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Music Reviews

The Empty Hearts

The Empty Hearts

The Second Album

Wicked Cool Records

The kids who rolled in my crew were pop / rock junkies, plain and simple. It was 1980, and we were hopelessly hooked on the “hard stuff” – Parallel Lines, Candy-O and National Breakout. While The Beatles, The Stones and The Who “fixed” our older siblings – Blondie, The Cars and The Romantics were our addiction.

40 years later, there’s great cause for celebration, as The Empty Hearts have returned to “New Release” bins at neighborhood record shops far and wide with their aptly-titled sophomore set, The Second Album. And they’ve picked up precisely where their contagious self-titled 2014 debut left off.

Overseen by veteran producer, Ed Stasium (Ramones, Talking Heads), The Second Album was created in the spirit of the vintage ’50s and ’60s-era rock and roll that first inspired all four members – Romantics frontman Wally Palmar, Cars guitarist Elliot Easton, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and Chesterfield Kings bassist Andy Babiuk.

Founded by music icon and acclaimed actor, Stevie “Little Steven” / “Miami Steve” Van Zandt, The Empty Hearts’ label, Wicked Cool Records, reflects the band’s authentic coolness – with the crisp and catchy “Coat-Tailer” and the engaging sing-along “Remember Days Like These” both being released as singles on eye-catching, limited edition 7″ colored vinyl. Enhancing the cool factor further, the legendary Ringo Starr even plays drums on the latter.

A heart-stopping highlight, “The Best That I Can” is fueled by Easton’s celebrated riffage. Palmar’s familiar harmonica work woven into his friendly lead vocals feel like a welcomed hug from “that one” who “got away,” while Burke’s signature-style drum attack is simply brutal. Babiuk’s bass chug here is mighty sweet, too.

Something of a stylistic left turn, “The World As We Know It, Moves On” is a whimsical treasure – a warm summer breeze blowing through the intersection of Brian Wilson Boulevard and ELO Avenue. Equally infectious, “Indigo Dusk Of The Night” takes us on a magically mysterious tour, pursuing that ever-elusive walrus.

A bona-fide rib-cracker, “The World’s Gone Insane” was written and recorded before the world’s “wheels” fell off this year. Bursting with a message that’s as relevant as this morning’s headlines, it also owns a hook that’s as fresh as the “catch of the day.”

2020 certainly has been a wild ride. And with all the ensuing uneasiness, The Second Album from The Empty Hearts is one heckuva fabulous feel-good.

www.theemptyhearts.com wickedcoolrecords.bandcamp.com

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Features

Covid Diary #1

Covid Diary #1

Closing Time with Sweet Crude

March 12, 2020 Ybor City, Florida

In the days leading up to Sweet Crude’s gig at the Crowbar, shows began cancelling due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At first it was just a few shows. When the South By Southwest convention cancelled, all of us music types knew thing were getting serious. You don’t cancel the biggest industry event on a whim. So many local events had already cancelled so I called the Crowbar the night of the show. The voice on the phone said the bands were be playing as scheduled. So I got in my car and headed out.

When I got to Ybor, there was an eerie quiet in Tampa’s main entertainment district. Thursday night is usually a big night at the dance clubs. As I walked down 7th Avenue, I saw that clubs were open, but I saw more staff members on the street than partiers. The only other time I’ve seen the Avenue this quiet was during hurricane season when there is a storm in the Gulf, predicted to make landfall within the next 24 hours.

I wasn’t planning on writing about this show. I catch the band every chance I get ever since I first saw them at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival a few years ago.

Sweet Crude took the stage around ten thirty. Before they started, Sam Craft announced this was their last performance for the foreseeable future. They launched into an inspired set giving it all they had. The few dozen people in attendance responded with in kind. The band’s version of indie rock always makes me think of the Talking Heads had emerging from the Francophone parishes of Louisiana. Lately, they’ve been showing classic soul influences. Vocalists Sam Craft and Alexis Marceaux have added some slick dance moves to their performance, adding a bit of Temptations to the mix.

The band showcased a lot of material from their forthcoming album. Sam told us about the Loup Garou (werewolf) before they launched into the new single, “Rougarou.” Alexis sang the spooky techno-swamp stomp entirely in French. A lot of their songs are in French or French and English. They got the crowd to shout along to the rousing “Deballlez.” “Sun Sept” inspired some energetic dancing. Knowing this would be their last show for a while, both the band and the audience gave it their all.

