Funk/Soul gems found at the 2015 Record Store Day

So I found two albums from the 1970s when I was digging deep at the Sydney Record Store Day this last weekend. They both hit all my buttons of finding something that:
- captures a place and time;
- had an impact on subsequent genres or musicians;
- not known to me  (but most probably known to countless others);
- bloody awesome.

I am sure there is so much more that can be said about these albums, the artists and musicians and the production. If you want to read that type of information go here and here. I recommend just clicking and listening and making up your mind.

Alone Again, Naturally (1972),  Esther Phillips

Unreleased Complete Broadcast of 1976 Concert (WRVR-FM), Gil Scott-Heron with Brain Jackson and the Midnight Band

Record Store Day - 18 April 2015

Many things have been written about the whys and wherefores of an international Record Store Day, especially in the time of online streaming and the debate about the role of the artist, the record company, the bricks and mortar distributors, copyright and torrenting. A lot has been written. I am going to put this all aside and just say, if you like music, whether it is live, on vinyl or through your headphones on a mobile device, Record Store Day gives you an opportunity to dig a little deeper into your passion and discover something unique to your local community or city.

It is a global market place out there and you can see many things for free on youtube, but nothing beats the thrill of discovery when you hear a new artist or band, live or playing over the speakers in your local record store. Or even better, when you stumble across music that has been around for years and you just didn't know about it. 

No one says it better than Jack Black and Todd Louiso in High Fidelity. It is hilarious, but it is true. 

In Australia, you can find out what is happening by clicking here 

Flashback - Through Your Arms Around Me: Revisiting 2005 in Australia

2005 was a very interesting year in pop culture in Australia as it was a year that defined an Australian creative aesthetic for me. I had been in Australia for just over a year and was beginning to get my bearings about what local music, film, TV and books I liked. As in every other first world country at this time, globalisation was beginning, especially in relation to popular culture, however, local content was still being supported and made due to a robust entertainment industry that felt that it could still hold its own on the international stage. Elements of this industry remain today, however the change in distribution due to technology and the breakdown of monopolies has changed how local content has had its impact. 2005 in Australia as seen through its music, TV and film was white, middleclass and urban. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Australian population reached 20 million people in December 2003. Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world. A girl born
in the period 2003–2005 can expect to live 83.3 years and a boy born during the same period can expect to live 78.5 years. This is a prosperous, small (in population), quite diverse country that has an aging population, that sometimes punches above its weight with regards to pop culture contributions.   

10 years ago, on 26th December in 2004, a tsunami devastated many countries in South East Asia. There were many forms of support and relief that happened in the following 12 months, from various countries and communities. The affects of this disaster are still felt today, and if you would like to find out more about what happened, I recommend seeing documentaries such as The Day The Wave Came, a 30 minute story from Sri Lanka. In Australia. The local entertainment industry responded by putting on an eight hour concert in Sydney on 29th January 2005. Wave Aid: The Tsunami Relief Concert raised AUS$2.3 million, had 11 Australian artists (Nick Cave, Midnight Oil, The Waifs, Missy Higgins, Powderfinger, John Butler Trio, Kasey Chambers, Pete Murray, The Finn Brothers, and Australian supergroup The Wrights) donate their time and was attended by over 50,000 people. The idea for a relief concert was formed a couple days after the disaster. It took the event organisers and contributing musicians three weeks to organise the event and have the first round of tickets go on sale.  By the 20 January the event was just about sold out. It was a very hot summer's day, and the crowd was very emotional and committed. A song that really sums up the experience was Neil and Tim Finn performing Throw Your Arms Around Me by the Australian band, Hunters and Collectors, who were massive in Australia at the same time as Crowded House, but did not get the same international airtime.  You can see the performance below.

