Fireworks

I don’t recall what triggered it, but I fell into a YouTube rabbit hole last night, zeroed in on First Aid Kit. For those that don’t know, First Aid Kit is made up of two sisters from the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweden – Klara and Johanna Söderberg. They’re in their mid-20’s and are a week away from releasing their fourth album, Ruins (January 19th, Columbia/Sony Music). Their M.O. is Harmonies, and my God can these girls sing. Simply flawless, organic beauty.

If you were watching David Letterman’s final Late Night shows a couple years back, you may have caught First Aid Kit singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” (dedicated to Dave’s son Harry).

In 2010, they caught the eyes and ears of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst at the Austin City Limits Music Festival (I was there!). Conor and his Bright Eyes buddy Mike Mogis were at the festival with their awesome little folk supergroup Monsters of Folk (with Jim James, M. Ward). Conor and Mike, along with Jack White, helped get the ball rolling stateside, with Mogis actually producing First Aid Kit’s next two albums, The Lion’s Roar and Stay Gold.

Well, here we are in 2018 with album 4 about to drop. I’m not able to find who produced this one, but the three songs that are available now are great. And what spurred me into writing this post was hearing “Fireworks” for the first time this morning. You know the feeling, the kind of song that puts everything else on pause for a few minutes . I get a “The End of the World” vibe from it (which, by the way, check out Sharon Von Etten’s version). Ah, the heartbreak songs…

Pre-Order Ruins.

Rihanna’s Verse in Lemon

I’m always interested in what Pharrell’s up to, especially when it comes to N.E.R.D. He’s always super creative with the beats and grooves, so anything that comes along is worth my attention. A few weeks back, I saw some buzz on social media about N.E.R.D.’s new tune “Lemon,” in particular the Jimmy Kimmel performance. Before watching the performance, I dialed up “Lemon” to kick back and listen to the track. The opening part: “Cool,” I thought, “this is nice, but why the…” THEN, 44 seconds in, I understood. From the 44 second to 1:42 mark, things change. First off, the GROOVE – just what I love to hear from Pharrell and his N.E.R.D. buddies; but secondly and most importantly, RIHANNA takes over this shit, and unleashes a street-laced rap/rhyme that completely threw me for a loop. It’s power, it’s magic. And I can’t enough of it.

Respect.

(P.S. As for the Kimmel performance, it features the dancer from the video below, but Ri-Ri wasn’t on hand to spit her verse, unfortunately.)

Jim Song

photo by Chris Crisman

Call me a huge admirer of Dr. Dog. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Thanks.

“Jim Song” has that special formula that instantly connects with me: slow, acoustic guitar ballad; a lovesick and broken protagonist; throw in some harmonica and the drums/band that come in halfway through. One for the downtrodden and heartsick. Deep down folks, he knows she’s not right for him, but what he really misses is his pride.

A beautiful tune, and an easy one for us amateur guitar players (C, Am, Em, F and G).

Well ever since you went away I’ve been a mess inside
And there’s nothing you could do to get me satisfied
And my heart’s turned against me and it won’t abide
But I don’t really miss her like I miss my pride

A New Year – some JD McPherson

Photo by Jimmy Sutton

Right on.
Write on.

Happy New Year! It’s 2018, I turn 48 this year, I have daughters in 9th and 6th grade, I started a new job last year, Donald Trump is President of the United States and – SCREEEECH! – music is still and will always be my refuge. Thank God for it.

With this new year come the familiar good feelings of renewal, rebirth and motivation to improve. I’m no David Dang Fricke, but I do enjoy coming here and banging on the keyboard, writing about the tunes that are carrying me through the day. So let’s see where this takes us, shall we?

I’m always up for new music discovery, and one solid area of today’s music streaming services – whether you’re on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc. – are their New Music playlists that update each Friday (which still feels weird after going our lifetimes waiting for those release Tuesdays). Every time I listen, I hear something that perks the old ears.

Another is the discovery areas. Spotify’s Discover Weekly and Apple’s A-Lists are always turning me on to great stuff, new and old.

For example, if you like roots/folk/Americana music, check out Apple Music’s The A-List: Americana playlist. It’s chock full of great stuff, and it was hitting me left and right with new artists. One was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s JD McPherson. “Crying’s Just a Thing You Do” has a cool old time rock n roll / rockabilly twist, as does his record for that matter (check out Undivided Heart and Soul).

Lots more to come in ’18 – right?

