Katie Queen of Tennessee

The song is sweet, catchy, and mesmerizing. It got me right from the moment I saw this video on Palladia. I’d never heard of the Apache Relay. They’re from Nashville, and they took their name from a scene in the 1995 movie Heavyweights (co-written and co-produced by Judd Apatow – he’s everywhere).

The video is a good match for the song – random, unexpected, and pretty damn delightful…

The Apache Relay (Amazon)

Future Islands on Jools – Meet Samuel T. Herring

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Another hat tip to Later…with Jools Holland for introducing me to yet another great act – this time, Baltimore’s Future Islands. “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is a great track, lush with synth melody. But it’s the antics of front man Samuel T. Herring that make Future Islands very much a visual experience. It’s his lunges, his crouching side steps, his guttural death metal growls… his emotive expressions with each word of the lyric, making the song seem that much more heartfelt… it’s his command of the stage, and his comfort and ease with being, well, weird.

Much respect to Sam, leading the charge. I could watch him all day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGV6DvqU2QY

Pick up their latest, Singles, on Amazon:

In Appreciation of Mellencamp’s “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)”

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After hearing 1996’s “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)” two or three times at random times over the last week or so – on my iTunes/Spotify shuffle, on SiriusXM – I realized that, to me, it’s the last great Mellencamp tune. Yeah, I know he’s had some quality stuff since – darker, bluesier, rootsier… some of it produced by T-Bone Burnett. But I’ve always favored the melodic, folk/pop-oriented sounds of Mr. Mellencamp – from “Ain’t Even Done With The Night” to “Tumblin’ Down” to “Jackie Brown” and a host of others (can’t forget the quirky Casio sounds of “Jackie O“, which he co-wrote with John Prine).

“Key West” is found on the album ‘Mr Happy Go Lucky‘, John’s first album after his heart attack scare in August of 1994 (at the age of 42). He pulled out all the stops and brought in DJ/dance producer Junior Vasquez to produce the album. There’s still the folk/pop, but with the loops and funkier feel – especially on “Key West.”  That’s soul-man extraordinaire Raphael Saadiq plucking the bass on the track too.

As for the video? Yep, that’s Matthew McConaughey (three years post-‘Dazed and Confused’). Outstanding tune. Wistful, pleading, horny, and funky. An ode to that pretty girl who’s just out of reach. The song hit #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 – John’s last Top 40 song (to date).

Christopher Owens – Nothing More Than Everything To Me

I’ll admit to being slightly underwhelmed by Christopher Owens’ debut solo album, Lysandre, released a year and a half ago after his disbanding of the amazing band Girls. Yeah, it had its standout moments (“New York City” being my favorite), but it lacked that immediate spark that made me want to go back and listen again and again.

The tunes I’ve heard from the newly announced album, A New Testament, have me intrigued and eager for the release. And today’s released single, “Nothing More Than Everything To Me” (with its accompanying video below) definitely brought the spark back. It’s a fun, infectious two minutes of pop – bringing a smile to my face the same way “Honey Bunny” and “Laura” did from his Girls days. Sounds like a return to form to me…

Oodles of details about the new album here on Christopher’s site. Yeah!

Required Viewing: Fred Eaglesmith

I experienced my first Fred Eaglesmith show Wednesday night as Fred’s ‘Traveling Steam Show” rolled through Arizona.

How to even begin? The great music, the between-song monologues that are a show unto itself, the kickass backing band (including the talented and quite lovely Tif Ginn). My face hurt from laughing so hard, and I am still riding a high from that great night of music.

Fred and the band are inside their vintage tour buses rolling into Texas now as I write this, with a good number of dates left on this tour (up through the midwest and into Canada).

I can’t put the experience into words and do  it justice.  A good start is this full show from the 2007 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam:

Folks, if Fred Eaglesmith and his Traveling Steam Show stops through your town, drop what you’re doing and GO.