A few of the songs took on added significance. “One in the Bush,” the lines “no need to be so upset/this is as good as it gets,” had greater gravitas. “Mon Esprit” is always moving and always has spiritual overtones. That night it felt more like a prayer. I felt like Alexis was using her powerful voice to connect us with something universal. It felt like she was casting some kind of protective spell over us. I hope it worked. We can use all the help we can get.

Alexis casts a spell

Bob Pomeroy
Alexis casts a spell

When I left the Crowbar, the streets of Ybor City were even more deserted. This is going to be our normal until the Covid danger passes. I guess I’ll have to accept this is as good as it gets (for now).

www.sweetcrudeband.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Freekbass

Freekbass

All The Way This, All The Way That

Color Red

Don’t worry folks. The Funk is alive and well. George Clinton may be retiring, but the Funkadelic Mothership will continue to fly with the current crew. Then you have the other folks holding down the low end. One of the most exciting is the Ohio native who calls himself Freekbass. Never mind if you haven’t heard any of his previous albums (I haven’t). All The Way This, All The Way That delivers a timeless blend of past and future funk.

The title of the CD refers to the way the album was created. The “All The Way That” songs were recorded in Cincinnati, Ohio. Working in the buckeye state, Freekbass was looking to channel some of the vibes of Ohio Players. The “All The Way This” portion of the album was concocted in Colorado in free-wheeling sessions recorded directly to a vintage Tascam 8 track recorder. Between the two sessions, Freekbass spans the retro and the future of sound.

“Fre3kronomoKon” gets down to a sci-fi groove with Bernie Worrell-inspired keyboard squiggles, a sold foundation and hip hop vocalization. And for the geeky prog-rock refugee, Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” weaves in and out of the melody. “Steppin Outta Line” is on the same frequency as the P-Funk gang while “Thrust” feels closer to the Paisley Park sound. Playing spot the references doesn’t take anything away from the fun this crew is having looking to the past and pushing the sounds into the future.

freekbass.com

Categories
Event Reviews

2018 Bourbon & Beyond Festival

2018 Bourbon & Beyond Festival

with

Louisville, Kentucky • September 22, 2018

When Danny Wimmer Presents announced the lineup for the Second Annual Bourbon & Beyond Festival at Champions Park in Louisville, Kentucky, I took one quick look at the eclectic group of A-listers and up-and-comers on tap and knew that this would be THE festival of the year, one not to be missed. Along with the main stage entertainment, there also would be a smaller Bluegrass Stage as well as master chef presentations and bourbon workshops/tastings for every discerning palate. For months I looked again and again at that lineup, drooling over the fabulous prospect of not only attending this two-day event, but covering it as a writer/photographer as well. When I got approved, I felt as if I had won the lottery. The weekend couldn’t arrive soon enough, but unfortunately Mother Nature had her own plans. NO ONE could have imagined that the unwitting “stars” of the festival would be RAIN and MUD, forcing the cancellation of Day 2. Gone was my excitement over seeing the 12 scheduled bands including The Last Bandoleros, The Magpie Salute (one of my absolute favorites), Del McCoury Band, The Record Company (another fav), Don Felder, Benjamin Booker, Blackberry Smoke, Kaleo (a true, huge disappointment for me – this band is IT! Seriously.), Gov’t Mule, Counting Crows, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters (sigh), and STING (literally, my all-time favorite, EVER – my only consolation was that I had covered his co-headlining show with Shaggy in Florida the week prior). I mean, in your wildest dreams, could you ever conjure a lineup such as this one, only to have it wash away with the rain and mud? Major props must be given to everyone involved “behind the scenes” as they made every effort to keep things flowing. This was a top-notch, professionally run event that met with a patch of very bad weather luck. Well, at least there was Day 1 and despite the major weather issues, the music was phenomenal.

