Saturday, June 7, 2014

Side Projects: Brand X

[purchase their discography]

A few weeks ago, when I made the Case for Phil Collins, I mentioned Brand X, the jazz fusion group that he played with as one of his many side projects from Genesis. Before this theme ended, I figured it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to do a quick post about them. Really quick.

Brand X was formed back in 1975, and featured a number of musicians who were either top-notch studio musicians or sidemen. By the time of their first album, the band featured Collins on drums, John Goodsall on guitar, Robin Lumley on keyboards and Percy Jones on bass. Over time, as the musicians’ schedules became more complicated, a number of different musicians passed through the band, with Goodsall and Jones the most consistent members. The band played fusion music, and if you dismiss the genre as dull, I challenge you to check them out—the quality of the musicianship is superb, and the songwriting is often unusual and occasionally inspired (if not always, I guess).

In the original post about Collins, I embedded a video of Brand X, and here’s another live track, although without the live video:

And, for a hoot, check out the interview above, from 1979, featuring Collins and Goodsall, which appears to have been recorded in Wayne and Garth’s basement. The second part of the interview is here:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Side Projects: Misc. Ry

What you and I might call a side project may not be such a “side” for the musician himself: you could argue that Ry Cooder has been building towards his Cuban work all his life. You could argue that most everything he does is a “side project”.

Ry's work – more than being a collection of side projects – appears to have a focus: I’d say it is to turn us on to the best of many different musics; be it the forgotten American 30s, be it the best of modern Africa or Cuba or …
Although Ry’s main focus over the years has its roots in America (Blind Willie Johnson, Woody Guthrie and more). 

Ry's mission to give us some of the best of the past include songs by Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton on ”Jazz”, Woody Guthrie on “Into the Purple Valley”, Lead Belly on “Chicken Skin Music”.

Yet another “side project” , if you prefer, features his efforts to share with us some of the best of Cuba through his work with the “Moula Banda Aces”, or his sojourn to African music with Ali Farka Toure,or from India with V.M. Bhatt of India, and many more beyond the Cuban style I feature here:

Buena Vista Social Club

When Cooder writes and performs his own work, he tends to criticism, often in support of “the working class”. Arguably, much of his output leans in this direction (How can a Poor Man Stand Such Times, Alimony, and even Fool for a Cigarette in that “the rich don’t smoke”)

I don’t have an inside line to the man’s mind, but I guess it’s true that nothing is “side” to him. Besides, Ry has worked with a number of folks on a regular basis. 
Again and again, Ry appears with Bobby King, Terry Evans and friends doing supporting vocal backups - hardly a side project. And well he does; their versatile 3-part harmony (and stage show) suit him and his musical choices well. Likewise his repeated collaboration with Flaco Jimenez on the accordion.

Here's yet another, where he is doing some "side work" with Mick Jagger (Memo from Turner). His guitar work absolutely drives the whole song.

Memo from Turner

SIDE PROJECTS: The Twilight Singers

Purchase The Twilight Singers catalog here

Action on the side is always a little darker. Whether it's an illicit gambit, a secret habit or a mistress, it's bound to be a little sexier and a little more willing to indulge your deepest desires. As it goes in life, so it goes in music. 

The Twilight Singers were born out of strife. 

Locked in battle with Elektra Records, Afghan Whigs lead singer Greg Dulli started recording demos with friends - a dark, tense and moody collection of music which was leaked on the internet. 

A reworked version of these leaked demos was released in 2000 by Columbia Records as Twilight As Sung by The Twilight Singers. 

Dulli describes The Afghan Whigs as, "a cross between The Band, The Temptations and Neil Young playing with Crazy Horse," and in the Twilight Singers, he gets to further explore his love of soul and R&B while keeping his pulse close to his hard rock roots. 

This R&B influence is heavily present in the first Twilight Singers song I ever heard. 

The crystalline tinkle that opens Teenage Wristband cut through the stagnant Central Florida summer air and for a moment, I forgot how to breathe. 

Is it in through the nose or in through the mouth? 

My priorities shifted - breathing didn't matter so much as figuring out what this sound was coming through my speakers. 

That sound was Greg Dulli at his darkest and most lubricious. 

Teenage Wristband opens with clean, crisp pianos, a low persistent drone and Dulli issuing a low and throaty challenge: 
You say you wanna go there
Ride then
I did and I loved it
Considering Dulli's cocaine addiction, these stark allusions to drug use shouldn’t come as a surprise and the chorus only serves to further illustrate a junkie’s delirium: 
You wanna go for a ride?
I got sixteen hours to burn
And I’m gonna stay up all night 
The shivery ache in Dulli's voice coupled with his lascivious, almost pornographic delivery of the lyrics make a sixteen hour ride with an addict seem like a tantalizing offer. 

Further tantalizing the listener is the background vocals. Sweet oooh-honey-baby cooing that sound familiar for a good reason. This siren song is sung by no other than Apollonia. Yes, that Apollonia - the same sultry dark-eyed muse who drove Prince crazy. 

A low, droning hum pulses through the song, smoldering and heightening in intensity, tighter and tighter, until about 2:37 into the song when the fever breaks and the music washes over you like the waters of the River Jordan. 

Scattershot with starlight and soaked in well-aged bourbon, the music of The Twilight Singers is a dark fairytale woven through well-worn, nickel-plated strings. All black velvet soft darkness rattled by a wall of noise – whispers turn to howls, murky basslines bubble out of steaming Louisiana swamps and snarling guitars hiss and strike like baited cobras. 

Though he is known best for his work with the Afghan Whigs, Dulli's side project remains closer to his pulse. The Twilight Singers are the heart of darkness beating inside Greg Dulli - dark as blood, lush, lyrical and fucked up in the most beautiful way.

Side Projects: Austrian Death Machine

Austrian Death Machine

Metal is full of silliness (see Spinal Tap, Steel Panther, or Gwar) and the type of faux-sincerity that leaves people wondering whether there really is a population of Satan-worshipping, tattooed and pierced pseudo-goths congregating around a single genre of music, or if it’s all just an antagonistic ruse. That ambiguous attitude toward idolatry is exactly what makes Austrian Death Machine a particularly funny joke—but one that outlasts its punchline via real music (as opposed to Richard Cheese’s albums, for instance (no comment regarding live performances)).  

Every bit of the band—the name, the lyrics, the song titles, the album titles, the artwork, the vocal style(s)—is a parody of the epic legacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The joke is largely the creation of the fellow bicep-obsessed As I Lay Dying frontman Tim Lambesis, who, incidentally, recently pled guilty to hiring a hitman to murder his wife (the assassin he hired was, in fact, an undercover police officer).

Is an over-the-top joke about an over-the-top action hero famous for his on-screen body count told by a death-worshipping would-be wife killer funny? Humor is subjective. Lots of people never laughed in the first place. But if you’ve ever laughed at an Arnold quote, there’s a good chance you’d get a few chuckles out of any of Austrian Death Machine's three albums.