Song of the Day: David Bowie - It Ain’t Easy


Aladdin Sane by David Bowie. Original.
Requested by aloneintoronto.

 love this


Aladdin Sane by David Bowie. Original.

Requested by aloneintoronto.

 love this

music of the month - september edition

Lookbook - Wild at Heart [cd]

local mpls synth pop group that I have been enjoying on the current for months, but had never gotten around to buying their album. the album is a nice variety of sounds from ravey to princey to post-punk sounding tracks. with their tempos cranked up on most of their songs, they remind me a bit of a less jarring and distorted sleigh bells.

Muddy Waters - The Definitive Collection [cd]

As I noted last month, the blues are a big hole in my music collection and the Chess Pieces collection was an impetus for me to seek out a good Muddy Waters collection as well. Knowing that I am likely to dig deep in a catalog for an artist I like I decided to go with this single disc collection versus a more expensive multi-disc anthology. This allows me to decided what I like and hopefully do a little research as to what the good recordings are. Not much to say other than this is a great overview of an amazing career. It has a handful of acoustic blues but focuses on his electric period and includes everything you would want for an introduction to this legendary blues musician.

David Bowie - Pin Ups [cd]

I have to admit I have never seen much difference between the final Ziggy Stardust album Aladin Sane and Bowie’s next proper album Diamond Dogs. This album a placeholder between those two albums can perhaps be seen as a way to get inspired by revisiting music that got him excited in his formative years prior to becoming a star. With that in mind, it perhaps it would have been better to have just rehearsed these with the band versus recording them and sending them out into the world as there isn’t really anything compelling here as in his other covers, either ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ or the live version of ‘White Light/White Heat” he played on the final Ziggy Stardust tour. only recommended for Bowie completists.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - Horse Power EP [mp3]

don’t let the name cause you to skip past this band. This is a really solid EP of indie/electro/synth pop songs including a cover of ‘God Only Knows’. Maybe the thing I like best about them is that they don’t sound like a retread but really have their own sound. Am looking forward to more EPs or even an album.

Telekinesis - Parallel Seismic Conspiracies EP [mp3]

2009s Telekinesis! was an awesome package of 90s indie pop in a Superchunk kind of vein (perhaps not a surprise being on Merge and all). This EP is a nice continuation of that sound without being too samey. ‘Calling All Doctors’, showed up on a Daytrotter session but is excellent in this recorded version and the cover of ‘The Drawback’ done in the pre-Joy Division Warsaw style is brilliant. Michael Lerner recorded his debut all on his own but I am not sure about this EP. Would love to see them live.

Janelle Monae - Chase Suite [mp3]

The Archandroid may wind up being my top album of 2010 and this EP is the first suite in the Archandroid story. I don’t think this is as strong as the album, but it is really good nonetheless. It is a perfect showcase for how much the Wondaland group has been able to develop their sound in the last couple years. they have really left simple genre categorizations behind and while this is EP shows them stretching the definition of R&B is nowhere near the complete tearing down of all the walls on the LP 

Cinematic Orchestra - Ma Fleur [mp3]

I first came across Cinematic Orchestra around the time they released Every Day while I was in a serious Ninja Tune phase. I absolutely loved the combination of live performance and sampling that they employed in their songs but despite this I was tentative when this album first came out in 2007. The reviews though mostly positive made me leery despite loving lead single ‘To build a Home.’ Then I heard the live album they released a year later and was very unimpressed and put it out of my mind. Fast forward to three years later and I heard ’To build a Home’ on some show and I realized how amazing that song was and decided to give the album a chance. I would have to say it is not as good as Every Day but is still a solid album of mellow jazz inspired downtempo. They continue to work with Fontella Bass and those songs are brilliant but many of the instrumentals seem to fall flat. I am hoping however that it will grow as it seems like a good fall/winter album.