The four-piece, Austin-based indie/alternative rock band Swimming With Bears kicked off the first (and only) day of the festival with thirty minutes of fun, high-energy originals including their popular hit, “French Girls.” Comprised of singer/bassist Joe Perry, drummer Ryan Hannasch and guitarists Alec Conte and Jon Kerr, they were the perfect opener to get the crowd pumped for all the acts to come. Check out Rock Legends Photographers’ interview with the band following their great set.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbadoFBuIRE&feature=youtu.be

Swimming With Bears

Michelle Wilson
Swimming With Bears

 

With perfect precision the side-by-side stages were ready to go for the next act, which is the way a festival should operate. Larkin Poe, the up-and-coming multi-instrumentalist sister act sensation out of Atlanta, blew away the Louisville crowd and were a true highlight of the day. Rebecca (lead vocals/guitar) and Megan Lovell (vocals/lap steel) are about as badass as they come, belting out killer harmonies and giving the most seasoned guitarist a run for the money. These two can sing a beautiful ballad, a blues number or a hardcore rocker and nail it every time. Highlights included covers of “Preachin’ Blues” (Son House) and “Black Betty” (Lead Belly), both from their last album, Peach, and “Blue Ridge Mountains,” an original from their forthcoming record, Venom and Faith. Backed by touring bassist Brent “Tarka” Layman and drummer Kevin McGowan, their thirty-minute set was over WAY too fast and left the crowd (and me) wanting MUCH more.

Larkin Poe

Michelle Wilson
Larkin Poe

 

Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers rocked the park with their thirty-minute set of jazz-laced blues/rock. Abair, mainly a saxophonist/singer but also a multi-instrumentalist, is as talented as they come and has worked with countless A-listers in the music biz in many different capacities. She and guitarist/vocalist Randy Jacobs of The Boneshakers formed their collaborative effort in 2015, and the resulting music is pure magic. A great champion for female empowerment, Abair co-wrote “Pretty Good For A Girl” with Jacobs and used it as the launching pad to create PrettyGoodForAGirl.net, a website devoted to the celebration of exceptional women. It was a treat to hear the band perform this one live. Abair exudes joy and passion while she skillfully performs, and you can’t help but smile as you are completely taken in by her charm. The call and response between Abair’s sax and Jacobs’ guitar was riveting. I for one cannot wait to see them again.

Mindi Abair and Randy Jacobs of The Boneshakers

Michelle Wilson
Mindi Abair and Randy Jacobs of The Boneshakers

 

While the Portland-based, folksy sister trio, Joseph (Allison and Meegan Closner and Natalie Closner Schepman), offered beautiful, stirring harmonies backed by only a guitar, their set may have been a bit sleepy for a festival main stage, particularly after following the fast-paced, edgy sets of Larkin Poe and Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers. That is in no way a criticism of the band – I thought they were fabulous – but their dreamy, slower-paced style may have been better served on a smaller stage.

Joseph

Michelle Wilson
Joseph

 

Perennial favs JJ Grey & Mofro fired up the rain-soaked fans with choice cuts from their catalog. Grey has always known how to work the crowd, and there was no way that the rain was going to put a damper on people dancing to the band’s funkadelic grooves on songs such as “Ho Cake” and “99 Shades Of Crazy.” Slowing it down with a moving rendition of “The Sun Is Shining Down,” the droves of drenched concertgoers slowly swayed and sang along with the band classic. JJ Grey never disappoints, and this set was another real highlight of the day.

JJ Grey & Mofro

Michelle Wilson
JJ Grey & Mofro

 

I can’t think of a better one-two punch than Keb’ Mo’ following JJ Grey & Mofro, even in the rain. Mr. Kevin Moore is an artist who brings joy wherever he plays, and he tops my list of personal favorites. With his unique blending of contemporary roots rock and blues, he tells a story through his music as no one else can. Highlights from his one-hour set (backed by a full band) included “More Than One Way Home,” “Government Cheese,” “Shave Yo’ Legs” and “Rita.” If you aren’t yet familiar with Keb’ Mo’, do yourself a favor and check out his music.

Keb' Mo'

Michelle Wilson
Keb’ Mo’

 

Brian Setzer did not allow photography, so we took the opportunity to slosh through the mud and rain in search of dinner. There were culinary choices for every palette spread throughout the grounds, along with craft beer, wine and bourbon vendors galore. Tent-covered bar areas with multiple screens of the stage were able to accommodate hundreds of people as they sheltered from the inclement weather while still enjoying the music.

