Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Randy’s 50th Anniversary


randysFor fans of Reggae, Ska, Dance Hall, and Dub, there’s no better way to trace the lineage of your favorite tunes then with the recently released Randy’s 50th Anniversary from VP Records. The album mines the best recordings to come out of Vincent “Randy” Chin’s iconic Kingston record shop in the 1960’s and 70’s. The fifty tracks paint a clear portrait of the process by which Jamaican artists melded American pop music with Caribbean rhythmic sensibilities to create genres all their own that have continue to flower into new manifestations to this day.

The influence of U.S. pop recordings is clear in early tracks like Alton and Eddie’s “Let Me Dream,” a fairly straightforward doo-wop, covers like Bob Marley’s laid-back, matured (and overall better) version of the Archies’ bubble gum hit “Sugar Sugar,” and later Alton Ellis’s bright, syncopated cover of “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” originally by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose.

But a clear Caribbean vibe is also present from the start. The appropriate opening track, “Independent Jamaica” glides atop Caribbean percussion. A heavy Ska backbeat propels Rico Rodriguez’s “Rico Special.” By the end of the first disc, the social critiques of Peter Tosh and romantic plaints of The Gaylads are set to a rhythm like nothing to come from the U.S.
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As Old as the Blues

from the Playboy Blog, 11/13/08

edwardsA 93-year-old doesn’t take the stage the way most musicians do. It takes a lot longer, and may require spotters on either flank. So when David “Honeyboy” Edwards made the trek to center stage at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and settled ever so slowly into his chair, I had to wonder, does he still have it?

Born in 1915, Honeyboy is one of the last original Delta bluesmen still walking the earth. He’s a contemporary of the legendary Robert Johnson, and actually wrote some of the songs that Johnson made famous, including “Sweet Home Chicago.” But despite his age, Honeyboy put on an energetic show. His voice, a bit deeper and gruffer than Johnson’s, was still strong, his lyrics as unintelligible as ever. Honeyboy’s guitar rhythms were a bit more lax than they were in the old days, but his accompanists, Michael Frank on Harmonica and Rocky Lawrence on second guitar, followed his lead smoothly. And when it came to soloing, Honeyboy showed that his fingers and creative mind were still impressively nimble. He raised his eyebrows at the crowd whenever he hit a particularly mischievous twang, and Lawrence contributed delighted cackles and howls at Honeyboy’s most impressive riffs. But the band never stopped to soak up the love from the crowd, chugging relentlessly from one song to the next without rest.

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Get Out Of Your Garage

from the Playboy Blog, 7/31/08

If you want to make it big as a musician these days, selling CDs isn’t going to cut it. Much like our shopping, dating, social interaction, and (ahem) media, the music industry is now dominated by, and reliant upon, the internet. But for music, this may not be a bad thing.

Enter, a brand new website that connects under-the-radar musicians with performance venues. The process is simple: the venue posts open dates in their calendar, interested bands apply, the venue filters through the information compiled on the bands’ pages to find the perfect fit, and the best band gets the gig. The simple online process removes snail-mailing sample CDs, days of phone tag, and scrambling to find last-minute acts from the process, leaving each party more time to do what it does best: play music and sell us beer.

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Nobody Does It Better

from the Playboy Blog, 5/1/08

In one of my favorite Paul Simon songs, the time-tested songwriter laments, “down the decades every year, summer leaves and my birthday’s here, and all my friends stand up and cheer and say ‘man, you’re old.” He wrote that almost a decade ago. And yet, as Simon wrapped up his month-long residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last weekend, he pulled out the same fresh, unadorned voice and playful humor that have been his trademark for all those decades. And in the process, the old man outplayed all the young disciples who came to honor him.

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Same day, different Paddy

From the Playboy Blog, 3/20/08

chieftains.jpgAs Conor and Rocky pointed out on Monday, the idea that U2 has come to represent Ireland’s music is heresy to us Irish Americans. So this St. Patrick’s Day I found myself craving some real Irish melody, or as my dear mother calls it, “deedly-dee music.” As luck would have it, The Chieftains were tuning up just down the street at Carnegie Hall, so I headed over to celebrate my heritage the traditional way.
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Bam Gets Staxed


From the Playboy Blog, 2/20/08

As Alan Evans settled in behind his simple four-piece drum kit, he politely exhorted the audience, “Please don’t feel obligated to stay seated.” It was clear that he and his band, Soulive, were more used to jazz and dance clubs than the ornate opera house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where they were kicking off the 175-show Brooklyn Next festival. There was some hesitation in the audience ranks until a gentleman chimed in from the back of the room: “Stand up, bitches!” With that, the predominantly hipster crowd thronged into the aisles and the band launched into its trademark hybrid of jazz, funk, soul, and rock.