John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up [cd]

an absolutely brilliant collaboration between these chart toppers on a covers album of classic, protest R&B songs from the 60s/70s. Initially planned as an EP, we are lucky that they decided to expand it to a full LP. Some of the critical response has been negative, but I think ?uestlove’s arrangements push Legend to be better than he has ever been before. The cover of Bill Withers’ “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” is an absolute master stroke and if it wasn’t 11 minutes long it would definitely be on my year end mix. The only song that doesn’t work is the lone Legend original ‘Shine.’

Baby Huey & The Babysitters - The Baby Huey Story: The Legend [cd]

the lone album from these R&B groovers featuring the classic ‘hard times’ written by Curtis Mayfield who also produced this album. I’ve had ‘hard times’ on a compilation for years but after hearing John Legend & the Roots cover it, I wanted to seek out more from this group. Reminiscent of Sly Stone but with more emphasis on the R&B sound with rock touches-fitting perhaps with their Chicago roots. the band is incredibly tight and their years of touring before they finally recorded is clear. In addition to ‘hard times,’ ‘mighty mighty’is an absolute killer and even the instrumental flute driven cover of ‘California dreamin’ is great. recommended if you are ready to dig deep into some classic R&B. 

J. Tillman - Singing Ax [mp3]

Album number 7 from one of my favorite artists, who is unfortunately known more for being the drummer in Fleet Foxes than for his solo work. This album is back to the more minimal sound of Cancer or Delirium and his first two albums after some experimentation with a full band on last year’s two releases and as always his lyrics contain a depth that is increasingly rare these days, with explorations of religious imagery and human experience. only available via vinyl or mp3, I cannot recommend this album (and his entire catalog) enough

Desert Island Sundays: David Bowie - Let’s Spend the Night Together

many people have argued that Bowie sounded less urgent and more comfortable on Aladdin Sane as it was the first album that he recorded after becoming a major pop star with the release of Ziggy Stardust.

Whether this is a good thing however could probably be argued be argued to death, but what is for sure is that this album contains some of Bowie’s most enduring songs in ‘Watch That Man,” “The Jean Genie,” and for me in the glammed up version of the Rolling Stones “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”

The first time I heard Bowie’s take on this song was his coke-fueled attack in the Ziggy Stardust movie, which intrigued me but it wasn’t until I bought Aladdin Sane and heard the studio version that I was completely sold. There is something in his arrangement that just seems to fit the song so much better than the original.


music of the month - august edition

Well here it finally is. I may need to slim down my notes or start writing them sooner if I want to get this out closer to the end of the month because buying less music is clearly not an option.

Otis Redding - Live on the Sunset Strip [cd]

this 2 CD set collects both volumes of the previously released live at the Whiskey-a-go-go releases plus some additional unreleased recordings. Hearing Redding’s live performance at Monterey was what turned me on to his music so I am always on the lookout for more live recordings. Unfortunately, this release is kind of disappointing. I have been too lazy to compare the tracklist to the original releases however despite a number of gems, there is a lot of stuff that is just OK. The live in Paris and London CD released last year is much better but both pale in comparison to his Monterey performance and his recordings.

Neko Case - Blacklisted [cd]

I don’t have her first 2 albums but am familiar enough with Neko Case’s work to note this as the album when she began to move away from being an alt-country artist to something more. I think that Case is one of if not the best singer-songwriters working today and truly believe that she can do no wrong and this album is no exception (except for her arrangement of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ which I just don’t like for some reason). If you haven’t given her a chance by now, you owe it to yourself to by everything she has released and if you don’t like her for some reason then I don’t know if we can be friends anymore

David Bowie - Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) [cd]

in my continued quest to get all the Bowie albums before he went down hill I have gotten to the point where they are really beginning to be a real hit or miss proposition. Station to Station = Hit, this album not so much. This album marked Bowie’s return to a more commercials sound after the experiments of Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger. And a return to commercial success it turned out to be with the singles ‘Ashes to Ashes' and 'Fashion’. All in all this album is still worth having in your collection unless you are only a casual Bowie fan and then you should just grab Changesbowie for the best of his 80s albums.