The Stone: The Return of André Cymone

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If you were ever sucked into the Prince vortex, as I was in 1984, you quickly found yourself seeking out every last morsel of musical goodness from anything Prince-related. In the mid-80’s, that meant marching into your local record store and snapping up albums by The Time, Apollonia 6, Vanity 6, The Family, and Sheila E. There were also those who had bid the Prince camp farewell, most notably at that point: Time members Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Morris Day, and Jesse Johnson. And once you went digging back into Prince’s earliest years, you discovered his original bass player and childhood friend André Cymone.

André left the band in 1981 after the Dirty Mind tour had wrapped, and Prince was moving on to his next album, Controversy. André signed with Columbia and released three albums over the next four years: Livin’ In The New Wave (1982), Survivin’ In The 80’s (1983), and A.C. (1985). His biggest hit came from A.C., the Prince penned and co-produced “The Dance Electric.”

André then moved on to producing artists like Jermaine Stewart, Adam Ant, and Jody Watley, to whom he was briefly married (Jody’s “Still a Thrill” is one of my favorite 80’s R&B tracks).

And then, André dropped off the grid, leaving the business and focusing instead on raising his children. The music bug never left him (how could it?), and after some poking and prodding by his kids over the last several years, it was time to hit the studio again. He popped up in 2012, releasing a tune called “America,” with all proceeds going to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. He followed that up with “Trayvon” in 2013, in tribute to Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

Now, 29 years after his last album, it’s great to say that André Cymone is truly back. The Stone, Andre’s independently funded and distributed album (via PledgeMusic), was officially released on February 18th.

My first impression on hearing “Rock and Roll,” the album’s opening track, was the swagger and confidence it carries. You’d never guess that this was an artist who just returned from a nearly three decade hiatus – that is unless André addressed it right off the bat, which he does: “You waited long enough / now it’s time to play my game / Before you leave here baby / you gonna know my name.”

In the early 80’s, André’s solo albums were steeped in a funk-pop-new wave hybrid. The 21st century André, with the help of some quality backing players, has a more straight ahead rock and pop feel. There are strong uptempo rock numbers, from “Rock and Roll,” “Let Your Sunshine,” and “Radio,” to “Naked,” the 60’s brit-pop of “If Not For You,” and one of the strongest tracks, the album closer “Live Life,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lenny Kravitz album.

Things get interesting when André unplugs midway through the album with the folk/pop of “It’s Alright” and the introspective acoustic “One Day.”

“It’s Alright” has an upbeat, summery feel – a catchy melody with a folky brush-shuffle tempo.

“One Day” is, to these ears, a thinly veiled letter to his old friend Prince. With lines like “We were close like a hand in glove / shared the bond of a brother’s love / Now we don’t have a word to say,” “Struck it rich, we were on our way,” “Had to leave I could not stay”… it’s pretty clear that André is reconciling this long standing broken relationship. I don’t know André personally, but I feel his humanity and his genuine compassion in this song and throughout the album.

I also don’t know Prince personally, but I’ll offer an outsider’s opinion: Prince seems to concern himself with two things: the here and the now. Those in Prince’s circle are valued and worked to the core. But when the expiration date comes, and his interests have moved on to other things (and people), he seems to cast them aside with a clinical and unemotional ease, and he never looks back. Talented and much admired musicians – even old friends like André – are left in his wake. Perhaps I’m reading too much into “One Day,” but that’s what I get out of it.

What thrills me as a long time fan of Prince, and all of the associated artists that spun off from him in those early years, is seeing someone like André Cymone reemerge all these years later and display that same badass quality, that same swagger, showing that he hasn’t missed a step. But it’s also great to bear witness to the music of a caring, down to earth human being who shares in the same life struggles, joys and adventures that we all do – all in a very grass roots and organic way.

The Stone is a solid and impressive return to the game, and yes – a treat to all of us sucked into that Prince vortex so many years ago. Welcome back, André. A lot of us were waiting and wondering, and we’re glad you’re back.

♠ Buy The Stone on Amazon.

Buy The Stone on iTunes.

♣ Check out André on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

♥ André will be heading out on tour soon. If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, check him out at First Avenue on March 16th.

