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.

World of Goo-dness

World of Goo is an amazing experience.

  • It's an absolute work of art
  • It features insidious level design
  • It has an amazing soundtrack
  • It's freaking genius

  • The game was released on Wii as the first really high-profile download on the WiiWare service. According to gamerankings, it has received an aggregate score of 94% from top reviewers, making it the third highest scoring game on the console. I can't say enough about how amazing it is, though for full disclosure I must admit that I haven't beaten it fully yet. I stopped with about two levels to go. No time like the present I suppose.

    I bring up World of Goo because this week has seen several news stories about the game. Peter Moore, Prez of EA Sports, spoke about World of Goo on his blog on Sunday and seems to have come away from the game, a demo of it at least, impressed (thanks to Wiiware-world for the tip):

    There's a lot to learn from the EA alumni who started 2D Boy and built something as creative and unique as World of Goo, with such a small team and little money. It's that type of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit that can really drive innovation, and I'd like to think we're setting the right priorities and taking the right steps to deliver more experiences in this vein from EA SPORTS. "

    Let's hope so, EA Sports has gotten better about improving their games year-in and year-out but the Wii certainly needs some love. Outside of Madden and Tiger, most of the Wii/EA Sports titles have been abysmal.

    Secondly, Kyle Gabler, one of the two programmers responsible for World of Goo and the man behind the soundtrack, felt it was time to unleash his musical opus onto the world. I thought the soundtrack was amazing as I played the game; further listening proves I was correct. It's free, so download the whole thing if you please, I've included a small sample below. If you really want to show your support, download the game for your Wii or for PC/Mac, available right here from Gabe and Tycho's awesome Greenhouse Games service. The Wii version will run you $15 and the PC version is a few dollars more at $20, though I can't see that there's any difference, other than perhaps the ability to mod/expand the game with user-created content.

    Kyle Gabler - Years of Work

    Get the World of Goo Soundtrack

    Comedy We Can Believe In

    Comedy Central's The Daily Show aired live last night to cover the inauguration and it's aftermath. Stewart and Co. had me rolling the entire show. Catch the full show below or stay tuned for the highlights.

    Full Episode: The Daily Show, January 20, 2009: Changefest '09

    Selected Highlights:

    Jon Stewart & Jason Jones discussed Obama's Speech and made the point that I was trying to make yesterday, it's not about the speech so much as it is about the speaker and the delivery. Obama's words often echo Bush's but the way he presents himself, his past actions, and his calm demeanor are what make him seem the antithesis to George W. Bush:

    Samantha Bee was up next with her report from the Ball's but pay close attention for the Aretha Franklin clip. Plus, she said "doody":

    Gershwin's Greatest

    Dealnews pointed out this hidden deal at Amazon: George Gershwin's greatest composition, in my mind at least, Rhapsody in Blue. Also included is An American In Paris, a nice enough classical composition, but not one of my top choices. Regardless, a full recording of Rhapsody's full 20 minute length is pretty cheap at $1.98, since the CD version is going for $8.99.This CD version, which I own, sells for $7.99 but includes an extra work, Gershwin's Grand Canyon Suite. Unless you're desperate for a hard copy, I'd stick with the digital download.

    Listen to the exact version you'd be downloading:

    Rhapsody in Blue - Leonard Bernstein;Columbia Symphony Orchestra

    Also check out this interesting highlights version by The Five Browns:

    It's neat, but the conversion to YouTube video doesn't do the power of five pianos justice, it seems.

    Below is the link for the album, plus an extra link to Andrea Bocelli's album Amore, which seems like an excellent pickup for just $1.99. I'm not even sure if it's something I'll be into, but my wife likes Josh Groban and this seems like a good replacement.

    Last but not least, here's a link to Amazon's Bestselling Classical Keyboard selections, in case you enjoyed this post. There's all kinds of great stuff and I unearthed another great deal, Beethoven's other 5th, his Piano Concerto, for only $2.97. I'm listening right now and it is fantastic!

    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    NPR has a story up talking about some of the more memorable interpretations of Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner. I've always really dug the Marvin Gaye version, even though it is so very different from the original, but I think that the real joy in music is finding new formulas for old songs.

    One of my favorite versions, which most people have probably never heard, is that done by my absolute favorite band ever, Béla Fleck & the Flecktones. Recorded for their 1991 album Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, it perfectly captures the majesty of the piece but expands on it perfectly. There's minimal improvisation but the combination of harmonica and banjo really fit the tune extremely well.

