Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Brief Hiatus

Memphis Tigers Basketball

Been a bit since I posted. Work, as well as outside activities like NCAA basketball and the return of MLB baseball have kept me from posting in a while. I'm working up a couple of good posts about several of my favorite things, but in the meantime, here's some great stuff I've found on the Series of Tubes lately.

Ray LaMontagne was amazing on SNL this past Saturday. His opening number was a rousing R&B number I hadn't heard previously but enjoyed immensely. He followed with a wonderful performance of "Trouble" that was pitch perfect. What a great performance!

Going out on a high note, Conan O'Brien had an amazing last 2-3 weeks. His final show nearly left me in tears, but I was relieved the following day to find that Andy Richter was rejoining the show. Success! Here's two of his best sketches ever, plus a posting of the final segment, in case you missed it.

I should add here that I've lately found to be super awesome, there's lots of clips and it's very easy to view/post. However, the fact that the content rotates in and out (Conan's final episode is no longer available, 2 weeks out) bothers me a bit. If a place like YouTube can keep everything basically forever, why does Hulu have to delete things so quickly? I'd love a resource where I can find old Conan episodes. I'd probably watch nothing else, if that were the case. Why can't it be so?

Lastly, this has made the rounds everywhere the past few weeks, but I feel it's my duty to post it as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

geek4covers, a cappella edition

The Be Sharps
I have long held a capalla music in high regard. A group of musicians, without instrumentation, providing an orchestra of sound was popular in days long ago, but the practice has waned in modern times. Luckily, many college a capella groups still exist that carry on this tradition, along with a few professional organizations as well.

It's also no secret that I'm a big fan of cover songs. Taking another artists song and reworking it, when well done, really brings a whole new level to the experience. Hearing one of my favorite songs interpreted anew is a truly joyous experience.

Here's a few favorites that are both a capella and covers, along with the original tracks. Good a cappella music isn't extremely easy to come by, in my experience; if you have any suggestions for others to listen for, feel free to comment below.

The Harvard Callbacks - Don't Change Your Plans
Easily my favorite song of the bunch. The original is great, but production on this version is outrageously good!

Reverse Osmosis - I Believe She's Lying
A great rendition of a Jon Brion classic. Don't know Jon Brion? You probably do, he's produced for tons of people the past decade, most notably Kanye West.
(This m4a file will play in iTunes and on most mp3 players. I hesitate to compress it into an mp3 as sound quality would be further compromised)

Schrödinger's Cat - When Doves Cry
Very creative sound effects make this version almost indistinguishable from the Prince original.

That One - Rainbow Connection
Probably one of my favorite songs ever, I've never heard a bad version of Rainbow Connection. This one doesn't dissapoint.

For some reason, Ben Folds songs really get the a cappella crowd going. There's lots of videos and songs out there if you'll just search YouTube. Here's one I really enjoyed, Army by the University of Rochester's Midnight Ramblers:

Folds has taken notice of these artists and is in the process of putting a few of them on a CD to benefit Save the Music. I'm pretty sure I'll have to buy this when it comes out.

Lastly, a bonus a cappella track, though not a cover, a song from one of my favorite Simpsons episodes, Homer's Barbershop Quartet. Homer and the Be Sharps performing "Baby on Board":

Recommended listening:

Friday, February 6, 2009

He Ain't Never Gonna Change

Jason Isbell
My fondness for Jason Isbell's music is great, but I must admit I might never have listened to him at all if not for a personal connection. In 1997, Jason attended the University of Memphis, majoring in English. Being a musician, he decided to play in the band to help with tuition. A trained trumpet player, Jason was placed in the mellophone section, under my leadership, and we became friends. I wasn't part of his fraternity, so I can't pretend that I was Jason's very best friend, but we had very similar tastes in music and often discussed what we were listening to. In 1998, we attended a Victor Wooten concert at Newby's and traded CDs on occasion. Jason eventually left school and I heard nothing more out of him; he moved back to Alabama.