World Boogie is Here – North Mississippi Allstars Unleash

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Swampy, dirty, badass rock n’ blues. I’ve listened to the North Mississippi Allstars here and there over the years, but nothing they’ve done has taken a hold of me like their latest release, World Boogie Is Coming.

NMA are essentially Luther Dickinson (guitar), his brother Cody Dickinson (drums), and their friend Chris Chew on bass. Their dad, the late James Dickinson,  was a sought after producer and session player, involved with artists like the Stones, Ry Cooder, Big Star, the Replacements, Mudhoney, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and on and on…

So growing up in Memphis and yeah, north Mississippi, Jim’s kids were as mainlined into the roots/blues music scene as any kid could possibly be. Luther and Cody were especially enthralled with the juke-joint boogie style of southern Blues artists R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. It was modern artists like NMA that helped spark a career revival for Burnside late in his life (he passed in 2005).

The album mixes familiar Blues tunes like “Rollin and Tumblin” and “Boogie,” covers of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (including my favorite of R.L.’s: “Snake Drive“), and originals written by Luther, Cody and friends. Robert Plant even appears on harmonica on the first two tunes, “JR” and “Goat Meat” (speaking of supercharging the Blues).

At its core, World Boogie is down home n’ dirty blues of the Deep South. But there’s also the infusion of youthful, 21st century, soulful rock. Unique flairs, effects and ambiance. It lifts me right up and makes me smile. It gives me that bad-ass, lip-biting, head-nodding buzz you get from the riff in ZZ Top’s “La Grange.” It makes me grab the virtual sticks and air drum along (see “Boogie”).

World Boogie is Coming is no holds barred stomp rock & blues. This album is the sound I’m looking for when I dip into artists like the Black Keys and Jack White. Great stuff, no doubt, but there is always just something missing.

World Boogie is that something.

♥ Buy World Boogie Is Coming on Amazon for $5.00.

Janelle Monáe: Electrifying [Tempe Marquee Theater Recap]

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This woman is one of a kind. The Electric Lady, the title of Janelle Monáe’s latest album, is no joke. Electricity surges through her on stage: in the manic dance moves that channel James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Elvis; in the instant, interactive connection she makes with her audience; in her powerful, silky smooth singing; in that smile… in that Stage Presence. Wow!

Yeah, Janelle owned the stage last night for a good hour and 45 minutes at the Marquee Theater in Tempe – my first, and definitely not my last time, seeing her live. A truly great performer is backed by a top notch, talented backing band, and Janelle brought one along: a powerful nine piece pop/soul/rock/funk outfit consisting of two backup singers, two horns, a drummer, a percussionist, guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist. Janelle and her band had the crowd, a couple thousand strong, buzzing from the start. It was the kind of eclectic crowd you’d see at a Prince show – black, white, young, old, gay, straight (“black, white, Puerto Rican everybody just a freakin’ good time..”as Prince once sang).

You just can’t pigeonhole Janelle into a category. It’s not straight R&B, soul (or neosoul) or pop/rock. It’s a grab bag of all of these styles and influences. The supercharged pop of  “Dance Apocalyptic,” one of my favorites, made an early appearance, along with the down tempo R&B of  “Give Em What They Love” and the straight ahead funk of “Q.U.E.E.N”.  She ripped through “Tightrope” (from her great debut full-length, The ArchAndroid), along with a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

The real magic, the full-circle realization that you’re seeing someone truly special, came during the four song encore. After coming back out to smooth out the crowd with “Primetime” (a ballad she sings with Miguel on Electric Lady), she launched into Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” which I first saw her perform during the 2010 BET Awards tribute to Prince (which you should watch here). If there’s any performer who’s fully qualified to cover the tune, it’s Janelle Monáe, with her manic intensity.