Black Crowes - Croweology [cd]

When I saw this I picked it up thinking it was a straightforward greatest hits collection and since I’ve always been a casual fan, I thought it would be an inexpensive way to get all the songs I like in one go. instead of your traditional hits package this collection is the Black Crowes re-recording thier biggest hits and gems from within their back catalogue in celebration of 25 years since their first album was released. it is marketed as acoustic but from all the electric guitar and bass all over the album, I can assure you it is not. speaking as someone who isn’t a rabid fan, I can still say that this is an excellent collection and worth picking up if you are a casual like me without any of their other albums in your collection.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs [cd]

You probably don’t need me to tell you about this record as it has gotten press just about everywhere that an album can today as well as debuting #1 on the billboard charts ahead of Eminem. Is it really that good though or is it just the same kind of hype that causes pop releases to open big before fading away? Well, don’t hate me Arcade Fire fans, but I give it the big “meh.” I was a huge fan of Funeral and listened to it so much when it came out that it is hard to listen to very often (similar to Neutral Milk Hotel for me) and I was super excited for Neon Bible but it always felt like something was lacking. I wanted to like it as much as Funeral but just didn’t. Which brings me to The Suburbs. perhaps this is truly meant to be listened to as a cohesive unit (though that has been argued for all of their albums) and maybe i haven’t had much time to consider it like that but it just doesn’t seem to grab me. to be fair though, I actively disliked opener “the Suburbs” when I first heard it and it has grown on me over the past couple months so maybe this album will to. sometimes I feel like they are kind of like U2 during the Joshua Tree and full of these grand, epic gestures and I’m not sure if they will rise above it or descend into navel gazing or not.

Oscar Peterson Trio & Milt Jackson - Very Tall [cd]

I have only recently come to Oscar Peterson with my jazz collection and he has completely blown me away. he has such a laid back, blues-drenched sound that at first his playing may seem simple compared to players like Monk, but once you get deeper in to his playing, you realize how much is really there. At first I thought it might be an odd pairing of Peterson’s trio with Milt Jackson as their styles didn’t seem similar enough to really work together. It works remarkably well though with Peterson allowing Jackson to take the lead while supporting him beautifully. Peterson doesn’t do all the work though as Bags does a good job of pairing his playing to the trio’s style as well. I don’t know if this recording works as well as the Stan Getz recordings from a couple years prior but this is well worth adding to your collection if you are a peterson or jackson fan.

Herbie Hancock - Takin Off [cd]

His first recording session as a leader and reportedly the reason why Miles Davis asked him to be a part of his new quintet. He has a great quintet for this recording featuring Freddie Hubbarb, Dexter Gordon, Butch Warren, and Billy Higgins. While it is considered by many as a perfect example of hard bop, this album also contains a lot of blues vibe and opener ‘Watermelon Man’ contains the R&B vibe that would mark some of his best compositions. An amazing debut. 

Ella Fitzgerald - Sings the Cole Porter Songbook [cd]

One of the most celebrated and distinctive voices in jazz, Ella sometimes seems to be overlooked for other voices, especially Billie Holiday (similar to Louis Armstrong). This release is the first in a series of eight album that Norman Granz came up with for Ella to go through the songbooks of the major american songwriters. I found this to be a mixed release. She really shines on the big band focused arrangements but it feels like something is missing on the orchestra focused ones. Despite that fault, this should be required listening.

Horace Silver & the Jazz Messengers [cd]

The second release from Silver as leader and the first using the Jazz Messengers name, this is a classic bop album. The same line-up playing here was responsible for the Jazz Mesengers Live at Cafe Bohemia albums and in my opinion this was the best Messengers lineup with Blakey of course, Dorham, Mobley, and Watkins, so it is well worth having in your jazz collection. will definitely need to add some more Silver led albums to my collection.