Mash Stage

Michelle Wilson
Mash Stage

 

Sheryl Crow’s one-hour set was just glorious, and I don’t think there was a person there who didn’t love it. Opting for high-top sneakers, she ran and slid across the slippery stage as contagious joy rippled through the crowd. I worried that she would slip and fall (as Lenny Kravitz did later during his set), but the veteran rocker handled it like a seasoned pro. Subtly getting in her social and political commentary between songs, she offered up many of her hits as everyone sang along, including “If It Makes You Happy,” “Every Day Is A Winding Road,” “All I Wanna Do,” “My Favorite Mistake,” “Soak Up The Sun,” and “The Na Na Song/I’ve Got A Feeling.” Crow played guitar, keyboard and harmonica at various points during the set, and she never sounded better. I had never seen her live, and I was truly impressed.

Sheryl Crow

Michelle Wilson
Sheryl Crow

 

With only a small table holding a “brain,” the stage was set for David Byrne and his grand entrance. Whether or not you are a Talking Heads/David Byrne fan, you cannot deny Byrne’s inherent musical genius and all-around appeal. Who doesn’t know songs such as “Burning Down The House,” “This Must Be The Place” and “Once In A Lifetime?” The entire musical ensemble was comprised of barefoot men and women carrying their instruments and dressed alike in simple gray suits. They performed completely mobile in a tightly choreographed format. It was quite a spectacular performance. I looked around during the set and to my profound amazement, I saw twenty-somethings singing along to these decades-old Talking Heads songs. Byrne is passionate about encouraging people to get out and vote, and he used this forum to continue that effort. Along with his older material and a few covers, Byrne offered several cuts off his latest album, American Utopia, and his sixty-minute quirky set was nothing short of brilliant.

David Byrne

Michael Yanko
David Byrne

 

Realizing the literal inherent danger of the flooded clay-based grounds, we chose to leave the park just as Lenny Kravitz was taking the stage (also a no-photography artist for this event). It took us 45 minutes to trudge from point A (main stage area) to point B (lockers) as we gingerly navigated our way and tried to avoid losing our footing in the muddy rivers. When we finally cleared out our locker and left the venue, we knew that we had made the extremely wise decision to do so. It took people hours and hours to get out after John Mayer’s headlining set, and while we were disappointed to miss it, we were relieved to be safely out of the fray. Many people went down in the mud and had vehicles get stuck, but there were tow trucks ready to help those in need. By early the next morning, the city of Louisville made the prudent decision to call off Day 2. Everyone truly came together to help those in need. Once again, I have to commend everyone involved behind the scenes for helping this dire situation flow as smoothly as possible under the circumstances. Will people be deterred from attending next year’s event? Heck no! I’m already excited about the bands and I can’t wait to see the lineup and return to Louisville again.

Check out the full gallery of photos from Rock Legends Photographers with crowd shots and individual links to all the bands.

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/BAND-PROMOS-AND-MEET-AND/BOURBON-BEYOND-Louisville-KY-9-22-18

bourbonandbeyond.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Birds of Chicago

Birds of Chicago

Love in Wartime

Signature Sounds Recordings

Birds of Chicago – husband and wife Alison Russell (formerly of Po’ Girl) and JT Nero – have been honing their “secular gospel” approach since 2012, and their third studio release, Love in Wartime continues the pair’s funky, somewhat indescribable sound, following up the brilliant second album from 2016, Real Midnight. Starting off with “Intro: Now/Sunlight” which features Russell on banjo and some tuneful humming, “Never Go Back” follows with a Talking Heads funk guitar line and vocals from Nero that combines in a near-perfect pop song. The moving title cut is next – “Do you ever wonder how many stars died just so we could be”. Backing vocals from Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor provide atmospheric ambiance, and when Russell joins in, it’s stupendous.

Produced by North Mississippi All-Star Luther Dickinson and Nero, this is a joyous summertime record (despite being recorded in Chicago in January of 2017, which I assume is about as far from summer as possible). The 11 cuts combine stirring vocals, playful backing and a breezy songwriting style to create a magic that floats aurally like a cool wind on a hot night. They can go from the whispered beauty of “Lodestar” to a Joan Armatrading-ish workout on “Roll Away”. “Baton Rouge” takes a look at the battle on the streets of the south – “We shook our heads in disbelief/As if there’s no blood in our streets/As if there’s none of that old poison/Hot in our veins, deep in our very souls”. Moving indeed.