In 2005, Australia produced 50 local films, 10 of which were documentaries. The four movies that went head to head for best film that year at the Australian Film Institute Awards were The Proposition, starring Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone, Little Fish starring Cate Blanchet and Hugo Weaving, Oyster Farmer starring Alex O'Loughlin and Diana Glenn and Look Both Ways starring Justine Clarke and William McInnes .  There was also another film that did not get the awards but got the attention. Wolf Creek.  I love Look Both Ways, it is one of my favourite films. It is a small story about four people meeting and connecting over a weekend in Adelaide. Written and directed by Sarah Watts, who was an artist as well as a film maker, it is a lovely, lyrical film about life. The soundtrack to this film is populated by Australian songs and artists. Something you do not tend to get much of lately. Like Wave Aid, the music for this film is a little bit rock, a little bit indie and a little bit folk, and all Australian. Very of its time.

However, you can sum 2005 up in one TV program. Love My Way. It was on for three seasons (2004 to 2007) and it was created by Jacquelin Perske, Claudia Karvan and John Edwards. Starring Claudia Karvan, Brendan Cowell, Asher Keddie and Dan Wylie it followed the lives of these four white middleclass Australians in Sydney through life, death, relationships, sex, drugs, family, kids and even a bit of rock 'n' roll. As well as some surfing. It was produced by Foxtel, the Australian cable network and shown during the summer months, during the 'off season' of TV. It was seen as a bit of a risk and a stab at what is now seen as 'prestige' drama. It did have the same creative team (Edwards and Perske) and lead actress (Karvan) as the immensely popular Australian series The Secret Life of Us (2001 - 2005) which focused on the lives and relationships of twentysomethings in Melbourne.  This may have gotten people to watch the first episode, but they stayed for the Six Feet Under like local drama. I am not sure it would get made today in Australia. It is a great series and I completely recommend it. And funnily enough the soundtrack for the series takes the same approach as Look Both Ways and showcases Australian artists. 

The Preatures launch their first LP - Blue Planet Eyes

Building on a successful 12 months, local Sydney band, The Preatures launched their debut album, Blue Planet Eyes, in late 2014. With two EPs under their belt, successful appearances at music festivals SXSW and Coachella, and a hit single Is This How You Feel?, they are poised to do their damndest to play good music for a few more years to come. 

This five piece band features Isabella Manfredi on lead vocals and keyboard, Gideon Bensen on guitar/vocals, Jack Moffitt on guitar, Thomas Champion on bass and Luke Davison on drums. They work well together to create tight, rocking pop music that have a catchy chorus and enough rock to dance to. They signed to Mercury Records in March 2014. 

Have a listen here

"Is This How You Feel" Get the EP here: Digital: http://smarturl.it/EPPreOrder Physical: http://smarturl.it/PhysicalEP Recorded and Mixed by Jack Moffitt & The Preatures. Lyrics at bit.ly/19peeAG Director/Producer: Alex Ryan DoP: Adam Howden Edit/Post: Ferris Films Concept: Andy Cassell


Y'Akoto - Babyblues

I have just discovered this album. I know, two years after it came out. However, stumbling across it has been wonderful. If you are a fan of Erykah Badu or Nina Simone you will become a little bit enamoured with this debut album. The music marketing people have categorised this as 'soul seeking music' - sure we will go with this.  It is very soulful with elements of African rythmns and jazz. Y'Akoto was born in Ghana and grew up in Hamburg, Germany. She also spent part of her childhood in Cameroon, Togo and Chad. She began training as a dance teacher when she was 18 years old as well as joining a band in Hamburg. In 2011 she was discovered on sounds Hamburg, the local music TV show, and entered as an opening act for the touring Erykah Badu. She was signed by Warner International Music and this album was produced in collaboration with Max Herre (German rapper and singer/songwriter), Samon Kawamura (German Instrumental Hip-Hop artist) and Roberto di Gioia (German jazz pianist). 

Her latest album Moody Blues will be released on 22 August 2014. You can listen to a sample here and most importanly you can buy it as well as Babyblues.

