Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Remember the Cranberries??

It’s great to see a lot of the 90’s artists who disappeared from mainstream return with new albums. One of these bands that I was recently reacquainted with is “The Cranberries” who returned with a new LP in February.


I read of the new album in Rolling Stone a while back. Read the news, thought it was great, and never thought of it again. Although I have yet had a chance to check out their new LP, they came into a conversation recently which had me digging out my old CD’s.


My wife was actually playing the “SongPop” game on my iPhone and one of the songs stumped her. She hollered out asking me who it was. I easily replied with “Zombie by the Cranberries”.


“Who are the Cranberries?” she asked. A part of me was taken back as the thought of anybody not knowing this song. To me this was as recognizable as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” but I guess this is where the 5 year age difference between us comes into play. In 1994 I was 13 years old. She was 8 (that makes me sound so dirty.. I assure you we never started dating until 12+ years later!). Everybody my age knew this song. This was HUGE in 1993. This is when bands that could actually write and were recognized for their talent. Now they seem to be more recognized for their appearance or criminal record.


To prove my point of how significant and important the Cranberries were to the 90’s I pulled out my copy of “No Need to Argue”, popped it in the CD player had her listen.


I can’t believe how long it has been. This brings me back to Junior High. A part of me was scared that I would realize how bad it actually really was (this happens from time to time…. Limp Bizkit anybody??), not this album. It hit me at an entire new level hearing this at my present age and state of mind. Back in the early 90’s it was all about how easily we could match the guitar riff of “Zombie”. Sure “Zombie” was the biggest single and a great solid song on this album but to me it never actually fit in with the remaining feel of the album. There are so many better songs.


It’s Dolores O’Riordan voice that carries this album. This is no big secret. She has one of the most distinctive voices of the 90’s. Amazing range and control and the Irish accent just makes it even better.

She was obviously full of heartbreak in this album. Either she is singing about leaving somebody in “Daffodil Lament” or losing somebody in “The Icicle Melts” she seemed to have the tormented depressed mindset that the usually great artists have.

I know it must seem I am pushing an album that everybody already has (It sold a mere 17 million copies). I know it definitely does not require a recommendation from myself to get praise it has long since received.

I’m just pushing for everybody to dig out those albums from their early teens and childhood and explore to see if it would still actually be worth a spin today. This one sure was.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Learning funk music one crate of records at a time - Part 2

Artist: Brick
Album: Good High
Today’s first LP on the turntable is “Good High” by a band called Brick.
First off this LP gets an A+ in my book for the cover alone! Damn I love the covers on these funk albums!
Brick was a funk band from Atlanta Georgia that was active in the 70’s and 80’s. Apparently they were known for fusing funk and jazz.  They consisted of the basics: drums; bass; guitar; keyboards and some horns.
I can really feel the jazz in this album which I really love. The breaks they have with the Saxophone in the single “dazz” is awesome. And who doesn’t’ love a bitchin flute solo once in a while! I’ll be digging out my Herbie Mann albums as soon as this one is over!
They just have a different kind of groove than the other funk albums I started with. The crisp sound of the hi-hats and tamer bass give them a distinct rhythm section that I find unlike any other. Instead of the bass being in the lead the entire song like many of the other artists it fades to the background from time to time and then he waits his turn to let it rip which really makes it stand out as a solo by itself.
One thing I have learned getting into funk music so far. Lyrically it may not be up to snuff with some of my other favorite genres. It’s the rhythm section that intrigues me of this style. Fun lyrics though.. How great is the first verse of “Dazz”?
Everybody go on and dance
If you want to
Music makes your body move
Well all right
Funky dancing get up
Get down, shake your booty
Music makes your body move
Well all right
You don’t even need music to dance with those lyrics!
next in the crate.........
Artist: Marvin Gaye
Album: Midnight Love
Next up we have a Marvin Gaye album. Now this is not as pure funk as the first bunch of albums I discussed in this series. However, I definitely feel that it falls in the funk category and deserves a spot here.
In short, I absolutely hated this record when I played it through the first time.
But wait… It’s Marvin Gaye and I hated it? I mean this is the same guy who did “What’s going on”.. One of my all-time favorite LP’s ever!
For this reasoning and this reasoning alone I put it on the turntable for a second time and gave it another shot... 
Ok how can I approach this….? Clear my head… Bring myself to a 1980’s frame of mind… Keep in mind that a drum machine is supposed to sound like…. well…. a drum machine.. not an acoustic drum set… Keep that open frame of mind and accept that the synthesizer was supposed to sound as cheesy as it did.. (please tell me it was supposed to sound that cheesy!)
Alright… second time through side A and I at least started to appreciate it..
But this is Marvin.. MARVIN!.. One more time side A… this is it..
You know what.. It grew on me.. “what’s going on” it sure isn’t but overall it is a solid well written album…
Whew…. You’re lucky Marvin.. I really had to work  for this one…
Marvin had just fulfilled his contractual obligations with Motown and was on a comeback tour after he sobered up from his substance abuse problem (this was a temporary sober period in his later life).
Once he started on his comeback tour Columbia signed him to a three album contract. This was the first album under this contract and unfortunately his last album in his lifetime as his father murdered him a few years after its release. 
He was really trying to compete with the popular musicians of the early 80’s with this album. It fits right in with Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Rick James albums released in this period.
Apparently Marvin was convinced to provide a similar sound to these artists to compete with their popularity. Marvin pushed to make the charts with this album, he recorded what he knew was mainstream at the time. He originally planned on recording a more personal album with references to his substance abuse and recent sobriety. I would have preferred the personal approach that Marvin originally aimed for but there was definitely a place in the early 80’s for this Marvin Gaye LP.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Learning funk music one crate of records at a time - Part 1