Valerie June’s Two Hearts

Here’s one that’s impossible not to like: Valerie June.  I didn’t get introduced until a PBS Newshour mini-feature on her just a few weeks ago. It piqued my interest and sent me on my way to her latest album, The Order of Time, which I’ve had on steady rotation since. A rootsy, bluesy, gospel, old-timey infused ride – and the main attraction: her unique voice.

Take a listen to my favorite: “Two Hearts” (joining the lexicon of other revered “Two Hearts” tunes along with Bruce Springsteen, Chris Isaak and the Jayhawks)..

Santa Ana Winds – my intro to Sons of Bill

Photo credit: Rich Tarbell

If there’s one lesson I keep on learning when it comes to music, it’s to keep listening to the recommendation services that our music services offer. If you spend any decent amount of time listening to streaming music on Spotify, Google Play, Apple Music, et al, well – they know what you like, and they’ll slip in some gems now and then; and it doesn’t take long until you a hear a new favorite tune or band.

Case in point today: Google Play Music’s I’m Feeling Lucky feature. Up come my old pals Todd Snider, Uncle Tupelo, and Ryan Bingham – and then… “Santa Ana Winds” by Sons of Bill. They’re a band of brothers from Charlottesville, Virginia – James, Sam and Abe Wilson. The tune comes from their 2012 album Sirens, which was produced by Cracker’s David Lowery.

Obviously I heard the album cut first – a hard charging Americana rocker right up my alley. Guitars, organ, great hooks.. Then I hit up YouTube for some live action, and stumbled on a ‘Music Fog’ acoustic version which strips the song down to a heart-wrenching, gut-punching ballad. OOF! Hit me like a freight train. I think that may be James on lead vocal. Whichever Wilson brother it is, kudos to you my brother. Music to my ears. What a voice.

Another band where I’m late to the party. Hey, it just took a while to get from Charlottesville to Gilbert, Arizona. I’m on board now. All’s well.

Listen to ’em both, won’t you?

And…

Check out Sons of Bill’s web site.
Sirens on Amazon.
And their latest release, Love and Logic, on Amazon.

Mike D’s Echo Chamber – Danny Brown, Vince Staples, Childish Gambino

Just a few weeks ago I decided to jump back into Apple Music’s Beats One radio shows and see what was new and interesting. There’s a lot of quality content – Elton John’s Rocket Hour is cool, but the the best in my opinion is The Echo Chamber hosted by the Beastie Boys’ own Mike D.  His tastes vary wildly (which we figured out in 1989 when Paul’s Boutique came out), but the part I’m enjoying most is getting a taste of the latest hip-hop through the filter of Mike D. I’m enjoying the new ones from A Tribe Called Quest and Run the Jewels, but overall, I lost touch with the hip-hop scene a long time ago. So it’s cool to be able to listen in to Mike’s picks and get turned on again to some good stuff.

Artists like Danny Brown, Vince Staples, and Childish Gambino…

I’ll share three of the tunes that really jumped out at me recently. The first being this track by Danny Brown. Brown is originally from Detroit, he’s 35, and his latest album, Atrocity Exhibition, is his fourth since his 2010 debut The Hybrid. “Really Doe” features Danny, Kendrick Lamar (who is everywhere I look, and deservedly so), Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. The tune just flows. Nothing I can listen to around my kids, but a great tune just the same…

Second up is 23 year old Vince Staples from Long Beach, CA. “War Ready” is only 2 + minutes, but man, just the way he delivers it, especially in the first 30 seconds, riding along with that beat. Put my Glock away I got a stronger weapon that never runs out of ammunition so I’m ready for war okay…”

And last, actor/writer/producer/musician etc. etc. etc. Donald Glover,  whose music alter ego is Childish Gambino. We’ve all seen him in something. For me, it’s HBO’s Girls. He has a brand new album called Awake, My Love!, and I’m still only one listen in, with many more to come. It’s less hip-hop and more a funk/soul tour de force that channels Parliament, Prince, and Sly Stone. It’s really something creative and unique, and this tune, “California,” is a good sampling…

Remembering Prince – A Lifetime Fan’s Tribute in Memories

Uncredited. From Housequake.com.

In the late summer of 1984, I saw Purple Rain for the first time. I was 14. Adolescence had arrived, and was about to be taken for quite a spin with Prince Rogers Nelson at the wheel.