First Songs I Knew Off By Heart

Like most people there are songs in my life that I know very well because they are in my family's record collection that I discovered as a pre-teen. By record collection I mean how all the seven singles and LPs owned by every member of my family was stored. There was no one in my family who was into music enough to cultivate a collection based on genre, music history or pretention. The songs and LPs were just what was liked by whoever in my family and available in the local stores. So we are talking about white Rhodesia from the 1960s to independence in 1980 whereby the country became Zimbabwe. This is a very narrow racial, social and political outlook on life that translate to what music was being played on the radio. I would sit near the big wooden hi fi radio with inbuilt record player in our lounge room with the seven single records (without sleeves) slotted into the record rack. I would listen to one after the other all afternoon, and sometimes I would replay some. These are the ones I know so well that, as The Carpenters say, I can sing along with them (all verses) if they come on the radio or shuffle onto my mp3 player: 

My Coo Ca Choo by Alvin Stardust

Angie by The Rolling Stones

Seasons In The Sun by Terry Jacks

Rose Garden by Lynn Anderson

The Leader of the Gang by Gary Glitter

Sunglasses by Hilary

Ooh Wakka Doo Wakka Day by Gilbert O'Sullivan

and, of course, Yesterday Once More by The Carpenters 

Friends told me to listen to this

Last month I had the following songs and bands recommended to me. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did:

Keep It Healthy by Warpaint
This American Indie band was formed in 2004. This song is off the self-titled album, released this year, is their second. You can find out more about them here.

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan by Rufus and Chaka Khan
Ok, so this was not recommended to me, but I stumbled across it while going through a crate in a record store and this is an awesome album that was released in 1975. This is the first album in which Chaka Khan is singled out from the band and given her spotlight.

I Miss Your Bones by Hospitality
This song is off Trouble, another second album from an American Indie band released earlier this year. Here is an interesting review of the album from Rolling Stone.

Scream (Funk My Life Up) by Paolo Nutini
Paolo Nutini is a Scottish singer/songwriter who has been making albums since 2006.  Caustic Love is his third album and it is getting some great airplay in the UK. Find out more about Paolo Nutini here

Waiting For The Sun by Jolie Holland
Wine Dark Sea is the fifth studio album for singer/songwriter Jolie Holland and it is a great bluesy record. Click here for an interesting article about her and her music.

Music at SXSW in Austin, Texas

It is that time of year again when all the TV and film award shows are coming to an end and it is nearly time for the music festival summer circuit in the northern hemisphere of the world. All of this is preempted by South by Southwest (SXSW) (7 - 16 March 2014) in Austin, Texas which started out as a conference for the music industry in 1987 that has grown so big that it is now has three elements - interactive, film and music.  That is not counting the offshoots like SWSWedu, SXSW Eco and SXSW V2V, that take place at different times in the year. So it is a bit of an industry unto itself. SXSW Music is the biggest music festival in the world with over 2000 official performers playing at over 100 venues over 10 days.

If you are like me and not attending this year, you can catch up on what is showcasing or happening at SXSW through the various social media apps and the huge amount of coverage on music blogs, radio stations in the US, movie and TV blogs and publications. I always go to the experts to cut through the huge amount of information coming at me on occasions like these and listen to recommendations from National Public Radio (NPR) in the US and radio shows like Sound Opinions. If you want a place to start go to NPR.org and look for the Austin 100: a SXSW 2014 Mix. You can download 100 songs from 100 performers that will be at SXSW for free until the end of SXSW from the NPR website. This mix has been narrowed down by Stephen Thompson at NPR Music from over 3000 songs sent out by SXSW. It is a great snapshot of what is available as it compiles songs from all music genres.  

The keynote at SXSW Music this year will be by Neil Young. This will be on Tuesday 11 March and it usually gets posted onto youtube. Last year it was Dave Grohl, who did a great job (see below), and the year before it was Bruce Springsteen, who was equally as good as Dave Grohl. No disrespect, but here is hoping that next year it will be someone who is not a white middle aged man.

There are many many headliners this year, from 50 Cent, Jack White, Broken Bells, Imagine Dragons to Kurt Vile and I am sure they will get the coverage, but what is great about SXSW is that you always discover something new. Try it, you may find you new favourite artist or band.

Update 9 March 2014
I have to eat my words. The news is out that Lady Gaga is giving the keynote at SXSW Music this year. I guess Neil Young was a red herring. Outstanding work SXSW.