In 2004, I happened to read a glowing review at Pitchfork about a new album from a band I'd never heard of, the Drive-By Truckers. Reading the review, I ran into the name Jason Isbell and was confused; surely this wasn't the Jason I knew. I quickly found out this was my former friend and gained interest in the band's music. Just a week later, I was moving into a new apartment and ran into and old friend, Jeremy German, one of Jason's Fiji brothers, who was in the horn section along with us. Jeremy asked me if I had heard about Jason and informed me that the Truckers were playing in Memphis that very night. Tired from moving and not having much disposable income, I passed on the concert, but vowed to see Jason again. I began diving into the Trucker's catalog and found I enjoyed their work. It turned out most of my favorite songs were written by Jason himself, a nice coincidence.

In 2007, Jason left the band hit the road as a solo artist. Signed to New West Records, he recorded Sirens of the Ditch and released it in July, 2007. As luck would have it, Jason's tour took him through Nashville on the same week I was in town, headed for Chicago on vacation. I attended his show at the Mercy Lounge, already well-versed in his work, but left blown away. The very normal, down to earth guy that I had been in marching band with was now a full-blown, American Rock Star. Jason's show was absolutely phenomenal and his backing band, the 400 unit, while relatively inexperienced, was quite capable. I happened to catch Jason after the show and he was excited to see me. I didn't spend much time with him, but it was great to see his fame hadn't changed him at all.

Since that time, I've caught Jason twice more and am headed to Birmingham, AL next week to see him at WorkPlay, just days before the release of his newest CD, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. He's scheduled to stop by Memphis in March, another show I'll be attending.

The past few weeks, several tracks from the new CD have become available online. From the sound of it, this album promises to be just as strong as his first. Look below for links to the first available tracks from the CD as well as a few select live tracks that I really dig.

Jason Isbell - Seven Mile Island

...courtesy of Spin, who gave the album four out of five stars.

Jason Isbell - Good

...courtesy of Stereogum, who posted his upcoming tour dates.

Jason Isbell - Soldiers Get Strange

...courtesy of Rollo & Grady, who posted a few related tracks.

Live @ Grimey's In Nashville 8.24.2007

Jason Isbell - Dress Blues (Acoustic)

Live @ The Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN, 8.24.2007

Jason Isbell - Chicago Promenade (Live)
Jason Isbell - Psycho Killer (Live)
Jason Isbell - Never Gonna Change (Live)
Jason Isbell - Danko/Manuel (Live)

Live @ The Cannery Ballroom Nashville, TN, 3.01.2008

Jason Isbell - Grown (Live)
Jason Isbell - Goddamn Lonely Love (Live)

Reccomended Listening:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Your World Is Nothing More Than All The Tiny Things You've Left Behind"

Gran Torino

When I say jazz, what's the first name that comes to mind? Miles Davis. John Coltrane. Maybe Ella Fitzgerald. Most people who don't follow the modern jazz scene very closely don't likely recognize Clint Eastwood's importance to the genre.

An accomplished musician in his own right, Eastwood has made it a personal goal to educate the public at large about the importance of jazz both historically and in today's world. He directed and produced Bird, a biopic about jazz great Charlie "Bird" Parker and helped produce a Tony Bennett PBS special as well as a documentary about the world renowned Monterey Jazz Festival.

For his latest film, Gran Torino, Clint worked with up-and-coming jazz musician Jamie Cullum, as well as his own son, Kyle, an accomplished musician in his own right, to record a stunning title track that was nominated for a Golden Globe.

Gran Torino (feat. Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski) - Jamie Cullum and Clint Eastwood

Jamie has been a favorite artist of mine since the 2004 release of Twentysomething. While I must admit I never bought the follow-up, Catching Tales, he's been regularly on my playlist ever since. Apparently he's been in the studio working on a new record and I can't wait to hear what he has cooked up.