Are they Americana? Sometimes. Are they funky? Oh yes. No matter what you call them, every spin of Love in Wartime brings new delights, and an eager desire to hear more from this winning pair of lovebirds. Sing!

www.birdsofchicago.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Nona Hendrix and Gary Lucas

Nona Hendrix and Gary Lucas

The World of Captain Beefheart

Knitting Factory Records

Captain Beefheart was an original. His music combined elements of blues, free jazz, beat poetry, surrealist drama and rock and roll. He was a high school buddy of Frank Zappa and a major influence on bands like XTC, Gang of 4 and Tom Waits. His music has been compared to listening to a ball of rusty barbed wire. He wrapped his gruff voice in angular guitars and fractured rhythms. On his most challenging pieces, it sounded like five people playing different songs at the same time, but it was all composed and scored. He wanted it to sound that way.

For me, Captain Beefheart was a rite of passage in college. It seemed like all the bands we liked raved about Captain Beefheart, so we had to check him out. I was slower to grasp the Captain than my friends. That meant that Jon and Bill would subject me to Trout Mask Replica whenever they could (usually after my ability to object was reduced by things smoked or drank). After repeated immersions, it started to make sense. All those shards of sound fell into place and what originally sounded like noise coalesced into song. Then, I voluntarily sought out the relatively more accessible albums Clear Spot and Lick My Decals Off Baby. By that point, I was a convert and I was the one saying, you gotta listen to this!

The early 1980’s were good for Beefheart. The punks spurred renewed interest in his music. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band played on Saturday Night Live to promote Doc at the Radar Station. The video for the title track to his 1982 album, Ice Cream for Crow was shown at the Museum of Modern Art. And then, just as it appeared the Captain’s career was heating up, he walked away. Captain Beefheart retreated to the California desert where he focused on his painting, (which was far more financially rewarding than his music had ever been).

Gary Lucas well placed to keep the legacy of Captain Beefheart alive. He was Don Van Vliet’s manager and played guitar with the final version of the Magic Band. He’s continued playing Beefheart music with the Magic Band and a jazz influenced group called Fast and Bulbous. Lucas has collaborated with artists as varied as Jeff Buckley, Joan Osborne, John Cale and Nick Cave. He’s also written music for films and television.

The genesis of this project was collaboration between, Gary Lucas, soul/funk singer Nona Hendryx and Amsterdam’s Metropole Orchestra. That collaboration saw the guitarist and singer augmenting the Metropole Orchestra’s symphonic arrangements of Captain Beefheart’s music for a performance. Hendryx is an inspired choice. Nona was a member of the soul group LaBelle who had a huge his with Lady Marmalade. As well as being a solo artist, Hendryx collaborated with the industrial jazz band Material and the Talking Heads. The symphonic arrangements are amazing re-imaginings that explore the power and complexity of the music. As interesting as this performance must have been, I’m glad that Lucas and Hendryx brought the project back down to earth. The smaller group really allows them to explore the spirit of Captain Beefheart the poet and bluesman.

The World of Captain Beefheart finds Nona Hendryx finding the pop sensibility that was always in these songs, but often buried in the sonic complexities of the Magic Band. Nona renders I’m Glad as a lush, soul ballad complete with layered vocal harmonies. I always felt that someone could score a hit with some of Beefheart’s more sentimental tuned. This version of “I’m Glad” sounds like it should have been on a Labelle album back in the day. “Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles” and “My Head is My Only Home Unless It Rains” were also songs I wish had been on the radio. These versions come as close to realizing that fantasy, as I’ll ever hear. These tunes exemplify the deep compassion and humanity at the core of the Captain’s art.

While I really appreciate that Captain Beefheart could have had fairly normal sounding hits, most of his tunes propelled you into a strange and beautiful alternative reality. “The Smithsonian Institute Blues” rambles on about the dinosaurs down at the LeBrea Tar Pits. “When Big Joan Sets Up” is a love story about a couple that are too fat to go out in the daylight occupy. “Tropical Hot Dog Night” is a mutant calypso party anthem that gets weird when the young girls meet the monster at night. The absurdity, humor and humanity of these songs is seductive.