Big Star's Third at the Sydney Festival

Big Star is a band that I have written about before and you can get an idea about their story here.  If you haven't clicked through, they were a Memphis based band from the early 1970s who created three albums and, through a series of mishaps and bad business, were never distributed or promoted. Their three albums became a cult amongst musicians and musos.

In the last couple of years a series of one-off or limited run concerts have been taking place around the world where an all-star cast of musicians both local and international gather to perform Big Star’s third album, called Third or in some cases Sister Lovers. The base group of musicians who do these concerts are the only remaining founding member of Big Star, Jody Stephens, R.E.M’s Mike Mills, The dB’s Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter (Let’s Active).  

From the 2011 Concert in the USA, this is Brett Harris doing Kangaroo

Last night it was Australia's turn, as the Sydney Festival brought these musicians to the Enmore Theatre in Sydney to put on this concert for one night. The core group of musicians were joined by The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow, guest vocalists Skylar Gudasz, Brett Harris, Kurt Vile, Cat Power, Edwyn Collins, and Aussie singers Tim Rogers (You Am I), Kim Salmon (The Scientists) and Dave Faulkner (Hoodoo Gurus) along with a Sydney-based 12-piece ensemble of strings and brass.

This concert emphasised how important live music is. This tight knit group of musicians come together on stage and created a wonderful night full with big personalities, great songs, and moments of joy and sorrow that can only happen at a live show. All the guest vocalists did a fantastic job of evoking the original song and simultaneously making it their own. I for one, was very happy to see the music played live especially as we had the added bonus of most of the songs from the other two albums and some of the solo work of members of Big Star being played. If you want to sample some of Big Star's music listen to a couple of the clips below.

Thirteen off the album, #1 Record.

O My Soul from the album Radio City

Stroke It Noel off the album Third/Sister Lovers


In The Streets off the album, #1 Record 

Eclipse - Amadou and Mariam at the Sydney Festival

One of the many performances at the Sydney Festival this year is a series of concerts by Malian duo Amadou and Mariam. Titled Eclipse the concert is performed in pitch darkness giving the audience insight into how Amadou and Mariam experience their own music. The concert tells the story of how Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met as teenagers at the Bamako Institute for the Young Blind in the early 1970s, formed a band, got married, had children and became Grammy award winning artists. Amadou lost his sight at the age of 16 and Mariam at the age of 5, due to untreated measles. 

So, something completely different then as most concerts have elaborate stage performances to enhance the music. This was like putting on some headphones and listening to your favourite album in your bedroom which just happened to be filled with a few hundred people. That you could not see, but could hear breathing and shuffling in their seats to the music. 

The music is a mixture of afro pop and blues with great vocals and an infectious beat that will get you up and dancing. I first saw them at the Blues and Roots Festival in Byron Bay in the mid 2000s. Last year I really got into their 2004 album Dimanche à Bamako (Sunday in Bamako) produced by world-Latin star Manu Chao. It is an infectious album invoking the sights and sounds of the West African city. Their eighth album Folila was released on 2 April 2012. Folia means music in Bambara and it features special guests such as Santigold, TV On The Radio and Bertrant Cantat. Here is a selection of their music.

 Dimanche à Bamako 


Welcome to Mali


Albums I Discovered Last Year

A happy byproduct of the fracturing of popular culture distribution models due to the prevalence of the internet is that I have come across some great music that has been out for longer than a month. I now have somewhere else to go to find music that does not involve radio station hopping to avoid the adverts or inane DJs, or flicking through the limited video playlist on music TV channels. And no it is not Spotify, which is great for the listener (not that good for the artist as they get very little out of the deal), but the rise of access to really wonderful podcasts from around the world. So thank you to Sound Opinions, a podcast from WBEZ Chicago that either introduced me to or reminded me that I should go and seek out the following:

Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krause

Writer's Block by Peter Bjorn and John

 

The Gift by Sons and Daughters

This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem

Crazy For You by Best Coast

Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me

 Big Star Nothing Can Hurt Me is a feature length documentary about the 1970s Memphis band Big Star.  The documentary is very straight forward and workman like but it is the subject matter that makes it a must see movie for anyone who likes music from that era. The band made three albums and because of various distribution and record label issues, they were a commercial failure.  But the influence of those albums are still felt today. 