Every long time admirer of Prince has their memories. These are some of mine… 

  • Summer of 1984 (14 years old), driving home from baseball practice with my mom. Passenger side of her Buick Park Avenue. “When Doves Cry” on the radio. Ears perk. “Hmmm,” I think, “here’s something different.”
  • Late September 1984, my first viewing of Purple Rain. The experience was so vivid, yet I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember who was with me. Likely my friends Matt W. and/or Chris G. The reason I can’t recall is that I returned to the theater several times in the ensuing weeks to see it again. And again. And again. Watching the movie Purple Rain didn’t just spark my interest in Prince. It ignited several very potent megatons of TNT. It upturned my teenaged midwestern suburban existence. In the coming weeks, my Rod Carew posters would be untacked from the walls, methodically replaced by posters, magazine covers, pins, and photos of Prince (my poor folks – “what is happening to my kid??”). Yep, adolescence had come barreling down the road, ran a red light, and smashed right into this strange purple man from Minneapolis. It was on. I would learn about love, sex, funk, soul, the sacred & profane, but most importantly: tolerance and acceptance for all (“black, white, Puerto Rican everybody just a freakin’ good times…”). Prince opened my mind, and it hasn’t closed since.
  • Late ’84: Friday Night Videos premieres a live video of Prince and the Revolution live in Landover, MD. They perform “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” Prince commanding that stage in a white lace getup. “Woof! woof! woof! woof woof!, you say it.. woof! woof! woof! woof woof!, any dogs in the house?” That Sheila E. timbales solo…
  • The American Music Awards, January ’85. Prince and the Revolution are all over the Lionel Richie-hosted show (“Outrageous!”). Prince’s bodyguard Big Chick escorts him to the stage. “Life is death without adventure.” A kiss for Vanity. Bar none, the very best live performance of “Purple Rain” I’ve seen to this day. Microphone kicked over during guitar solo. Cyndi Lauper going crazy in her front row seat.

  • A month later, the Grammys. “I Would Die 4 U” / “Baby I’m a Star.” Fantastic, but anticlimactic after the AMA performance of “Purple Rain” a few weeks earlier.
  • Several trips to Mainstream Records in downtown Racine, Wisconsin to grab the newly released 12″ maxi-singles the day they were released. New music! Most of the maxi-singles had an extended version of the A side (“Let’s Go Crazy,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss”); but even better, brand new tunes on the B-side. “17 Days,” “Hello,” “She’s Always in my Hair,” “Love or $”… and I would snatch up the earlier 1999 releases too of course – “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” and “Irresistible Bitch,” possibly my two favorite B-sides.
  • Voraciously seeking out all of Prince’s projects and extended Minneapolis family. The Time, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, The Family, Sheila E., Andre Cymone, Jesse Johnson. Top tune of this bunch? Must be “777-9311.”
  • Calling into WLUM Milwaukee to request “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” from my DJ crush Alli Ellison.
  • In my room 1: Listening to every Prince album straight through, from the first to the latest. From For You through Purple Rain (six albums worth). Then For You through Around the World in a Day. Then For You through Parade. You get the idea.
  • In my room 2: “Performing:” A tennis racket with a strap tied to it for my guitar. A putter for my microphone (handy for the James Brown mic tricks). A lot of “Purple Rain” and a lot of “Irresistible Bitch” / “Possessed” / “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” from the Live 85 concert video. My brothers were away at college, so when my folks went out, it was mirror time. Damn if I didn’t nail those splits a time or two.
  • In my room 3: Posters of Vanity and Apollonia. 14, 15, 16 years old…       Moving on.
  • My first live Prince experiences: September 18-19, 1988 at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. Prince was in the round for the Lovesexy tour. My high school sweetheart and I drove the 90 minutes from Racine. On night two we ran out to the loading ramp to watch Prince jump in his limo and speed away before the final notes sounded.
  • During college (Colorado College in Colorado Springs) between 1988-1992, there were many trips to Independent Records to pay exorbitant prices for bootleg albums and CD’s. ‘Chocolate Box,’ ‘The Black Album,’ live bootlegs of varying quality. I still have most of them, save for a couple I stupidly sold on eBay for a quick and fruitless cash grab.
  • My second set of live shows at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, April 1993 ( I had recently moved to Tempe, AZ). This was Prince’s Act II tour – gun microphone, wavy hair, and police hat with chains covering his face. Before the first show, a nice couple kept buying me tequila shots in a nearby bar – which I kept on not refusing. Not a wise decision. I recall night two much more vividly. Funny how that works.
  • A road trip to Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve 1993, triggered by a rumor that Prince would be performing at his Glam Slam nightclub. The result? I can’t even remember if it was just a DJ playing or a random band, but there was no Prince in the house. But hey, I did see Ice-T and Yo-Yo. Wasted trip? Yes.
  • 1997: My banner year for live Prince. Five shows + two aftershows! He stopped in Phoenix twice that year – April and October. April’s visit included an aftershow at Tempe’s Electric Ballroom. It was short but sweet, since the club had a curfew they couldn’t break. Prince and the band took over a local band’s gear onstage and played a Santana jam and “The Ride.” I found a live recording of it and posted it here. Later in October, my old pal Chris flew in from Florida, and we road tripped to SoCal for two Jam of the Year shows – at the Hollywood Bowl and Irvine Meadows Ampitheater. Yes, seeing Prince at the Hollywood Bowl was as awesome as it sounds. But the highlight of the month (and Life, perhaps?) came later that month after his Vegas gig at the MGM Arena. Rumors swirled that Prince and the band would be playing an aftershow at a club on the strip called Utopia. I promptly hauled ass to Utopia, where about 150 of us were rewarded in the early hours of October 25th. A Sly Stone cover (popular that year with his relatively new pal Larry Graham along for the tour), “Face Down”, “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, and a personal highlight, “I’ll Take You There.” I was twenty feet away, taking it all in. Pure magic.
  • The internet cometh. Prince chat rooms. Newsgroups! I was “ick1999” on alt.music.prince. Mostly a lurker. For the first time, an introduction to a community of like minded Prince lunatics.
  • April 2002. Prince’s One Nite Alone tour, and I’m engaged. Our first date was New Year’s Eve just a few months prior. 24 days later, we were engaged to be married. My fiancee Myra was quickly introduced to my Prince obsession up close and personal at the Dodge Theater in Phoenix.
  • And then… an 11 year Prince drought! The next, and sadly, my last time seeing Prince live came on May 1st, 2013. Prince was energized, fronting his all-female power trio 3rd Eye Girl at a midsize, intimate venue: the Marquee Theater in Tempe. There I was again, probably 50 feet from the man I’d been listening to and following avidly for almost 30 years. Watching him tear the stage up, ripping through “She’s Always in My Hair” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” Taking me to that familiar place… “in my room”… all of these memories flooding back – the same memories I’ve shared here.

