Saturday, August 27, 2011

Star Maker Debuts: A Mixed Bag

Tomorrow will be taken up in my house with preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, so I don’t expect to have time for another post on this week’s theme. So here are three artists I wanted to get to this week who have nothing else in common.

Mance Lipscomb: Police Station Blues


When I listen to acoustic blues from before World War Two, I often wish I could take modern recording equipment back in time, and capture these amazing performances the way they deserve to be heard. Luckily, some of these artists were recorded better during the folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s. Many of these artists have been on Star Maker Machine before, but not Mance Lipscomb. Lipscomb is not the best known, but he was a very talented musician. Just make sure you never called him a bluesman. Lipscomb was born in 1895, and he represented a link to a tradition that predated the blues. He called himself a “songster”, and his repertoire included songs like Shine On Harvest Moon, which clearly were not blues at all. But, listening to Lipscomb’s music, I can hear the influence of the blues in everything he played. Lipscomb also was unusual among folk revival artists in that he was not discovered until after the war. He made his first recordings in 1960.

Rokia Traore (with The Kronos Quartet): Bowmboi


Rokia Traore is one of the best known singers in Africa these days, despite the fact that she has only done four albums. The foundation of her music comes from the traditions of her native Bambara tribe of Mali, but she is not a traditional singer. Traore gets a much smoother vocal tone than traditional singers, and her songs incorporate elements from many lands and peoples. This, the title track from her album Bowmboi, is one of two collaborations on the album with The Kronos Quartet, and the results are stunning.

Save Ferris: Come On Eileen


Finally, I could not resist sharing this one. You know Come On Eileen from the original version by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, but have you ever heard the ska version? Save Ferris made an EP that got them signed to a major label for their brand of ska. Their Come On Eileen was on their major label debut, a wonderful pop-ska album that I can heartily recommend. But, by the time they recorded the follow-up, the band was moving away from ska, and into unremarkable pop. They broke up soon after that follow-up was released. But there was a brief moment when they made one of the most fun albums I have ever heard.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Star Maker Debuts: Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff: Universal Love (Beyond The Boundaries)


It seems we've posted Bob Marley 4 times, but we've yet to post anything by another great reggae breakout artist who helped popularize the genre worldwide in the 60s and 70s. Jimmy Cliff had his first hit record in Jamaica at the tender age of 14, had a series of global hits in the late 60s, and featured in a reggae-based film, The Harder They Come, a worldwide success, in 1972. This song comes from the 1978 album Give Thanx and is one of my favorites of his. Of anyone's, actually.

Star Maker Debuts: Danny O’Keefe

Danny O‘Keefe: The Road


I posted this song two years ago on my own blog, Oliver di Place, and it drew the most comments I think I have ever had. The Road is a song that seems to resonate with people. Most first heard it on Jackson Browne’s album Running on Empty, and they think Browne wrote it. But here is the original, by Danny O’Keefe. O’Keefe personally had his greatest success with Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues, and Farewell to Storyville is another personal favorite. In short, O’Keefe is a wonderful songwriter, so if you like this, you will want to go deeper, and find more of the treasures in his songbook.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Star Maker Debuts: Turtle Island String Quartet

Turtle Island String Quartet: Crossroads (Robert Johnson cover)

Turtle Island String Quartet: A Night In Tunisia (Dizzy Gillespie cover)


Yeah, we don't usually post jazz fusion string quartet music, so I suppose these songs are particularly low hanging fruit for this week's theme. But before two-cello pop song covers were all the rage, and the String Quartet Tribute To Every Band Who Ever Sold More Than 50,000 Records trend started to boil the life out of the greatest hits catalogs of every major radiorock band on Earth, the Turtle Island String Quartet were the real thing, using cello, viola, and paired violins to push the limits at the intersection of jazz fusion, be bop, swing, classical, bluegrass and folk, in the process crafting several albums powerful enough to stay on my top 100 playlist all the way through my late teens and twenties.

