16 April 2006

an obligatory jesus post

Something for Easter.

jews for jesus blues : clem snide
click here or on the image below to listen

Sometimes random purchases can turn into wonderful surprises. I only knew Clem Snide from their 2005 album, End of Love, which I picked up blindly at a bricks-and-mortar record shop late last year. I do that sometimes, without even sampling the CD, just hoping the album would be good enough for me to like. Needless to say, not all of them have been worth the dough, but End of Love made up for some previous disappointments. If you like folk-rock with a maniacal twistedness, you will be happy to know that Clem Snide have been at it for five albums now. Like most of the songs I post here, this one just doesn't encapsulate the band. My favorite track from End of Love, the upbeat Something Beautiful, is funny, sexy, and dangerously perverted all at once. Get this: You make me wanna/Soak it in gasoline, stain my new shirt/Sip lysol from a cup, so clean it hurts. Jews for Jesus Blues, on the other hand, resonates the confusion of a middle-aged fuck-up who thinks God is playing a joke on his or her good intentions. I don't wanna suffer and I don't wanna die/I want the clouds parted in an endless, blue sky/But someone up there has a different plan/Now that I'm saved I wish I was damned. As you will hear, it doesn't come off as tongue-in-cheek as it was probably intended to be.

Anyway, by pure coincidence, I learned about the Jews for Jesus movement not because of this song but after seeing the film Everything is Illuminated on a plane last month. Not that there's any reference about it in the film (or the book, which I've read, and yes, the book is way better). I just found myself searching the web about Judaism after watching the Elijah Wood movie, and as it is with Google, one thing led to another and I found myself here.

09 April 2006

rounding out the alphabet part 2

This post was brought to you by the letters V, X, and Z, and by the number 120. That's 120 songs since I started this blog. Go me!

troubled so hard : vera hall
click here or on the image below to listen. 1m 37s
image taken from the vera hall project.

Like nearly everyone else, I knew nothing about the late Vera Hall until I heard Natural Blues by Moby, which samples this grievous acappella. Born near Livingston, Alabama sometime around 1902, Hall was a great folk and blues singer that the recording industry seems to have forgotten. There is not even a word in Wikipedia about her, or any of the other names she was known as in her lifetime. Save for a few songs on iTunes, a couple of compilation CDs on Amazon – this and this – and audio archives with downloadable MP3s from the Library of Congress website, her repertoire seems to be of quite limited availability. Nonetheless, thank people like Gabriel Greenberg, who runs The Vera Hall Project, for keeping awareness of Hall alive. Check out this interesting article from the website about the impact of Natural Blues on her estate, while listening to what is now her most popular song. Troubled So Hard is so raw you can imagine it being sung by someone in the midst of heavy toil, or penitence.

light the shade : xavier rudd
no woman no cry : xavier rudd
click here or on the image below to listen, then click on the left- and right-pointing arrows to switch between songs. 6m 44s total.

Xavier Rudd is an Australian multi-instrumentalist who makes music like an artist with little regard for commercial success. He writes about social issues – from rights of Aboriginies to the environment – and lays music using a host of indigenous instruments, from didgeridoos to djembes to banjos, all played by himself, often simultaneously, to various degrees of expertise. Yet this deviance is what has made him a commercial success, both in his homeland and in festival circuits abroad. Last year, his fourth album Solace, which he had put out independently in 2004, was picked up and released by a major label. Despite a growl and drawl that approximate Dave Matthews, there is nothing rudimentary about Rudd. The intensity of his singing reaches you in strokes, not in blows, and he sings with vocal control as if he's about to perform before an audience for the first time.

time of the season : the zombies
click here or on the band image below to listen. 3m 34s

Can there be a cooler intro than this? And had people been asking "Who's your daddy?" before the band released this song in 1968? Ah, but the Washington Post has an answer to that.

08 April 2006

rounding out the alphabet part 1

Out of sheer whim, I'm posting songs by artists starting with letters I don't already have in my list of songs you can listen to. I'm manic that way. Let's start with Q and U, and tomorrow I'll deliver V, X and Z.

burn the witch : queens of the stone age
click here or on the band image below to listen

Not being a big fan of Queens of the Stone Age, I can't tell the difference between their pre- and post-Nick Olivieri sound. Lullabies to Paralyze, the album where Burn the Witch comes from and which marks the end of the relationship between vocalist Josh Homme and his long-time pal and bassist Olivieri, sounds every bit as good as any of the band's three albums prior. Despite their ever-changing line-up (Homme is the only original member left now) the Queens have maintained a consistent sound: hard rock you don't have to get stoned to enjoy. I don't take them seriously; I just love their pounding riffs, and this one's one of the best.

the white spirit : uman
click here or on the image below to listen

Yeah I had a New Age phase, mostly music from the Windham Hill record label. Although I've outgrown them I still enjoy listening to the albums of a couple of their artists, one of them being French siblings Didier and Danielle Jean, together known as Uman, supposedly from the native American word "umane" meaning "Earth forces." This is the song that attracted me to them, and the artwork in the album, done by a painter known as Zad, captures the feeling it evokes quite well. In fact Zad is the unofficial third member of the team, since Didier's idea is to combine music with visuals. In itself, though, Uman's music is transcendental. Not quite world, not quite ambient, not quite electronic. Just French, I guess?