The death of lead singer in 2010, Alex Chilton was commemorated by Congressman Cohen, see below: 

William Ruhlmann at Allmusic.com sums up the impact of their music perfectly:

"The problem with coming in late on an artwork lauded as "influential" is that you've probably encountered the work it influenced first, so its truly innovative qualities are lost. Thus, if you are hearing Big Star's debut album for the first time decades after its release (as, inevitably, most people must), you may be reminded of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers or R.E.M, who came after -- that is, if you don't think of The Byrds and The Beatles, circa 1965. What was remarkable about #1 Record in 1972 was that nobody except Big Star (and maybe Badfinger and The Raspberries) and wanted to sound like this -- simple, light pop with sweet harmonies and jangly guitars. Since then, dozens of bands have rediscovered those pleasures. But in a way, that's an advantage because, whatever freshness is lost across the years, Big Star's craft is only confirmed. These are sturdy songs, feelingly performed, and once you get beyond the style to the content, you'll still be impressed."

Big Star's resurgence in the 1980s happened when bands such as R.E.M, Teenage Fanclub and The Replacements sited the influence of the band on their music.  Subsequently, the band acquired a cult following and in 1993 two of the original band members reformed the band with two new members and toured for the next ten odd years.  In 1999, one of their songs, In The Streets, was used as the opening song for the US sitcom That 70s Show and the band's music start become more and more mythical.

It is an interesting story and as such so is the movie, but I recommend just putting on #1 Record or Radio City and listen for yourself. 

The Influence of Le Chic's Good Times

Disco.  Not a word that inspires great respect with many a music lover.  Today, however, I just put forward this simple case about the influence of just one great disco song - Good Times by Le Chic. 

This is Good Times  

 

And this is its impact on Hip Hop and Rap 

Rapper's Delight by Sugar Hill Gang

The Breaks by Kurtis Blow

And New Wave, Rock and Electronica

Rapture by Blondie

Another One Bites The Dust by Queen

Around The World by Daft Punk

Case closed. 

 

Soundtrack to Friday - Everything is Covered

Songs have been covered by different artists since time began.  So much so that in Australia Triple J radio station has a regular segment called Like A Version .  In keeping the tradition of celebrating the reinvention of the popular song, here are my top five selections in no particular order:

Superstar

The original by The Carpenters

A cover by Sonic Youth

 

With A Little Help From My Friends

The original by The Beatles

A cover by  Joe Cocker

Knockin' On Heavens Door

The original by Bob Dylan

A cover by Randy Crawford

Another cover by Guns n' Roses

I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself

The original by  Tommy Hunt

A cover by Dusty Springfield

Another cover by The White Stripes

Tainted Love

 The original by Gloria Jones

A cover by Soft Cell

Glastonbury - A Tale of Two Festivals

Last weekend saw Glastonbury, the UK's biggest music festival, close out with headliners Mumford and Sons performing The Beatles' Get By With A Little Help From My Friends along with Vampire Weekend, The Vaccines and The Staves.  They did the Joe Cocker version of the song which entered the public consciousness through the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969, in Bethel in up state New York.  

Woodstock was a moment in time when over half a million people came together in peace, openness and cultural expression.  It was chaos for the organisers and for those who came camped out in the open on the farm belonging to Max Yasgur.  It was a weekend of music with many bands and performers flying into to perform on the one and only stage, through rain and sunshine. The event was free and captured by a documentary done by Michael Wadleigh and edited by an up and coming film maker at the time, Martin Scorsese, and Thelma Schoonmaker.    It was the time of free love and music.  It made no money.  