The Roots - How I got Over [cd]

Playing day in and day out seems on the Jimmy Fallon show seems to have done The Roots a tone of good as they seem invigorated on their latest release. Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart are two of my fav hip hop albums but I felt like they haven’t quite been there since. Being a band versus strictly being sample based has always set The Roots apart in the hip hop world and the band is on FIRE with this release and the use of indie rock samples for “Dear God 2.0” and “Right On” do a nice job of expanding their sound. Unfortunately for those of us in Minnesota, that has also led to the local ‘no format’ station, the Current, playing these two constantly while ignoring the best songs on the album-‘Now or Never,’ title track ‘How I Got Over,’ and ‘The Fire’ with John Legend. I am looking forward to the full album collaboration with Legend that is coming out at the end of September. available to stream here.

Chess Pieces: The Very Best of Chess Records [cd]

two discs of the best of Chess Records. seriously what else could be better? I kind of came late to the Blues game and have self directed my collection (John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson and a few others). After Sound Opinions did an overview of the history of Chess Records, I figured that I had a huge gap in my record collection and ordered this release right away. Just about all of the major hits are here and despite a few more novelty tracks and lesser releases from late in the label’s history this is a can’t miss collection and nice entry into their discography.

Blur - Modern Life is Rubbish & Parklife [cd]

I’m combining these two albums as I picked them up together. Another Sound Opinions influenced purchase after their interview with Stephen Street, and a dip back into my post high school memories, I have always thought that these were their best albums with Modern Life is Rubbish as my favorite. After their baggy/madchester debut, Modern Life… saw that band take on and overtly English sound heavily influenced by Ray Davies while Parklife saw them expand the sound somewhat as they seemed to feel more confident as songwriters. Unfortunately some of the experimenting of Parklife is what I am not fond of. ‘Girls and Boys’ while initially fun, has lost its charm for me over the years and the punky “Bank Holiday’ just isn’t that interesting. To me their best work is always when they slow down their sound as in ‘For Tomorrow’ and ‘This is a Low’. all in all two of the best albums to share the britpop label.

Otis Redding - The Soul Album & Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul [cd]

Yep that’s right, more Otis. I was at Electric Fetus for the tornado anniversary sale I believe and found both these albums used and had to grab them immediately. despite being a huge Otis fan, surprisingly the only studio album I owned was Otis Blue. Neither of these is considered as strong as Otis Blue, though Dictionary (the last album completed before he died) is generally the more highly regarded of the two. Just to be contradictory however, I actually prefer The Soul Album; perhaps due to being less familiar with the songs on it or perhaps it feels more cohesive without Redding’s interpretations of Rock songs like ‘Satisfaction’ on Otis Blue and ‘Daytripper’ on Dictionary. either way both of these are indispensable to anyone’s music collection as I’ve mentioned before my belief that he is the greatest voice in R&B/Soul there ever was.

Various - Afrobeat Airways (West African Shock Waves - Ghana & Togo 1972-1978) [cd]

Analog Africa is one of the best reissue labels in the game and hands down the best Afrobeat/Afrofunk reissue label going right now and their latest release doesn’t disappoint. One of the things that makes their releases a step above many of the other compilations of 70s african afrobeat is that they skip over nigeria in favor of its neighbors and in doing so they have found a richer vein of material to mine. 

The thing that draws me back again and again no matter the style, are the polyrhythms that add so much not just to the highlife and afrobeat styled songs but especially the afrofunk and rock highlighted here. I cannot recommend this release more.

