(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Random notes

It's time again to stick the iPod on shuffle and see what comes up. A few wild cards, maybe? I'm more surprised by which haven't come up yet, despite the full representation in my collection.

She Is Not Dead - Adrian Belew (Twang Bar King)

In a world of deeply competent studio musicians that work in the shadows, Adrian Belew built a career using his own unique musical voice. His significant work with Frank Zappa, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, King Crimson, and Talking Heads showed off his ability to take guitar into strange realms. Animal howls, traffic noises, and sounds of a foreign bazaar are all fair game.

She Is Not Dead comes from Belew's second solo album, Twang Bar King. It shows off his singular aesthetic: the polyrhythmic percussion and processed guitar tones create a musical complexity that is anchored to a very sentimental song, devoid of irony.

Roots, Rock, Reggae - Bob Marley (Rastaman Vibration)
I Shot the Sheriff is Bob Marley's most well known song because of Eric Clapton's version, but Roots, Rock, Reggae proved to be Marley's best charting song in the US. The laid back chank and Aston Barrett's note perfect bass line are a great introduction to reggae's rich groove.

While I really enjoy Roots, Rock, Reggae, I think my favorite track from Rastaman Vibration is War, which offers a stronger philosophical message and has elements reminiscent of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat feel.

Charley Patton Songs - Gomez (How We Operate)
I've reviewed Gomez a couple of times. I love their mix of sounds that comes from three distinctive singers and writers. Charlie Patton Songs features Ian Ball's softer, reflective vibe. His milder tone is so far from Charlie Patton's rootsy blues life, but that distance feeds the longing in his voice. This is a beautiful song of searching. The instrumental bridge has a carousel feel, with the repeated theme as a touchstone. Each spin builds the energy before it returns to the theme to define the interval.

Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care) - Mike Nesmith (Nevada Fighter)
Michael Nesmith always seemed out of place in the Monkees. He wasn't very good at hiding his frustration with the pre-fab nature of the band and fought hard for more artistic control in the band. Left to his own devices, he settled into a series of fine country rock albums. Propinquity (I've Just Begun to Care) was demoed for the Monkees, but was never an official release (Rhino did release a demo version as part of their 2006 Deluxe Edition of The Monkees.

This version comes from Nesmith's third solo album, Nevada Fighter. The arrangement is nice; it starts out simple, with sweet steel guitar fills. Nesmith slowly layers in additional guitar parts, backing vocals, and fuller drums to match the song's theme of love slowly developing.

Cubism Dream - Local Natives (Gorilla Manor)
I covered Gorilla Manor a few years back, impressed with Local Native's smooth mix of rich vocal harmonies, shimmery guitars, and compelling complexity. I love the arrangement on Cubism Dream. The syncopated guitar line meshes with the evocative bass line behind the falsetto vocals. The loose balance is so jazzy, but the song develops more of an indie rock feel as more instruments creep in.

Serious - Eric McFadden and Wally Ingram (Alektorophobia)
Eric McFadden is one of my favorite live performers. His musical range is incredible, reaching from gypsy blues to country to hard rock to funk. We'll talk about his work for other bands (like Stockholm Syndrome, Eric Burdon's Animals, and P-Funk) another time. While McFadden almost always plays an acoustic guitar, he can make it scream and shudder if necessary. On Serious, he sets up a simple Beatlesque feel accentuated by strings. But the song builds into a heavier bridge that starts to show signs of darkness and discord. McFadden's solo is fluid as it fits the harder sound but still emphasizes the Beatles vibe.

Poltergeist - DJ MegaMax (Dark Side)
Israeli electronic artist DJ MegaMax got his start creating remixes and that shows in his songs like Poltergeist. Ambient elements decorate the song, which lays out a solid techno bass beat. Threatening vocals and trance touches raise the song above its simple club vibe to create an evocative feel. It's a short track though, I think a longer run would let the pieces sink in to make a deeper impact.

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