And then came the highlight of the night for me and I’m sure most of the crowd: “Come Alive (War of the Roses).” The song, about 3 and a half minutes long on the ArchAndroid album, turned into a 10-15 minute clapping & dancing & shaking interactive workout. At one point as the band broke it down, Janelle motioned everyone to get down low, and damned if she didn’t have almost the whole crowd in the room crouching down low for a good three minutes (give or take a few too-cool-for-school audience members, who received jokingly glaring looks from her). There was the interactive call and response between Janelle and the crowd. There were the high energy band solos, as each of them got a chance to showcase their talents for 20 seconds or so… and then there was Janelle, finally jumping out into the crowd, surfing her way a good twenty feet in (see the pic above)…

It was one of those live music moments every fan hopes for: when you say goodbye to reality for a few minutes and lose yourself in the moment. A deep connection with a performer that, when it’s all over, you realize you’re standing there with a huge smile plastered across your face.

There are very few live performers who can channel into that space and establish that core connection with the audience. I’m lucky to say I’ve returned to see Prince and Springsteen do that to me more than two dozen times…

Janelle Monáe has that magic too. I saw it last night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_0gMYq6Odw&w=640&h=360

Goodbye Phil Everly

Phil (left) and Don Everly (right) - from the LA Times website
Phil (left) and Don Everly (right) – from the LA Times website

When I think back on the first five days in 2014 music wise, I think immediately of Phil Everly. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been drawn to the big hits of the Everly Brothers: “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” “Let It Be Me,” and especially “Devoted To You.” I was still a good dozen years away from being born when these songs hit it big on the charts, but as you all know, great music is timeless. That amazing era of early rock n’ roll will live on forever. But unfortunately, the pioneers and legends of the era are living, breathing folks just like the rest of us. Last Friday, January 3rd, we lost a giant, as Phil succumbed to COPD after a lifetime of cigarette smoking.

I am not a smoker, but I get the addiction, and know it ain’t easy to just hang it up. It just seems that there’s a GIANT beneficial incentive to quitting (that whole living longer thing). But easier said than done, and God knows the rest of us ain’t perfect, shoveling in food we shouldn’t be eating, drinking alcohol, etc. Anyhow, my mother in law smokes, and my wife, daughters and I will continue the good fight to push her toward quitting.

Did you make any new year’s resolutions? I’m one of those who puts together a short (and often predictable) list every year. This year, they include:

  • No Crap Food Mon-Sat (desserts, ice cream, cookies, other sugar-filled things). One indulgence on Sundays. You see, I have no will power in the kitchen. If there’s a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, I’ll devour two of them in the span of a minute and not think twice. Cookies? Chips? And God forbid – chocolate, in any form? I’m all over that shit.  All this running I do doesn’t do much good in the weight loss department if all I’m doing is replacing every calorie I burn.  So I’m happy to report that it’s so far, so good in 2014. And yes, today was Sunday, and I did indeed do a little bit of damage to a tin of Costco European Belgian Chocolate Cookies (and yum).
  • Lose some belly. I topped out around 270 a few years ago. I made it all the way down to 230 in 2012 with the help of the Lose It app on iPhone (where you have an allotted amount of calories every day and you track everything you eat). I weighed in at 247 last week and decided to kick start the Lose It routine again.  I’m going to shoot for 220 this time around. By the way, the eight cookies I ate today? 340 cals. Little bastards.
  • Be credit card debt free.  In early 2012, after a lifetime of pitiful money management, I listened to Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover audio book and started following his plan. This year should will be the year I’m debt free except for my house. I’ve been in debt my whole adult life, folks, and I can see the finish line. Just right over there.
  • Calm Down. I am not the zen master I appear to be. Ask my wife and kids. Often times I simply just need to calm the hell down.

So those are my big four for the year. I’ll keep you posted.

In tribute to Phil Everly, I’ll leave you with the entire Everly Brothers 1983 reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It had been ten years since their last performance at Knotts Berry Farm, where Phil infamously smashed his guitar and walked off. The highlight of this concert for me is “Let It Be Me,” simply for the priceless looks on Phil’s face as he watched his brother Don sing those beautiful solo parts. Knots Berry Farm was a distant memory.

RIP Phil. You’re missed already.