’s number titled “Pockets,” and the slow, thick rockers groove of “World War” is also excellent. – All Music Guide

Paper Boy/ Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers come up with combustible jazz-rock arrangements revealing the influence of Steely Dan (notably on “Paperboy”) and Brian Wilson (“Michael Raphael”), used to support sometimes bizarrely humorous lyrics, as signaled by the opening song, “The Black Rats of London.” Old-time Hornsby fans who fell away over the years might want to give this one a listen; it’s closer to his singer/songwriter self than he’s been in many years. -All Music Guide

It’s 2 A.M./ Shemekia Copeland

Copeland continues to prove herself as one of the strongest young talents in the blues on this disc. While the material itself isn’t as strong as that on her stellar first album, she still invests her all in tunes like the blasting “Not Tonight” and the romantic “Love Scene.”-All Music Guide

American Slang/ The Gaslight Anthem

With their hearts on their sleeves and their feet planted firmly in the garden state, The Gaslight Anthem’s third album, American Slang, plays out like an offering to Springsteen, the patron saint of heartland rock. The feeling on this album is considerably more relaxed. All of the punk rock tension and urgency have been replaced by a more patient and heartfelt mood. This change of pace really gives the listener the ability to sit back and take in the scenery on their musical Rust Belt road trip, making for a more moody, understated experience.- All Music Guide

Let Them Knock/ Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

Because soul music — and this isn’t neo-soul, or contemporary R&B, but straight-up Stax and Motown brassy soul — is so much more than the actual lyrics themselves; it’s about the inflection and emotion that the vocalist is able to exude, and Jones proves herself to be master of that, moving from coy to romantic to defiant easily and believably. The magic and power of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings: their ability to convey passion and pain, regret and celebration, found in the arrangements and the tail ends of notes, in the rhythms and phrasing, and it is exactly that which makes 100 Days, 100 Nights such an excellent release. -All Music Guide

Lost in a Crowd/ Rusted Root

Rusted Root’s debut album is an agreeable collection of post-hippie folk/rock. Drawing from The Grateful Dead, Phish and Graceland-era Paul Simon in equal measures, the band can certainly work a low-key groove, spinning out solos and singsong melodies at well. They haven’t perfected their songwriting yet — many of the songs sound underdeveloped — but their music sounds mature and hints at their potential.-All Music Guide