Like most of you, I thought Prince would endure as that strange and wonderful musical genius, always a little bit under the radar, keeping that mysterious low profile. And like you, I was sure we’d be watching him perform well into the future as a sixty-something, a seventy-something, and even beyond. He seemed otherworldly and immune to “time,” didn’t he? Well, that all obviously shattered on that awful morning of April 21st.

Prince is gone. And I think the biggest reason I haven’t typed a word about him all year – my very favorite artist – is that it still doesn’t seem real. Prince dead? Impossible, man. Does not compute. It still just doesn’t quite make sense to me. But gone he is.

The beauty of it all is that his music endures.

I’m 46 now, and still under that purple spell. Always will be. Just as I thought to myself in my room all those years ago. 

Prince – “”Just My Imagination” (from the 8-19-1988 aftershow in The Hague, Netherlands)

Ky-Yi Bossie – come along with Bob Weir

Photo by Jay Blakesberg Photography

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Bob Weir over the last 10-15 years, it’s that he is most definitely not going to shave that giant mustache and beard. Bob, such a handsome dude underneath that hair! Ah well, the beards are here to stay all around me, I may as well just get used to it.

Crazy to think that more than 21 years have gone by since the passing of Jerry Garcia, bringing with it the end of what was the Grateful Dead. Bob has never let up though. He’s carried on with Ratdog over years with a rotating cast of characters in the band (sorry to see that the great bass player Rob Wasserman passed away earlier this year); and he has re-congregated in different incarnations with his former Dead band mates, most recently as Dead & Company, with John Mayer joining in on guitar and vocal duties (A+ decision on everyone’s part). I’ll finally be checking them out next May when they visit Phoenix on the second show of their tour (May 28).

Adding to his always active life in music, Bob also released Blue Mountain earlier this year, only the third album of his career billed only as Bob Weir (along with 1972’s Ace and 1977’s Heaven Help the Fool). It’s a collection of “cowboy” songs, as he’s referred to them, with help from quality musicians like Josh Ritter and a couple members of the National (who curated that huge and excellent Dead tribute project earlier this year, Day of the Dead).

The album struck a chord with me. I love the downtempo side of the music, and the great melodies and laid back acoustic stylings in Blue Mountain really grabbed me.

A notch above the rest for me are “Gallop on the Run,” “Whatever Happened to Rose,” and especially “Ky-Yi Bossie,” painting a vivid picture of addiction and relationship problems that have to be at least semi-autobiographical. It’s imaginative and honest, framed in a very catchy cowboy tune with a very cowboy title. Check it out…