Saturday, April 24, 2010

Trios / Instrumentals: California Guitar Trio

California Guitar Trio: The Marsh


Forged in the aftermath of a chance meeting at King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp's famous zen-influenced Guitar Craft courses in the late eighties, the California Guitar Trio - comprised of three master musicians from Brussels, Utah, and Tokyo - plays technically challenging yet fluid instrumentals that teeter at the intersection of classical, jazz, surf, rock, world music, bluegrass, and anything else they can get their talented hands on.

This original piece, the lead track from 2004 release Whitewater, is a personal favorite: crisp enough for a movie soundtrack, mellow enough to compliment or even stand in for a soothing massage or a quick recharging dip in the hot tub.

Trios: The Kingston Trio

The Kingston Trio: Charlie on the MTA


I call it pop-folk. In the 1950s, a number of groups arise who played and sang traditional songs on acoustic instruments, but were not folk artists, exactly. These groups had carefully developed stage routines, and there performances were scrubbed clean of any roughness. Often they cultivated a clean-cut image by appearing in matching outfits. All of this applied to The Kingston Trio, but they also showed how much could be done within this set of limitations. Charlie on the MTA is a fine example. This is a protest song, but not one that would provoke much controversy. The song concerns a transit fare increase in Boston, and it uses humor to make its point. The Kingston Trio's reputation for using humor in their act actually helps put this one over, and the limitations of the pop-folk form become a strength. By putting over their objections to a fare increase in the most non-threatening manner, The Kingston Trio assured that their protest would reach the widest possible audience.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Trios: Ebba Grön

Ebba Grön: Schweden Schweden


I don't think there's a single Swedish youth who didn't in one way or another grow up listening to Ebba Grön. I was certainly one of them. I shudder at the thought of what a terrible taste in music I would've had today if I hadn't discovered them in 1992 at the tender age of 11.

Inspired by the likes of The Clash, Eater and The Sex Pistols, they formed in the outskirts of Stockholm in 1977 by members of bands such as Urin and Pink Champagne, and soon became one of the most reputable bands in the country. They left behind three albums and a string of singles before parting ways in 1983 after their bassist Lennart "Fjodor" Eriksson (the one with the mohawk) got sent to prison for refusing to do his mandatory military service. Ironically, one of the band's songs, Totalvägra, was about written to inspire young people to refuse do their military service. At least the band practiced what they preached.

Singer, guitarist and frontman Joakim Thåström (the one in the middle) continued his career in bands like Imperiet, Peace Love & Pitbulls and Sällskapet and is today the biggest and most respected male artist in Sweden. Not to pimp my own blog or anything, but according to my humble little countdown he made the 10th best album of 2009.

Eriksson and drummer Gustav "Gurra" Ljungstedt however have both faded into obscurity.

But despite the band being inactive for 27 years (they've consistently refused to reunite no matter how many millions they're offered) their reputation lives ever on and on - various box sets and compilations have been released since the band's break-up and they've all rocketed to the top of the charts.

Trios: Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney: Little Babies


Sleater-Kinney started as Carrie Brownstein's and Corin Tucker's side project as they were both in other bands at the time (Excuse 17 and Heavens to Betsy). Slowly Sleater-Kinney became their main focus but they didn't have a consistent drummer until they introduced Janet Weiss into the equation. The three Pacific-Northwest natives were a good fit and went on to make the rest of their catalog together.

They were one of the bigger names to come out of the Riot Grrl scene and one that was able to stay popular and current with the changing music scene. Their last album The Woods, was critically acclaimed and left people shocked when they went on hiatus on such a high note.