Robyn - Body Talk pt.1 [mp3]

After letting the hype from the indie press recede I sampled this album online and liked it enough for the $5 price tag to give it a try. Overall it is just ok. ‘Dancing on my Own’ is an absolutely brilliant track and opener ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’ is great way for her to tell the audience that she is doing her own thing and to take it or leave it. Surprisingly the missteps include the songs she worked with better known producers (Royksopp and Diplo). There are a few other good not great songs and a couple of real duds, especially the ballad ‘Hang With Me’ and the Swedish folk song closer. If you like euro dance pop though, you should definitely give it a listen and I am curious to hear parts 2 and 3.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - s/t [mp3]

I have been a little leery of this album. not so much due to the instant popularity of ‘Home’ and ‘40 Day Dream’, but when I sampled it online there didn’t seem to be any cohesion to their sound. It was almost as if they wanted to cover all the touch-points of indie rock in one go. over time however the ear worm nature of the above mentioned songs kept pulling me closer to buying the album. Finally all songs considered broadcast their set from the Newport Folk Festival and I was pretty much ready to buy. then Amazon had the mp3 for $2.99 and that was all I needed to give it a try. 

My thoughts now that I own it? it is better than I thought but not spectacular. I think that I will return to a several of the 13 tracks over time but I don’t see the album exerting that much of a hold over me. Time will tell.

music of the month - april edition

David Bowie - Station to Station [cd]

another Bowie rescued from the used bin. honestly I have ignored this one in the past as the reviews I had seen indicated it was pretty mediocre. After picking it up however, I can safely say that this is a really good album. I would even rate it above low and close to “heroes.” That may get me kicked out of the Bowie fan club but sometimes the truth hurts.

slowdive - souvlaki [cd]

similar to Catherine Wheel for me, this is a band that I liked the first time around but was less enamored of than many of their peers and that’s too bad. This album, probably their best, holds up really well. matter of fact it holds up better than many of their peers albums’ have.

Broken Bells - Broken Bells [cd]

I will admit it. when I first heard about this album and all the accompanying hype, I wasn’t going to even give a chance. then I started hearing the music and couldn’t deny that this is a good album. are they the american gorillaz? kind of, though I guess it doesn’t hurt that dangermouse produced that last gorillaz. 

The xx - xx [cd]

This is another CD that I just didn’t pay a lot of attention to partly because of the hype, but like the Broken Bells record, this one really grew on me. it’s really the seductive male/female vocal combination that gets me. what I really like about this record is that it doesn’t sound like it obviously cribs from someone else or another era like a lot of groups recently.

Capsula - Rising Mountains [mp3]

like a more 60s influenced Black Mountain. they are all psychedelic grooves and distortion. don’t get them confused with the Israeli electronic producer with the same name. highly recommended

Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night [mp3]

The best way I can think to describe Besnard Lakes is shoegaze 2.0. I don’t mean that as an insult because shoegaze is a genre in my itunes library and this is a really good album. like any good shoegaze band, these songs aren’t just drenched in layers of reverb for no good reason, but rather use all the effects and layers of sound to complement as integral to their songwriting.

Syl Johnson - The Complete Hi Records [cd]

another artist I am embarrassed not to have known sooner, I came to Syl through the fabulous numero group label and his work on twinight records. what I didn’t know was that he put out several records on Hi Records, home of producer extraordinaire Willie Mitchell. of the four albums collected here, the first three are the clear winners. just smokin R&B in that killer Willie Mitchell style. the last album ‘Uptown Shakedown’ is a very ill-advised disco album that I just cannot get behind. no one needs a 9 minute discofied otis redding medley.

Communist Daughter - Soundtrack to the End [cd]

a great local band I discoverd through the Current’s song of the day podcast. They are a solid country-tinged indie rock group with great songwriting and I am really excited to see them live sometime soon. if they can keep up this level of music then I could see them being really big.

Black Man’s Cry [cd]

Covers from and music inspired by the Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Hard to go wrong. especially when there are two, count em two, steel band Fela covers

Jack Rose and the Black Twig Pickers [cd]

Still can’t believe he is gone. A guitarist that gave Fahey a run for his money. Paired up here with the Appalachian folk/Americana Black Twig Pickers it is a match made in heaven