Founded by violinist and composer David Balakrishnan in 1985 as a Master's thesis, the team has had several roster changes since its inception. But the quartet - who have dropped the word "String" from their most recent incarnation - remain a major player in the crossover world: winners of the Best Classical Crossover Grammy twice over in the last decade alone, their most recent recordings, which pay tribute to John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, respectively, truly reimagine the works of these two very different artists rather than merely retreading.

In sum: the band affectionately called TISQ by its fans deserves credit and kudos for a tight body of work and an experimental spirit that paved the way for everyone from Crooked Still to Ben Sollee. Oh, and those damn string quartet tributes, I suppose. But you can't really blame them for that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Star Maker Debuts: Garage Rock Revivalists

Eagles of Death Metal: San Berdoo Sunburn


The Libertines: I Get Along


Larrikin Love: Six Queens


I'm not sure if any of my previous posts would lead you to recognize my seekrit love of a genre known as "garage rock revival," which seems to be an overarching category encompassing a lot of plain fun and loud music best played from a car stereo. Here's a batch of 'em: one American and two British groups from the mid- …er, what are we calling the last decade anyway? The aughts? The 00's? At any rate, all of these groups are new to SMM (and all make our cutoff of 2005 and before).

Eagles of Death Metal is Josh Homme's other group (the first one is Queens of the Stone Age). He partnered up with a childhood soccer buddy for this combo, in what he describes as "bluegrass slide guitar mixed with stripper drum beats and Canned Heat vocals." It's pure California—the "Eagles" irreverently references the pop/rock group, not the bird.

Pete Doherty, vocalist of the British band the Libertines, kept the tabloids cranking for several years when he was 1) dating Kate Moss and 2) getting serially arrested for abuse of what the Brits call Class A drugs (mostly of the opiod family). He and bandmate Carl Barat had a long-standing, emo-chaotic bromance often reflected in their lyrics. Amidst all the scandals, they managed to release two fine albums before their messy implosion.

Fellow Brits Larrikin Love only managed one album, and they never made the tabloids at all before they called it quits. Still, I really like this frenzied tale of a bloke who's a self-admitted "cherry-lipped little cheap tart"; what I imagine Walk on the Wild Side would sound like as a full-blown punk tune.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Star Maker Debuts: Grace Jones

Grace Jones: Love Is The Drug (Roxy Music cover)


Grace Jones: Inspiration


I came thisclose to posting Grace Jones during great album covers week, but I ran out of time. Oh, hai, looks like I posted it anyway. I love this week's theme!

Grace made her compelling brand of club dance/electronica in the eighties. I don't know why her mesmerizing contralto voice fell out of favor; I certainly kept playing her stuff in the nineties and beyond. She released a number of covers of top musicians like Tom Petty, the Pretenders, Iggy Pop, Sting, Sly and Robbie, and the Marvelettes… Still, even though she was Jamaican/American, her music was always more popular in Europe than in the states. She was one of the first female stars to incorporate costuming as part of her distinctive, androgynous style. She also modeled and acted. Still does, I think.

The first song is a pretty faithful Roxy Music cover, and the second is an ethereal tune that my sister-in-law put on a mix tape for me a loooong time ago.

2001 => Star Maker Debuts: Sliding Delta

Ben Harper: Sliding Delta


I first heard Ben Harper in 2000, like so many other people. He had been releasing albums since 1992, but in 2000 his song Steal You Kisses broke through to a wider audience. Steal Your Kisses is a great pop song, but nothing about it suggests that Harper should be any good at the blues. But it turns out that the blues was Harper’s first musical love, and he got his first major gig opening for Taj Mahal on a tour. So it makes sense that he was chosen in 2001 to contribute a song to a tribute album to Mississippi John Hurt called Avalon Blues. Ben Harper shows that he deserves to be there with his take on Sliding Delta.