They made seven full-length albums in total before going on indefinite hiatus in 2006, but there's talks of reunions and side project albums in the meantime. Carrie has dabbled in other artist endeavors like acting and producing video, Janet has focused on her other band, Quasi, and Corin has focused her attentions on being a mother, though she's also been in the studio.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trios: Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr.: Raisans


Power trio Dinosaur Jr. recorded and released sophomore album You're Living All Over Me in '87, and like the early work of several other similar late eighties Boston-based grunge trios - Blake Babies, Sebadoh and The Lemonheads among them - the album became a seminal part of my musical development as I was moved from public school to private school in the middle of my high school years. The vomitous, psychedelic cover, with its double-skull faces turned away from the viewer, was an apt reflection of my inner turmoil at the time; twenty years later, the transformed and transformative pre-emo, post-punk feedback-heavy sound which filled my headphones and friends' smoky bedrooms still brings me back to adolescence in a single chord.

Listen loud - this stuff is meant to overwhelm the senses, prime for wallowing in teenage malaise, or merely reliving it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Trios: Bill Evans Trio

Bill Evans Trio: All of You


Despite being one of the most influential pianists of the last 50 years, Bill Evans democratized the piano trio. Instead of making it a piano showcase, he saw the rhythm section as equal musical partners.

On June 25, 1961, Evans brought his trio--Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums--to the now legendary Village Vanguard in New York for a full day (and night) of shows, five sets in all. The shows were recorded for a pair of influential albums, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debbie (later expanded, appropriately, to a trio with More from the Vanguard). But the way to get them is to go for the whole package, The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (and that's what the "purchase" link will take you to).

Sadly, Scott LaFaro died in a car crash less than two weeks after these recordings were made, so they stand as the final statement of this legendary trio.

Trios: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

Lambert Hendricks and Ross: A Night in Tunisia


So, am I cheating by including this one for our Trios theme? Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross were not together long, but they left a body of work that established them as one of the great jazz vocal trios. As will be heard on this track, they were usually accompanied by a band of jazz instrumentalists, so you hear the work of three singers, but a total of about seven or eight musicians. Susan avoided this problem with The Roches by posting an a capella track. My own opinion is that vocal trios in various musical genres have made great contributions to music, and deserve to be honored this week. I can think of only three covers that Joni Mitchell has done in her career, and two were covers of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, (Twisted and Centerpiece, if you were wondering). And A Night in Tunisia shows off their talent beautifully. The song is originally by Dizzy Gillespie, and someone else wrote the lyrics. But Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross deliver the definitive vocal version of the song. After all, there aren’t that many people who can sing it at all!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trios: Blake Babies

Blake Babies: Rain


The Blake Babies are Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm and Freda Love. They met while all were attending college in Boston in 1986. The story is this: Juliana painfully shy but desperate to play music and find kindred spirits; Freda, outgoing, loved by many follows Juliana to her dorm one day after seeing her walking through campus all the time with her guitar...asks her to come jam with her and a friend some time. At the tme Juliana had never played an electric guitar let alone a bass, but a bass player is what they need, so she borrows John's and learns and becomes their main vocalist and bassist. Shortly there after they go to a talk by poet Allen Ginsberg and in the questions and answer part they ask him to name their band, he suggests "Blake Babies", inspired by William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience". The name seems fitting and sticks, a band is born.

They got a lot of great reviews and garnered a following in that late 80s and early 90s college scene. Soon after Juliana went solo and did even better. In 2001 they got back together for a reunion album, and Juliana and Freda have had a side band (Some Girls) that's been off and on for a while as well. They remain friends but now live in different parts of the country, the rest is history.

Their music is folk-tinged rock, Juliana's innocent sounding voice is even more so in her early days when she was even more shy, but the music is charming.

Trios: Pugh & Friends

Pugh Rogefeldt: Här Kommer Natten


In 1969, Torbjörn "Pugh" Rogefeldt was recording his debut album Ja, Dä Ä Dä with two giants in the Swedish psych rock scene: drummer Jan Carlsson (far left in that pic) from renowned drums & organ duo Hansson & Carlsson, one of Jimi Hendrix's favorite bands. Georg Wadenius (the one in the middle) from jazz rockers Made In Sweden, later of Blood Sweat & Tears, handled bass and electric guitar.