This weekend I purchased some records from a private collection. As soon as I started flipping through the vinyl I became completely lost for what they were. Usually I can pass through hundreds of LP’s quickly as I already have the titles in my collection or they are titles that I am not interested in. These crates of records were not familiar to me at all and this excited me. I love discovering new music and what a great opportunity to do so. This is my introduction to the fun rhythm filled world of funk music.

My knowledge of funk music on a scale of 1 to 10 starting off would be a 2 at it’s highest. It is not a genre I am familiar with but one that I have always had an interest in learning about. I constantly read about other funk music collectors online and knew someday I would join them. I just never knew where to start. Fast forward to this weekend and I now have an opportunity to learn about funk the best way I know how. Throw on a random record and see what comes out.

This post is the beginning of a series I will do on funk music. So please join me on my journey to learn funk music one crate of records at a time. (damn that was corny… I love it!!)

First up!
Band: Shotgun

Album: III

Shotgun III was one of the first LP’s from the crate that I cleaned and threw on the turntable. For no other reason than I had to start somewhere and I am going into this with no prior funk knowledge less a few Sly Stone and Barry White LP’s.

A very brief quick background. Shotgun was a Detroit based funk band that was active in the 70’s and 80’s.  This band has a typical funk lineup for instruments. Guitars, Bass, Drums, keyboards, horns etc..

I haven’t found a whole lot written up on this band so all I can really discuss is my personal taste on this album more so than the history of the band.

I enjoyed this LP. Once I put it on I was pleased with the rhythm section. The lead bass rhythm and drum beats were what I was yearning for getting into funk music.

As I listened to this and danced around with my daughter every song continued to be fun and catchy. Afterwards I hit the net and checked out the allmusic review of this band and LP. It was definitely not excelling in the review ratings. There was constant mentioning of how Shotgun could never get the hit they were hoping for and always had mediocre safe releases.

Now I take music reviews with a grain of salt. I like to come to my own decisions when it comes to bands and albums but I am always curious of what conclusions others came to.

If this review is accurate than I am in for a lot of enjoyment with funk music. If this is a safe and standard band it means there is even better yet to come. This is great as I already basically found what I was looking for with this LP.

What a great start!
Band: Parliament

Album: The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein

Next up we had a Parliament LP. Parliament was a band I was familiar with having a dominating reputation In the funk genre but no knowledge of them or their music.

This album seems to be well known by funk fans as having horn arrangement from James Brown’s ex band member Fred Wesley.

Having a 5 star rating from Rolling Stone and a 4.5 star rating from allmusic I had very high expectations for this LP. I was not disappointed.