    I grew up in middle Tennessee and one of the local affiliates, WKRN if I'm not mistaken, ran the Flecktone's video for the song every night before they went off the air. Why was I up nightly, watching TV stations go off the air? Because I'm a geek and I was up late browsing BBSes or Bulletin Board Systems; consider it a sort of pre-Internet. It was during the AOL era but was for people who didn't want to, or couldn't, shell out $20 a month for a bunch of chat rooms and useless crap. Anyway, I stayed up all night typing to strangers on message boards and browsing "warez" with the TV on. It was here that I gained an early appreciation for the Flecktones, but at the time I had no interest in jazz. Several years later, as I adopted a broader musical understanding and picked up on artists like the Yellowjackets and John Pizzarelli, I quickly gravitated towards Béla and the band due to their close association with the Dave Matthews Band, of whom I was a devoted fan.

    Fast forward to the present and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones are still my favorite band, I catch them every chance I get. Their shows are phenomenal and even their most recent album, a collection of Christmas songs both old and new, blows my mind.

    Coincidentally, Flecktone Jeff Coffin is joining DMB to fill the void left by the loss of Leroi Moore, but I get the idea he's still planning to keep with the 'tones as well, which I hope is true. DMB is gaining an amazing talent, which is not meant as a hit on Leroi, but Jeff is just an incredible artist. I'm actually somewhat interested in their next album as a result.

    Anyway, time to post some music. Here's a small taste of the Flecktones, including the aforementioned Star Spangled Banner, in a live setting.

    Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - The Star Spangled Banner > Hole In The Wall (Live)

    You can get the entire 1991 concert this track is from at the Live Music Archive. You can preview it below, though some of the track names are messed up on this particular show...

    Download entire show as .mp3 files

    1991 for the Flecktones is ancient history; Howard Levy filled the fourth slot playing harmonica. After he left, they spent a few years as a trio and made some amazing albums but the modern 'tones feature Coffin on saxophone, as intimated previously. Here they are jamming Next on Conan O'Brien.

    Purchase some Flecktones music, if you like. If you wish to support the artist more directly, buy it straight from their own website: Music Store

    Buy Three Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, my favorite 'tones album, @ iTunes

    ...of course, any discussion of the Banner always leads me to think of Roseanne Barr's awful rendition in 1990 and here's the best video I could find of that moment. I don't find it offensive, personally, just awful. It wasn't funny, as she had hoped, but it proved that she had no business on a national stage singing anything at all.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    We Can Work It Out

    One more note for a day filled with change, here is a positive tune by the greatest band around, the singing Beatles. We Can Work It Out was co-written by Paul and John and charted well upon it's release in 1965. The version I'd like to talk about today, however, was recorded by a living legend, Stevie Wonder. In 1970, Wonder's album "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" was released and was considered a mediocre album, considering the others in his amazing catalog. The album, however, would likely be considered a monumental work for most other artists.

    Stevie Wonder - We Can Work It Out

    Stevie received a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1972 for this track and I find it's well deserved. The original by the Beatles is certainly great, but Wonder's version, coming on the end of the civil rights struggle, suggest overcoming the racial divide and coming together as a country.

    You can get this whole CD today at for an amazing $1.99. I already had the four best tracks from this greatest hits collection, but for $1.99 if even two of the tracks are decent, it's worth the price. Nab a copy yourself, you won't regret it.

    If you enjoyed this, Stevie's The Definitive Collection is an outstanding view of his career until the 80s. Highly recommended!

    "On this day...

    ...we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

    Words from President Barack Obama's Inauguration speech, which just aired. Regardless of how well a speech is written, it takes a certain kind of person to deliver it effectively and Obama truly has this gift.

    The entire speech is available here, thanks to the BBC News, where I found it immediately afterward. Strangely, I haven't seen it posted at any of the American news sites just yet.

    "In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

    Also of note, The Guardian has an interesting side story about Obama's speech writer, Jon Favreau, not that one. Pretty cool that a guy younger than me is writing speeches for the President and doing such a great job of it.

    A New Day For America

    As our country takes a new leader, I'm compelled to share my interests with whoever will listen once again. I'm Jowey, a guy with lots of interests and never enough time to follow all of them at once. I'll take time every day or so to tell you about what I've discovered on the Internet and in our other realms of entertainment. Maybe you'll enjoy it, maybe you won't, but hopefully we'll all be entertained in some way! See you soon!