Pugh was only 21 when this album was cut, and you can tell from the youthful energy and playfulness that shimmers all over the whole recording, even the mellow songs.

It was rather unusual for Swedish performers to sing in their own language in 1969, and it definitely set a trend. Ja, Dä Ä Dä made it fashionable to sing in Swedish, and before you knew it you had to sing in Swedish or the huge progg movement (which should not be confused with prog) deemed you a corporate whore, America lover, a capitalist and a sellout.

Pugh made two more album in a similar style before leaving the psychedelic world for more mainstream rock that wasn't very interesting. Ja, Dä Ä Dä is perhaps the best album ever recorded in Sweden, certainly the best album ever recorded in Swedish. A whimsical, psychedelic masterpiece!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Trios: Speed, Glue & Shinki

I´ve been a huge fan of that stripped-down, transparent power trio sound as long as I can remember, so this week´s theme really got my juices flowing. Lots of obvious choices immediately came to mind, but in the end I decided to settle for something just a tad more obscure.

Enter the hard rockin´ free-blues of Speed, Glue & Shinki. These Tokyo-based stoners made two rip-roaring albums in the early seventies, which ended up as (shared) number 1 and number 15 in Julian ´Japrocksampler´ Cope´s top 50 of Japanese sixties and seventies rock. Totally deserved, as the triumvirate of Masayoshi Kabe on bass, Philippines-born Joey ´Pepe´ Smith on drums and snotty vocals, and the amazing Shinki Chen on guitar put many a Western counterpart to shame. Banzai!

Trios: Ben Folds Five

Ben Folds Five: Philosophy

Ben Folds Five? Wait... I thought this was supposed to be "Trios Week."

Don't worry, I'm not breaking the rules. Ben Folds five was a trio out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina led by the eponymous Ben Folds on piano. The band also featured Robert Sledge on bass and Darren Jessee on drums. Notice the absence of a lead guitar (or any guitar) in that line-up.

As for the name... they chose it simply because of its alliterative aspects and because "Ben Folds Five" sounded better than "Ben Folds Three." It was just another idiosyncrasy from this, often quirky, group that released three amazing piano pop records in the 1990's before disbanding at the end of the decade.

This song comes from their self-titled 1995 debut album and does a great job of showcasing the template of their sound. Ben is up front with vocals and piano. Robert's bass is fuzzed out in places and combines with Darren's drumming to provide the power of the track. Robert and Darren can also always be relied upon to provide ready harmonies to augment the sound.

Trios: Cream

Cream: Strange Brew


For me, our Trios week must begin with Cream. I’ll explain.

I am the youngest of three brothers. My oldest brother was the perfect age to be aware of the “hippest” music that was coming out in the 1960s, and to build his record collection accordingly. He would sneer at the music that dominated the charts and AM radio, and bring home the music the hippies were listening to. One day, that meant the band Cream. As always, he would gather his younger brothers, and take us into his room, (it was the only time we were allowed in!) He would then put his newest acquisition on the record player, and we would listen. The day he first brought Cream home, we got to the end of the first side, and he exclaimed, “And can you believe that’s just three musicians?” These days, I can describe how Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker filled the space that a second guitarist would have occupied, but back then I could only marvel. I still do.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Trios: The Roches

The Roches: The Anti-Sex Backlash of the 80's

[purchase] - this CD is out of stock on their website so I'm providing the link

I have shared this trio of sisters before - at this point, it was just a matter of which song to choose...

After much pondering between mellow or upbeat, pulling their full catalog of CDs from my shelves and perusing tracklists until my eyes lost focus... I finally decided on this tune which, in my opinion, completely captures their wacky view of life... as well as showcases their amazing harmonies, even when they *intend* (and they do) to sing off-key - plus, frankly, I can't imagine this song ever fitting into any of our upcoming themes!

I'm still saving Mr. Sellack for Waitress Week, Cloud Dancing for Songs Based on Poems Week... and their version of The Hallelujah Chorus for A Cappella Week - are you listening, BH?... :-)