The spiky and sonically challenging is well represented too. Gary takes center stage for the instrumental, “Suction Prints”. This is a fine example of the gorgeous and highly idiosyncratic guitar instrumentals that pop up on most Beefheart albums. “Sugar N Spikes” represents the complex and off-kilter side of Beefheart while “Sun Zoom Spark” and “Sure “Nuff” N Yes I Do” are gloriously fractures blues tunes.

Captain Beefheart left the music world in 1982. Don Van Vliet left this world in 2010 after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. The world of art and music lost a true original when he passed, but the work remains. I’m glad that Gary and Nona devoted so much passion and energy to this project. The World of Captain Beefheart is a gift to old fans and a beautiful introduction to potential new converts. I hope that the Captain’s legacy will continue to challenge and inspire for decades to come

garylucas.com/www/twocb/twocb.shtml

Categories
Music Reviews

Sweet Crude

Sweet Crude

Créatures

Rhyme and Reason

“This parade’s coming to you. We really could use you,” sings Sam Craft on the opening number of Sweet Crude’s new CD. It’s a reference to the traditional second line parades in New Orleans, where musicians and residents commune in the streets to dance, sing, have a good time and share a manifestation of their shared culture. Sweet Crude’s particular parade is a party celebrating Francophone Louisiana that messes with expectations in the best possible way.

When I mention French language music from Louisiana, most people are going to think of Cajun bands like Feufollet or the Savoy Family band. Maybe, some Zydeco bands will come to mind too. The young musicians in Sweet Crude definitely grew up with these sounds, but they’re also part of a larger world that includes TV on the Radio, Animal Collective, and the Talking Heads, which are of course, the folk bands of the modern era.

Créatures is a celebration. It’s a celebration of Francophone culture in Louisiana that embraces the 21st Century. Craft and fellow vocalist Alexis Marceaux, effortlessly switch between French and English as they sing about daydreams, parades and stuff hanging on power lines. There is enough English to keep a monolingual like myself feeling included (and also giving me awkward Carpool Karaoke moments when I want to sing along to the French parts but just can’t form the words).

I am way beyond thinking that music can save the world. I do think Sweet Crude may have the power to save the day with their infectious joy. They may also play a role in helping kids from multi-lingual households see that there is a place in the world for them too. Their tongues may be split in two, but Sweet Crude spread the good times in both of their native languages. I, for one, am happy to jump in line with this parade. I hope you’ll have a change to join this second line too.

www.sweetcrudeband.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Big Mean Sound Machine

Big Mean Sound Machine

Runnin’ for the Ghost

Peace & Rhythm

Runnin’ for the Ghost has been on my sound system almost constantly since it arrived in the mail. I play it while I’m working on spreadsheets and I play it in the car while I’m zipping around in traffic. If I weren’t dancing impaired, I’d probably be shaking body parts right now. It’s a perfect getting things done soundtrack.

Big Mean Sound Machine is a nine piece band from Ithaca, NY with a sound based in Afrobeat, but drawing on influences from all across the musical spectrum. The Sound Machine is content to let their instruments do the talking (or put another way, they don’t have any singers in the band). These instrumental tracks are built on the surging rhythms of Afrobeat, but I hear elements of Dub reggae, Caribbean carnival tunes, a hefty dose of funk and loads of jazz.

I’ll tell you how infectious this music is. When I looked at their tour schedule and saw that they were playing a bar over 300 miles away in a couple weeks, I seriously thought about taking a road trip to see them. The reality of the show being on a weeknight, I have a day job and limited funds killed that idea, … but I really wish I coulda pulled it off.

www.bigmeansoundmachine.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Synthesize The Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica

Synthesize The Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica

Ostinato records

When I was studying anthropology, one of the topics I was really interested in was cultural diffusion. I was fascinated by the way ideas moved from culture to culture, place to place, changing and adapting as they went. All of us who are music wonks know several stories of cultural diffusion, even if we don’t know that’s what it’s called. You have blues making it’s way out of the rural south, getting mixed up with hillbilly music and eventually coming back across the Atlantic as the British Invasion. There was also Caribbean music filtering up to the port of New Orleans where is got mixed up with jazz, creating R&B, which later got imperfectly copies in Jamaica giving birth to ska and reggae. I could go into more detail (and I have in academic papers over the years), but the point is that we’re all connected in interesting and unexpected ways.