 

Over 50 years later and it is Glastonbury 2013.  It was also held over a weekend, but it had 50 stages and thousands of bands playing. 180,000 people descended on a farm in Glastonbury in the UK.  Tickets cost at least £205 and the list of facilities available on site are food and shopping, toilets, money, property lock-ups, spiritual support, showers, telephones, a water supply and weddings.  The festival had three major charities of choice and also supported some local charities.  It also had four media sponsors, The Guardian, The BBC, Orange and Q The Music, merchandise, over 2000 employees and volunteers to help run the festival and at least 2.5 million people watched the festival on the BBC in the UK.  That is not counting overseas viewing figures and social media.  What a difference over 50 years makes in the running of music festivals.  Glastonbury aims to be green and it supports charities, but it is a far cry from peace, openness and cultural expression.

Soundtrack to Friday - Australian Politics

Two days late, I know, but this is the music I have chosen to represent my opinion of the last week of Australian politics: 

Going Underground by The Jam

 

Stuff Is Messed Up by The Offspring

 

Fight The Power by Public Enemy

What's Going On by Marvin Gaye

The Idiots Are Taking Over by NOFX 

Nothing Like A Dame

The Sydney Symphony and Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage put on a show last weekend at the Sydney Opera House with a program of classical music for children.  The evening started with the recently retired Dame Edna charming the audience with wry home truths about the state of Australia, before the Sydney Symphony played Saint-Saëns' Carnival of The Animals.  This humourous musical suite of fourteen movements was written by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1886.  He first regarded it as piece of fun and did not want the piece to be published in his lifetime.  The first public performance was in 1922 after his death.  It has since become his most famous piece of work. In 1949, Ogden Nash wrote a set of humourous verses to accompany each movement.  On Saturday Dame Edna did her version of these verses, with an Australian twist.

After interval, we were treated to Juanita the Spanish Lobster, a recently written children's musical work with music by David Haslam and story by Johnny Morris that combines the tale of Juanita with a mixture of  flamenco guitar and bel canto opera.  It was hilarious.  A bit like that part in Victor/Victoria when Toddy takes over as Victoria and sings The Shady Dame From Seville, just without the dancers.  This was then followed by Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and The Wolf. This composition was written in 1936 and is a children's story with music and text.  Dame Edna has previously recorded a version of Peter and The Wolf so her performance on Saturday night was very well done, with exquisite work from the Sydney Symphony. 

Soundtrack to Friday - Uncovering Some New Music

Instead of delving into the past today, we decided to take a sampling of some of the great music that was on show at SXSW in Austin this February. 

Here is a taste:

Warm Spell by Sinkane

What's Your Name by NO

Turn It Around by Lucius

You Know Me by Air Traffic Controller

 

We Will Meet Again by Tygaraja

Two Sides Of Lonely by The Lone Bellow

 

You Don't Know Me by The Polyphonic Spree

You Won't by Three Car Garage

Soundtrack to Friday - the Queen's Birthday List

It is that time of week again.  In Sydney, this weekend is a long weekend to celebrate the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II.  Yes we have a day off to celebrate the birthday of the sovereign of Great Britain.  Which is actually on a different day.  Australia is still under the British Monarchy. Nice.  So to celebrate this, here is a list of songs: 

God Save The Queen - The Sex Pistols

Killer Queen - Queen

Queen of Hearts - Juice Newton

 Dancing Queen - ABBA

Ballad of a Teenage Queen - Johnny Cash

Queen Jane Approximately - Bob Dylan

The Queen is Dead - The Smiths

Soundtrack to Friday - Drive

Today's soundtrack is inspired by an hour long trip to a friend's house along a motorway.  As I was driving through the pools of overhead lights, counting the reflecting cats eyes in the middle of the road, I turned up the radio and let Roxy Music's Oh Yeah wash over me.  One of the best driving songs of all time about the experience of driving in your car.  So here is a list, in random order, of songs that are both good to drive to and are about driving.

Oh Yeah - Roxy Music

Cars - Gary Numan

I Drove All Night -  Roy Orbison

(yes that is Jason Priestley in the video)

Drive - The Cars

Radar Love - Golden Erring

Road To Nowhere - Talking Heads

Low Rider - War