Ahk-toong Bay-Bi Covered – Q Magazine Tips Their Hat to U2 in the Most Flattering Way Possible

Cover of "Achtung Baby"

Cover of Achtung Baby

When I finally switched formats, from tape cassettes to compact discs (cds for the youngins), I can claim, not without a hint of musical snobbery, that U2’s Joshua Tree was my first purchase. Sure, my collection prior to this was littered with the remnants of a tween girl’s love for sugary sweet chick pop (“pop” could be too kind a label, I rocked Expose, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey…). But, the moment U2’s seminal album made it into my hot little hands, I was hooked.  I had a sony discman, and every time Joshua Tree started spinning, my mind wandered, got lost in the roads of sounds, the crunchy rhythms and clean harmonics that rang throughout, and the heady lyrics inspired by the ultimate existential and spiritual journey.

At some point thereafter, Achtung Baby made its way into my lexicon.  If Joshua Tree represents the hopeful, transcendent search for a little old-time religion, Achtung Baby is its antithesis – a sometimes dark journey into obsession, destructive relationships, and the grittier shades reality can sometimes take on, especially apparent in songs like “Acrobat” and “Love is Blindness”.  The often satirical excess was evident in their tours, which harbored ornate stage set-ups complete with walls of television screens and even a belly dancer (who notoriously caught the eye of The Edge, they’ve been together since the Zoo Tv tour). However, some joy is definitively still evident on the album, especially in songs like “Ultra Violet (Baby Light My Way)” and “Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World”.

Q Magazine, a publication I am woefully unfamiliar with,  has released their latest issue not only featuring U2 on its cover, but also with the free offering of an included cd: “Ahk-toong Bay-Bi Covered,” in answer to the 20th year anniversary of U2’s masterwork. The album features the entire track listing of U2’s original “Achtung Baby,” but with songs helmed by formidable musicians offering up their own unique interpretations. It looks like geography informed most of the choices, as many of the performers hail from over the pond, including England, Ireland, and Scotland.  However, tracks by American performers like The Killers, Patti Smith, and NIN are at home among the finished work.

I have always been hard to please when it came to U2 covers. Given, I do a song or two of theirs at open mic myself so I embrace the hypocritical, but Bono is a bit of a hard act to follow. My rule of thumb has typically been a good cover song takes only the most basic of frameworks from the original,  and generally benefits from some creative re-working. It should be recognizable as the original song, but just barely. Q’s cover album mostly manages to succeed at this. There are a few lackluster tunes, but mostly it’s an exciting time seeing the new places these songs go.  Damien Rice gives “One” his unique treatment of sparsity, and brutal emotional honesty – you can almost hear the sighs littering his lyrical delivery. Patti Smith deconstructs “Until the End of the World” into a dirge-like piano ballad. Garbage’s version of “Who’s Gonna Ride My Wild Horses” has their signature electronic flair and maintains its original desperation as evidenced by lead singer Mason’s often breathy phrasing. In their take on “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”,  The Killers masterfully capture the charm and bliss present when U2 first recorded track. Jack White channels Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in a delightfully raw rendition of “Love is Blindness”.  This cover album us one to miss at your own risk.

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White Picket Fences

So my friends and I get together for our yearly holiday shindig and there is music and fun and silly camaraderie. The music that holds up the next day during our raucous card game (peanut, if you don’t know it, you should learn it. And be prepared for some surprising in-game language from people you thought you knew…) are real keepers.

One of my recently favorite albums that made an appearance if Joe Purdy’s 2007 album “Take My Blanket and Go”, specifically the song “White Picket Fences”. It’s a twisting soul-felt intense blues number. See below for an impressive 9 1/2 minute version of the tune (there is a second song on the video as well).

And if you think you’ve heard him before, you probably have. His mellow “Wash Away” was featured on an early season of the very popular LOST.

And for this month only, download his new album for free on his official website http://joepurdy.com/

Digitial Release of Bjork, Dirty Projectors Collaberation to Benefit Nat Geo’s Ocean Initiatives

Bjork and the Dirty Projectors (a band that’s garnered some buzz  last year with their release Bitter Orca) have re-released a recent collaborative effort of theirs in digital form, this time to benefit Nat Geo’s Ocean Initiatives.

The original work, dubbed Mount Wittenberg Orca, was originally composed and preformed to benefit the homeless and an AIDS advocacy group.It’s fitting however, that the songs are being re-released to provide further assistance to a slightly different cause. According to the nat-geo article on this recent news item, the work was actually inspired by the ocean:

“Together they wrote and performed a new suite of songs called “Mount Wittenberg Orca,” which was inspired by Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman sighting of a family of Orcas on the California coast, and features Björk singing the part of the mom whale.”

Purchase and download the EP here.

Brandon Flowers from the “Killers” goes Solo, Pulls Jenny Lewis into the Mix

I love it when my favorite musicians collaberate!

Check out this news bit posted recently on Spin.com:

Brandon Flowers has finally spoken about the mysterious Flamingo, his debut solo album.

The Killers frontman — who unveiled the project in April via a website that post that offered only the album title and the promise that it was “coming soon” — gave his first interview about the fall release, dishing on his decision to go solo and revealing one of his collaborators: Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis.

“Jenny’s helped me out on a couple of songs, and we also got to duet on a song called ‘Hard Enough,’ which turned out great,” Flowers told NME [via ONTD].”She’s always popped into my mind whenever I think about getting a female vocalist involved because she’s a fellow child of Las Vegas, too. A lot of people don’t realize that, but she was actually born there, in the same hospital as [Killers drummer] Ronnie Vannucci Jr, only a few weeks apart!”