Synthesize Soul is a beautiful case study in ideas hopping back and forth between the Cape Verde islands and mainland Europe. The compilation charts the interaction both musically and technologically between the islanders’ rhythmically exuberant indigenous music and trends in dance music.

When Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony, they were pretty isolated and had no real access to electronic instruments. When the islands gained their independence in 1975. It ushered in a period of political and economic turmoil, which lead to the migration of Cape Verdeans to Europe and America. In their new homes, music and dance were an important link to the home islands. The people didn’t just want some sounds from home; they wanted something that reflected their immigrant experience. Cape Verdean musicians adapted synthesizers and eclectic guitars and bass to their traditional music. The resulting hybrids changed the music back home as musicians brought synths and MIDI technology home,

About half of the songs on Synthesize the Soul feature Paulino Veira in some capacity. Viera made Lisbon a hot spot for Cape Verde musicians cooking up new sounds. Nos Criola opens the compilation with bracing rhythms, funky bass and the occasional odd disco sound effect. Val Xalino’s track, “Danca, Danca T’Manche” sounds like it could have been from the Talking Heads, Remain in Light sessions. Who knows, maybe Byrne and Eno were listening to Xalino?

Today, the Cape Verde islands are a stable, democratic country considered one of the success stories of postcolonial Africa. The music on this compilation comes from a time of stress, when migrants took refuge in other countries. The migrant experience produced a flowering of artistic expression that you can sample on this disc.

ostinatorecords.bandcamp.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti

Box Set #3 (curated by Brian Eno)

Knitting Factory Records

It’s undeniable that Fela Kuti’s influence continues to spear across the world long after his untimely passing in 1997. During his lifetime, Fela battled a music industry that would homogenize and sanitize music: to make music a commodity rather than an art form. Fela was a major political force in his native Nigeria. His music openly attacked political corruption, prejudice, and postcolonial economic exploitation. He was a dreamer, an activist, an eccentric and an all together larger than life character. I highly recommend checking out the documentary, Finding Fela.

Fela Kuti’s influence continues to inspire bands like Antibalas, Afro Zuma, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra and many more. Fela’s son, Femi Kuti carries on the family tradition, continuing the evolution of Afrobeat.

Knitting Factory Records is fueling this revival with a series of vinyl box sets. The first box set was curated by the Roots drummer, ?uestlove, the second set was put together by Cream drummer and sometimes Fela associate, Ginger Baker, while the third installment is organized by producer and electronic music pioneer, Brian Eno.

Fela’s music has been a major influence of Brian Eno as a musician and producer. Eno first encountered Fela’s music through the 1973 release, Afrodisiac. In the liner notes to Box Set #3, Eno admits that at first he didn’t really get the polyrhythmic music Fela was making. He credits Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt’s analogy of the music as “Jazz from another planet” with making both Fela and jazz make sense. Since then, Eno has been a major advocate for Fela’s music. He shared his passion with David Byrne, which became a major influence on the Talking Heads remarkable album, Remain In Light and of course the Byrne and Eno collaboration, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Box Set #3 collects seven albums with a focus on his 1970’s work. The albums in the set include, Shakara (1971), Fela’s London Scene (1972), AfrodisiacM (1973), Gentleman (1973), Zombie (1976), Upside Down (1976), and I.T.T. (1980). This is a tremendous amount of material to digest. If I were to try to discuss each album in detail, this review would reach ridiculous length. Instead, let me say that listening to these discs in order of original release provides insight into the evolution of Fela Kuti’s music. The earliest works show a pronounced jazz and soul influences. As you listen to the tracks on these seven discs, you’ll ride through tacks that get progressively longer, more ambitious and more distinctly Fela. By the time we get to I.T.T, the entire album is one long groove.

If a seven album box set is more than you care to take on at once (or is more than you can afford), Knitting Factory is also releasing the component discs as stand-alone records. You wont go wrong diving into the complete set or starting with just one album. If you can only spring for one record, I’d suggest Zombie, which was a huge hit in Nigeria when it was released.

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