Soulive recently signed with resurrected Stax records, the Memphis label that boasted Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Isaac Hayes. The Evans brothers, Alan on drums and vocals and Neal on keyboards, kept Stax’s soul intact. Alan’s rhythms were airtight and on the few occasions that he sang, his voice had a gravelly quality reminiscent of his predecessors. Neal laid down fat bass lines with his left hand while pounding Jimmy Smith-style organ solos with his right and occasionally throwing in effects on a fourth keyboard with whichever hand was momentarily free.
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His Place Downtown

From the Playboy Blog, 3/03/08milton.jpg

Touring from venue to venue is a real test of a band’s versatility. So when you’re lucky enough to catch one in its niche a good show is virtually guaranteed. Thus, New York folk-rocker Milton’s kick-off-your-shoes bar music has been thriving in weekly sets on his home turf, the aptly named Living Room; the Lower East Side bar has crammed in loyal Milton fans every Wednesday night in February.

Milton’s music clearly descends from the likes of the Band, King Harvest, and Van Morrison. His songs are tight and melodic, albeit less groundbreaking than the work of his predecessors. For me, the band’s draw comes less from the melodies than from a texture that plays particularly nicely in an intimate bar. Milton’s voice is a deep rasp that sounds carefree but never misses a note, perfect for the band’s relaxed, swinging tunes. Oxford grad Frank Campbell’s jangling barroom piano intros and solos inject liveliness in an ensemble that might otherwise be weighed down by more mundane guitar chords, particularly on pop-ier songs like “Her Place Uptown.”
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Cooking With Mojo

From the Playboy Blog, 1/23/08


This past Friday and Saturday Burnt Sugar, The Arkestra Chamber fired up The Kitchen, a non-profit experimental art space in Chelsea, with a performance of their most recent work, “More Than Human: The Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion.” The band is the baby of composer/conductor/guitarist/philosopher Greg Tate. He originally conceived the group as an updated version of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew ensemble, and since its founding Burnt Sugar has had some resemblance to Miles’s crew. It mixes electric and acoustic instruments and draw inspiration from countless genres—jazz, hip hop, R&B, psychedelic rock, even some grunge. Its instrumentation and personnel change constantly, much like Miles’s electric bands.
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Hymn To Oscar

From the Playboy Blog, 1/2/08


One of the greatest pianists to sit at a keyboard, Oscar Peterson played with a dexterity and emotional expressiveness that could hold you in a trance for an entire album.

Peterson was elected winner of the Playboy All-Star Jazz Poll as Best Jazz Pianist in 1959, 1961-66, 1968-69, and 1975. Over his long career, we reviewed 25 of Peterson’s recordings; here is we had to say about my favorite, Night Train, in December 1963:

Night Train: The Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve) features Peterson, [Ray] Brown and [Ed] Thigpen in a driving, blues-tinged mood. The blues make for happy listening; we rarely have heard the group so up for a session. This LP rates Oscar an Oscar.

Our blurb was dead on for most of the album, but we didn’t have room to do justice to its brightest moment: Peterson’s on-the-spot composition, “Hymn to Freedom.” This beautifully subdued masterpiece was deeply rooted in the church hymns of Peterson’s childhood and became an anthem for the civil rights movement. For my money, “Hymn to Freedom” is the reason Night Train is still the best piano jazz album you can buy.

Music For the Road

From the Playboy Blog, 11/6/07


The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is a hellish nightmare for many New York commuters. Built in the 1930s, the BQE is a marvel of ugly engineering that affords drivers a view of some of the most run-down portions of the city as they sit in traffic. Many people would love to see the expressway demolished. Indie rocker Sufjan Stevens thought it needed … a symphony?

Stevens has an affinity for mundane subjects (i.e. the states of Michigan and Illinois—he’s written an entire album about each). But I doubted his ability to make me appreciate such a symbol of urban blight. Still, I was curious enough to check out the show at BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music) this weekend. Continue reading