04 April 2006

things you told me about : part 3

come with me tonight : bob schneider
click here or on the image below to listen

This is how All Music Guide describes Bob Schneider: "His music is redolent of singer/songwriters of the '70s from Neil Young to Paul Simon, with a slightly more modern musical sensibility reminiscent of Beck." I don't hear any of it, but if I may venture with my own off-the-wall comparison – the more I listen to this Austin-based artist, the more I think he sounds like Jack Johnson or Pat McGee after downing shots of tequila. You're not going to hear it in this song I'm posting, which is more along the lines of Vertical Horizon, but it's all over in songs like Round and Round, Captain Kirk, and Gold In The Sunset. Pleasant pop music that hardly makes an impact, sure, but at least you can hear some capability that he can make great music if he only tried harder. Listening to his albums I'm Good Now and Lonelyland, it seems to me like Schneider is more preoccupied with paying tribute to his influences, which are quite diverse, rather than crafting his own sound. Like McGee, he is...elastic. That said, there's no denying his talent, which could take him anywhere. His coffee-and-cigarettes voice is quite impressive; it can be dark and morose or light and humorous, and that gives him a range that allows him to tackle a wide spectrum of rock genres, and country to boot. He makes interesting, catchy rhythms, and his songwriting is witty. Take this from Gold In The Sunset: She got the gun/She got the gun again/Sipping on a pipe razor backed up and smoking Indochina/If you're thinking what I'm thinking, it's quite funny.

03 April 2006

things you told me about : part 2

i'm confessin' : lizz wright
click here or on the image below to listen

Melt your heart with this song from the 26-year-old R&B/jazz artist from Georgia. That makes her only a year or so older than Britney, Christina and Beyoncé, but the maturity she exudes is far beyond her years. Lizz puts my pants on fire better than Norah Jones does. If she got any sexier, I woud probably spontaneously combust. She does it for me in a slow, subtle way. Her music is romantic, not provocative; refined, not vain; elegant; not risqué unlike the chart-topping R&B artists her age. I know I'm not making the right comparisons here, but that's partly the point. If you're a 20-something African-American female artist, you either hard-sell sex to get to the charts, or be a jazz vocalist, or carve a niche in some fusion of gospel and R&B. And if you choose the latter routes, then you're going to have a high benchmark, being measured against legends such as Cassandra Wilson or Dianne Reeves. And that's exactly what I'm doing, wondering whether Lizz will have the longevity and reach the status of the two women just mentioned, or fade into obscurity, or sell out. Vocally, she's neither strong nor original, but she has that X factor. Anyway, this is I'm Confessin' from her 2005 album Dreaming Wide Awake. It's got five stars on iTunes' customer ranking (plus the album is critically acclaimed) so she's doing something right.

02 April 2006

things you told me about : part 1

What a month! March was no doubt the busiest I've had in, um, months. I went to Sydney. I went to Manila. I went to Shanghai. I started our corporate blog. I wrote a feature story. I acted as moderator at a conference. I judged a category in an industry awards thingy. My iMac had kernel panics – bad RAM. My iPod died and I had panics – when you see that "Do not disconnect" sign while updating your iPod, trust me, they mean it. But my precious is OK now, just like March is all over now. April looks relatively easy, but I might go somewhere during Easter. Anyway. Here are some songs or artists that have been recommended by some of you guys. I should have done this a long time ago, so you can bet there'll be more like this in the future. Just let me know what you think I should hear by e-mailing me at alternativesounds {at} mac {dot} com. Thanks, you know who you are.

river of gold : eliza gilkyson
click here or on the image below to listen. 3m 20s

This woman has vocals to break your heart. An Austin, Texas-based folk artist, Eliza Gilkyson has been making music since 1979 and her last two albums, Land of Milk and Honey from 2004 and Paradise Hotel last year are quiet, emotional statements to issues she feels strongly about, from the war in Iraq to that freak in Washington to separation to spousal abuse. In spite of the intensity of these subjects, Gilkyson sings with a calmness that can only come from someone who is firm in her beliefs but looks at things with a level head. Nothing is oversung; all you get is an honestly passionate rendition of songs written with wisdom and from experience. River of Gold comes from her 1997 album Redemption Road, and as the album title suggests, it is about moving on after a personal failure, in this case, her marriage. It is a light take – note the sarcastic chuckle at the intro – on a bitter theme, but only just so. When she sings "I just want to get going before I'm too old," you can tell how much hurt and how broken she still feels in spite of keeping up her pride. She marches on with uncertainty, continuing to believe in fate. Just like many of us.

crank : catherine wheel
click here or on the image below to listen

Catherine Wheel vocalist Rob Dickinson had his solo debut album out last year, and you can sample three of the songs in his myspace page. Meanwhile, here's the second most-downloaded song of the now-defunct English band on iTunes. Catherine Wheel was formed in 1990, and it's very clear from the way they sound how stuck they were between the paranoia of the 80s and the anger of the 90s – take Gene Loves Jezebel or Echo and the Bunnymen and mix them with any of the guitar-heavy grunge bands of the 90s. In Crank, Dickinson has a brooding voice, with a depth and reverb of someone trapped in a cave. It's as menacing as an approaching storm, but if you're the type who, like me, finds even a little bit of thrill in dark clouds rolling in, then this is for you. It's just sad that the talented band never shot to fame, and it seems Dickinson is bound to have a similar fate solo in spite of his obvious attempt to sound this side of mainstream.