From a live performance at Portland, Oregon's own KinkFM, here is Jamie performing one from his sophmore work, a song from his debut and a jazz standard. The recording seems to be no longer available, but I've made the entire thing available as well, if you really want to hear the witty banter and talk show host intros.

Jamie Cullum - Live @ KinkFM, Portland, OR, October 19, 2006

Jamie Cullum - Photograph (Live)
Jamie Cullum - All At Sea (Live)
Jamie Cullum - Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? (Live)

Download the full performance

Here's Jamie covering Radiohead, so you know it has to be good.

Double Bonus: Diana Krall singing a song co-composed by Clint Eastwood

Why Should I Care - Diana Krall

Reccomended Listening:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"The Day the Music Died"

Buddy Holly

American Pie - Don McLean

"On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, United States killed three American rock and roll musicians: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson." read more...

Of the three, the artist most well-regarded was without a doubt the great Buddy Holly. Holly inspired a generation of young people with his music, being cited as a major influence for artists like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, James Taylor and countless others. NPR has a great story up today about Holly and his classic song, Peggy Sue.

Peggy Sue - Buddy Holly

I can't watch that video without thinking of Elvis Costello. Elvis cited Holly as an early influence, playing up the visual similarities between the two on the cover to his debut album, My Aim Is True:

Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True

Here's just a tiny taste of a fantastic Elvis Costello live recording I found from 1978, thanks to Ryan's Smashing Life:

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Blame It On Cain (Live)

Get the rest right here from Ryan.

Recommended listening:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beauty In All Things


Today is a rare day: snow in Memphis. We only get it a couple times a year, tops. Accumulation is minimal, not even an inch on the ground really, and it's all wet and slushy. As I look out on the world, I'm reminded of Kurt Elling and his call that we find the beauty in all things.

The Beauty Of All Things - Kurt Elling

Kurt is one of the leading men in modern jazz, but he's not your typical jazz singer. He is in improvisor, a fantastic singer as well, but most importantly, he's an interpreter. He's fully capable of going "out there," free-wheeling to whatever tune he chooses. But more important is the way he feels the songs he sings, how he brings poetry into each verse to give it deeper meaning. The years he spent in divinity school no doubt molded him into what he is today. He is a deep, amazingly talented musician who surrounds himself with only the best.

Here's videos of Kurt doing perhaps his best interpretation, My Foolish Heart. The First is with Bob Mintzer's Big Band, which is excellent:

This next video, while sadly cut short by mere seconds, is absolutely stunning. Elling performs a stellar version at the Monterey Jazz Festival, interpolating the poem "The Moon Was Once A Moth" by Sufi saint Rabia of Basra, an eighth century muslim poet.


The moon was once a moth who ran to her lover,
they embraced, and she ultimately passed away
with such a smile everywhere
on her body.

Over a period of time, her wings fell to the earth
and sanctified the meadows.
Angels came and buried the limbs
that touched His mouth.

The moon was once a moth who ran to God,
they entwined.

Now just her luminous soul remains
and we gaze at it
at night.

Here's Kurt performing "Not While I'm Around," another of my absolute favorites, taken from an NPR performance at Kennedy Center. I'd link you to the entire performance, but it is sadly no longer available...

Kurt Elling - Now While I'm Around (Live @ Kennedy Center

Last up, here's a wonderful version of Nature Boy that I just ran into this morning, while making this post:

If you enjoyed what you heard, support Kurt and buy some of his work. Everything is good but I highly recommend Live In Chicago, Man In The Air, and Flirting With Twilight.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brad Mehldau Demands Your Attention

Just in case you somehow have missed him all along, Brad Mehldau is fucking brilliant and deserves your full attention. I mean every minute of it. Don't turn away, take every moment of it in. This is what freaking music is all about and is one my absolute favorite covers:

There's plenty more where that came from so I'll leave you alone now and let you get started on that...

More Brad Mehldau than your weak brain can handle.