It is very obvious of why George Clinton’s bands Parliament and Funkadelic dominated this genre. The musicianship and signwriting is in a whole different league than anything I have yet to hear (which I guess doesn’t say much as I am new to this genre..). I can see Parliament being the bar of funk music that I will be comparing other bands too.

I still love the Shotgun III LP but I now have a better understanding of where they could have been..

So far this crate of vinyl is off to a great start.

More posts to come on my “Learning funk music one crate of records at a time”. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

Comments and other funk band suggestions are encouraged!




Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Stray Gators!

The Stray Gators.
This band is definitely not a household name but there is a good chance that most people reading this blog had or have at least one album that this band performed on.

Though they are not a flashy band that is full of difficult drum fills or guitar solo's they are still considered some of the best studio musicians to ever play. The ‘less is more’ attitude is what makes them so great.

Let me think of some of the greatest non flashy albums in my collection.

First would have to be Neil Young’s “Harvest”. The simplicity of this album is part of what makes it so classic. You can barely ever hear a hi-hat or cymbal on this album. Neil told the drummer to only use his right hand. This is what Neil wanted. If they had drum fills and guitar solo’s.. it would never be the album that it turned into.

Next up would be Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. No flashy drums on many of Dylan’s album. (Well Hurricane definitely has some of my favorite drumming ever.. but for the most part.. not much showy playing). Blonde on Blonde is ranked as one of Dylan’s best and rightfully so. I don’t see many vinyl fans that do not have or are at least looking for a copy of ‘Blonde on Blonde’. (Brings me back to Jack Black’s character Barry on ‘High Fidelity’. “Don't tell anyone you don't own "Blonde on Blonde". It's gonna be okay”).  

Let’s go to a more recent album. Jewel – Pieces of You (just as I typed that I looked at the back of the album and realize its 18 years old. Holy shit I feel old)! Again. Everybody my age knows this album. And nobody remembers it for the rockin’ drums or crazy bass lines. But listen to this album again and realize how great the musicianship actually is. Less is more!


These three albums: Harvest; Blonde on Blonde; and Pieces of You all have one thing in common. And the majority of people don’t even realize this. The band “The Stray Gators” is backing Harvest and Pieces of You and the drummer of the Stray Gators (Kenny Buttrey) is playing on Blonde on Blonde.  And there are many more great albums that these musicians have a part in (Some of my favourite Neil LP’s ‘Time Fades Away’… and ‘Harvest Moon’…). Is it a coincident that these musicians played on these hugely successful albums? Sure they had the resume to be chosen but I strongly feel that these albums would not be the masterpieces they are without the Stray Gators.
The Stray Gators consist of:

-          Jack Nitzsche – piano (Spooner Oldham)

-          Ben Keith – steel guitar

-          Tim Drummond – bass

-          Kenny Buttrey – drums (later replaced by Johnny Barbata)

First off for all you people trying to prove me wrong. I know on Jewel ‘Pieces of you’ that the drummer is Oscar Butterworth. But rest assured it is Kenny Buttrey. Oscar Butterworth is a pseudonym used by Kenny.

Kenny is one of my favorite drummers. Just being able to play so minimal but make such a beautiful beat. Most drummers get so caught up in fills and crazy time signatures that they have a difficult time going back to a steady basic beat like this.

Tim Drummond’s bass is so precise. Listen to Neil Young’s Old Man and just listen to the minimal notes he hits but how perfectly timed they are. Listen to Jewel’s ‘Who will save your soul’. Tim’s bass is the glue holding this song together!

Besides Jack Nitzsche being an amazing keyboard player he was also Phil Spector’s right hand man at one point and helped produce Neil Young’s debut LP. You can also here his keyboard on many albums including the Rolling Stones! Jack would later be replaced by Spooner Oldham.

Besides Ben Keith having all that great steel guitar on Neil Young’s harvest, he had moved on to produce many great albums by Neil, Patsy Cline, Jewel and more!

These are just a few examples from these musicians. Google their names and you will be surprised on how many hit albums they appeared on. Sadly Ben, Jack and Kenny have passed away but their music will live on!