Flowers also recruited three top notch producers for Flamingo: Daniel Lanois (U2, Brian Eno, Neil Young), Stuart Price (The Killers, Madonna, Kylie Minogue), and Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), who produced three songs.

The 28-year-old singer — who confirmed another new song title, “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” — added that many of Flamingo‘s tracks were originally intended for a Killers album. But while the quartet takes a break, Flowers wasn’t ready to slow down.

“To be honest, I personally would prefer it if this was a Killers record,” he said. “I certainly never sat around dreaming of going out on my own, but singing songs and writing songs, it’s kind of what I do, you know? And I just don’t want to stop right now.”

But the Killers certainly aren’t done for good. In fact, Flowers sees Flamingo “as something that will only make the Killers stronger.” “I feel like I’m getting something out of my system with this album, but I want the next Killers album to be a wonderful collaboration between four guys who are ready to make the best record that they possibly can.”

Apparently it takes two for some badassery

For the record,the first dictionary entry for badassery in  the urban dictionary is:

Engaging in seemingly impossible activities and achieving success in a manner that renders all onlookers completely awestruck.

“Did you see that badassery? He just took down a whole battalion with nothing but his hands!”

(However, it should be noted, the urban dictionary is basically an open source slang dictionary, which while it’s an interesting source of colloquialisms, doesn’t mean they have to be known to anyone except the person who wrote the entry)

Anyway, on to my main point. Apparently two is the magic number for creating some rock magic, a la the White Stripes or even the sugary garage pop Ting Tings. While they’ve been around for some time, the Black Keys seem to be gaining some stronger momentum as of late. It can’t hurt that they just released the stellar new album “Brothers” in May of this year.

The sound tends to be simple and lo-fi, but reeks of old soul reminiscent of screaming jay hawkins and other greats. These boys evidently have a good sense of humor as well as evidenced in some of their videos. Check out a few below and prepare to be hooked…

Engaging in seemingly impossible activities and achieving success in a manner that renders all onlookers completely awestruck.
Did you see that badassery? He just took down a whole battalion with nothing but his hands!

WHER – Where Women Ruled the World (and the Airwaves)

A sultry female voice reads the call letters for “WHER – a thousand beautiful watts” on October 9, 1955 in Memphis Tennessee.  This marks the start of something unique – the beginning of “all-girl” radio, opening doors for women-centered radio programs, stations, and collectives of today. The station, which was broadcast on AM frequency 1430, was the brain child of Sam Phillips. Phillips was a record producer with a sharp ear, responsible most notably for the discovery of Johnny Cash and Elvis. When Phillips, owner of Sun Recording Studios, sold Elvis’ recording contract to RCA, he had enough leverage to launch the radio station.  According to Sam: “… I’d wanted a radio station all my life. Radio to me, it’s a living thing…” Women didn’t just set their voices free over the airwaves, they ran almost every aspect of the station including marketing, programming, and running the control board. The music mainly consisted of jazz selections highlighting Sinatra, Fitzgerald, and other greats. Phillips felt jazz suited the feel of the station and filled an empty niche in Memphis, Tennessee’s existing radio play.

The studio space was tiny but was designed to be lighthearted and play up the theme of an all female staff. Rooms were painted bright colors reminiscent of a doll house and  in the same vein, was referred to as the doll’s den.

By many of today’s standards, the ideas of women and feminism promoted by the station would be considered restrictive and perhaps even the slightest bit misogynistic, but at the time the idea was groundbreaking and progressive. Assistant Manager and Program Director Dorothy Abbott was quoted as saying: “We are not trying to prove the we can get along in a world without men. We are simply trying to prove that when a group of women make up their collective minds that they are going to do something successfully, no force on earth can keep them from it.”

But all goods things come to an end and WHER was no exception. The station was recast as WWEE in 1971 and sported a mixed-gender staff.

The WHER story has been recently documented by the Kitchen Sisters,  a powerhouse and award-winning storytelling duo consisting of Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. They have created and produced more than 200 radio pieces including numerous segments for NPR in the past.  They are currently working on a piece about girls around the world.

NPR has hosted the special on several programs, including most recently the eclectic show “Hearing Voices”. The 52 minute long segment can be heard currently on the Hearing Voices website. All the music in the piece was culled from WHER’s own library. Music credits can be found here.

For more:

http://www.cmshowcase.org/jimmuseum/wher_radio_station.htm

The Kitchen Sisters

NPR’s Lost and Found Sound WHER page

Historian Jacquelyn Hall’s commentary on women’s roles and WHER

Carolina Chocolate Drops – A Whole Lotta Sweet (and Hell Yeahs!)

A whole episode of National Public Radio’s show Fresh Air was dedicated to the Carolina Chocolate Drops, undoubtedly because they are so fascinating. The group is an all-black string band, embracing components of old-timey style and instrumentation with banjo, fiddle, jug, bones, and even kazoo, while fusing it with newer elements of  pop and hip-hop. The mix doesn’t just work, it transcends.

During the episode,Terry Gross not only speaks to musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, and Justin Robinson about their influences and backstory, but also persuades them to play around with their instruments and break down exactly what’s happening in their songs – a musical show and tell.

Yes, you’ll hear songs that sound like they nestle in well with the classic string-band style, often because they are in fact older songs with strong tradition tied into their histories. Songs like “Your Baby Ain’t Sweet Like Mine”,a song attributed to Papa Charlie Jackson, a New Orlean’s banjo player from the early 1900’s:

They are equally able to rock the modern tunes as well as evidenced by their version of Blue Cantrall’s Hit Em Up Style:

Check out the band’s official website for tour dates, more videos, and pictures.