Tag Archives: Amos Lee

You Must Bear Your Neighbor’s Burden Within Reason

Last year was a fine year for music, but only a few things really wowed me. That’s not to say it was completely bereft of anything good, but the prevailing theme, at least in my estimation, was that while 2009 was a banner year for new talent & a resurgence of older talent, 2010 had very little to offer. 2011 is shaping up to be, already, one of the better years. The Decemberists came out with a new album on Tuesday & it’s their best album yet. It hits chords in my soul that bring out such joy, that I can’t help but sway.

I suppose I should address the elephant in the blog & explain my prolonged absence. Boredom. That’s it. I was completely & utterly bored with anything that was coming out. I was searching for new & exciting things to come my way. Lissie made an album that I adore, but I couldn’t write anything that hadn’t been said. I had a whole soliloquy ready for the brilliance of Ray Lamontagne’s overnight transformation from Indie darling to bluegrass star & yet nothing came out. There was a block of sorts & much of it came from the draining effects of writing a book about my travels through Europe. A book that is finished in its infant form, but must now be raised into something I can market.

There were a few other albums that I quite enjoyed: Justin Townes Earle, Head & the Heart, Broken Bells, The Black Keys & obviously Arcade Fire which was the best album of the year, but perhaps through my own depression of  the musical offerings being put out there or indifference the ability to cognitively discuss these in terms that were worth reading was nonexistent. So here sat the blog. Relatively unchanged throughout the year as I struggled to put my thoughts into words. I feel I’ve made some sort of a turning point, even though I intended to begin writing last week. To be cliche I suppose it’s better late than never.

So I purchased two albums from Amazon the other day (yes I buy my music), where the $3.99 deals keep me coming back & spending on things I would otherwise think twice about buying. I bought Social Distortion’s new album Hard Time & Nursery Rhymes & the aforementioned Decemberists album The King is Dead. Let’s discuss Social D’s new album first. It’s been  7 years since they released an album & a few years since Mike Ness has come out with an album, himself. I’ve always been a fringe fan of Social D’s, as I do not have the dancing skeleton tattooed anywhere on my body. It has that patented loud Gibson sound & gruff Mike Ness nosy drawl, but with lyrics that seem to have more emotional impact than ever before. Take for instance “Still Alive”  where Ness pleads,

“I’m still alive, I will survive, I can handle what life brings, just give me time…I’m still alive, talking the same ol’ jive, I can handle anything that comes my way, just give me another day”

It ends with a short, but beautiful piano solo that made me really feel that this album rivals anything they’ve ever done. It is so reminiscent of early Springsteen that I haven’t stopped listening to it for 3 days. That is, except to listen to The Decemberists’ new album The King is Dead, an album which seems to have awoken them from their prog rock malaise from the past few years. It sounds so similar to early R.E.M. that it came as no surprise to see that Peter Buck contributed to three of the tracks. The opening track almost sounds Tom Pettyesque with heavy drums taking the forefront much like “You Don’t Know How it Feels”.

Colin Meloy really lets loose with his voice on The King is Dead & goes places that I haven’t heard him dare go vocally before. It shows that the risks were worth taking. Changing the sound & straying away from that boring sound have worked wonders & even though it came out in January there’s a distinct feeling that come coincidentally December we will still be talking about this album as one of the best of the year.

I can’t say I will write everyday as I do have a job that requires a good chunk of time, but I will continue to talk about things I love & look forward to talking about new releases from groups like Foxxhound, Two Guns, Cold War Kids, Amos Lee, Drive-by Truckers & Okkervill River. It will be a banner year for Indie music & soon Indie Music will become alternative & all the kids will have to jump on the bandwagon. I’m fine by that. Music should be loved by all & not thrown into some meta category to be hated once it becomes popular to the masses. If it’s good, love it. If it sucks, hate it, but don’t despise popular music for being popular. Despise it, much like I despise She Wants Revenge & Jason Mraz for being bad at music.

Machine Gun Blues – Social Distortion

Sweet & Lowdown – Social Distortion

Still Alive – Social Distortion

Don’t Carry It All – The Decemberists

This is Why We Fight – The Decemberists

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For The Only Joy In Life Is To Be Loved

People rave about how good the Temptations were. They wax poetically on how great their sound was & how they innovated that ’60’s Motown sound. The truth, however, is that The Four Tops while not as widely recognized are in fact just as good if not better than the Temptations. This, though, is not a comparison piece, it is merely a testament to the effect of the Four Tops in the evolution of soul music.

The Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs had the voice of a gravely angel as he raspily sang songs such as: “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” & my favorite “Bernadette”. The problem the Four Tops face is that their music doesn’t necessarily translate to today’s society as their most popular song the aforementioned “Sugar Pie, Honey bunch” is filled with slang & colloquialisms of that time. This does not take away from the affection of the song, just makes it less palatable to this generation.

Soul music today, has been bastardized to the point of nearly no return. It has formed a partnership with Rap/Hip-Hop which is fine in that music must constantly evolve  but in some instances, this being one of them, a genre can lose it’s value to the point that it’s completely worthless. This is the case with modern Soul/R&B with a few exceptions, John Legend, Amos Lee, James Hunter & perhaps Jill Scott being those exceptions. They are far & few between, though. The Four Tops exemplified that harmonious street corner sound of 60’s soul.

Where Sam Cooke took gospel to new heights, the Four Tops took that soul sound & created a genre that the Temptations followed. it was the Four Tops, though, that from their inception in 1953 to their end in 1997 that not once had a personnel change. It was the sound of the Four Tops that created Motown. The Four Tops begot the Temptations & the Supremes who begot Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrel. It was from this quartet that Soul escaped the Blues/Jazz/Gospel sound of the ’50’s & for better or worse became a marketable entity for white America in the ’60’s.

The ’50’s sound of gospel was very close to Blues & the Negro spiritual anthems that were the forebearers to R&B/Soul that Berry Gordy, in collaboration with The Four Tops among others, perfected. My contention  is merely that the Four Tops are simply not given the credit for which they so rightly deserve. The emotion that Stubbs sings with in the beautiful “Bernadette” about his longing for the girl that he adores & how he fears losing her to the “other men”, is palpable.

The Temptations are certainly more polished than the Four Tops. They go down easier. The Temptations are great in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but they are simply not as good as the Four Tops. Whereas the Four Tops are coffee black, the Temptations are 2 creams & a little sugar (nothing to do with race, sycophants).

The difference is & we’ll use the example of “Bernadette” once again, is the crescendo in the music as Stubbs goes right along with it. The music hits it’s peak just as Stubbs hits his, it’s brilliance is all consuming as you can sense the feelings in his voice getting more desperate as the song goes along. He pleads with “Bernadette” to “tell the world” of their love. Begging her to not leave him for the “other men” by expressing all the feelings of adoration he feels for her. All he wants is her to keep on loving him & then the best part when you think the song is going to end & Stubbs screams out her name without any accompaniment as one last plea for her to feel the pain he would feel if he were to lose her again to the “other men”.

It is music like this that should be recognized as the epoch of R&B brilliance, but instead they are a footnote to the easily digestible Temptations. It is my goal as a lover of the purity of all forms of music that they should be as widely recognized as the Temptations or the Supremes or even Marvin Gaye. The Four Tops live in the hearts & minds of those that have experienced their enduring legacy & learned from their example of stability & brilliance.

THE FOUR TOPS

Bernadette

Don’t Walk Away Renee

It’s the Same Old Song

Trainman is Thunder & Light

My pick to click this week kids is Coyote Grace. A band from one of my many former stomping grounds, Sonoma County, Ca. with a sound that invokes images of Amos Lee meets Crosby, Stills & Nash (Young was sick), Coyote Grace is the brainchild of Ingrid Elizabeth Eyen & Joseph Greenwood Stevens a couple of crazy kids with a love for bluegrass, folk & country music.

Northern California’s music scene is an up and comer & seems to be eclipsing what was once a burgeoning scene in Southern California. Ingrid hails from Southeastern Ohio while Joe comes from Sacramento. With guitar rhythms & a strong bass sound that compliment the raspy vocals of Joesph this is a band to keep a keen eye on in 2009-10. They’ve already released their first album Boxes & Bags & intend on releasing 2 albums this year. One being a live album (already?!) of their recent tour with Courtney Robbins.

Rest assured that this band will make a splash in the ever-expanding Alt-Country scene that seemingly is eclipsing the crap that regularly comes out on the radio the way Grunge did at the beginning of the 90s. I will do my best, loyal readers to get an interview with this band on my next trip to Northern California. They are awash in brilliance.

Coyote GraceTrainman

David CrosbyMountain Song #4