Saturday, March 24, 2007

Notes: Repeat Song of The Day

So recently songs have been getting played on repeat for extensive periods of time. Hence why Musiq - Betterman accumulated 41 plays in 4 days or Darien Brockington - Dedication earned about 25 in about 2 days.

This week I've had brief dalliances with rediscovered songs (Dru Hill - These Are The Times & Faith Evans - Mesmerised come to mind). But today is all Rapper big Pooh's day. Kind of overlooked the album since he is the least regarded member of the group. He knows it too. It's the subject of a skit AND a song on their last full length album. Anyway he did a solo and a found a track off there featuring the Repeat Master himself, Darien Brockington.

Is it the introspective character of the song? The seductively simple piano loop? Darien's soulful singing? Answer is D - All of the Above. Whatever it is, it actually has me rethinking life as a whole.

Rapper Big Pooh - My Mind ft. O-Dash & Darien Brockington (Sleepers)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Announcement: 11%

That's it. Monthly progress will be charted.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Editorial: That Ole Time Religion

I am in the midst of trying to keep up with my album a day diet for the month of March. That progress is the subject of another posting. But anyway, today's selection is WOW Gospel 2007. As I'm listening, it's amazing to me that how easy it is to pick up the words. Maybe it's the call and response. Maybe it's the good timey fee. Maybe its just the subject matter. Somehow, Hezekiah Walker & LFC have got me singing Faithful to God right along with them. And it's pretty fantastic

Announcement: 6000th Song

Drum roll again maestro..............

Yolanda Adams - The Battle Is Not Yours (Live)

Such a lovely song. I usually skip over it cause you have to be in the right mood to hear it. But today that mood was with me. It's nice to believe in something beyond what is immediately in your vision.

I'm feeling # 6,001 just as much (Mary Mary - Thank You (Incredible))

Friday, March 16, 2007

Moving Pictures: 300 - The IMAX Experience

Oh we ventured so far and paid so much money.

But it was worth it.

300 - The IMAX Experience (And yes I will keep referring to it like that because I initially couldn't find any information on the damn movie until I included the IMAX part) is based upon the legend that once upon a time the Spartans sent a militia of 300 to stave off loads of Persian invaders. It was captured in the book Gates of Fire and is a special topic to many historians.

Yeah. Bump that.

Our version tonight was based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, of Sin City fame. So therefore the history isn't so important. It's all about the drama. And with a story like this, it's not that hard to manafacture it. Shot in a very vivid cinematic style, every bit of action seems very crisp and alive. IMAX definitely helped out with that. There were so many instances where I felt like I could count the pores in the actors' faces.

At times the acting is over the top but then what can you do with the script. I think there's a point where the writer has to realize that no one is listening that much to the words in a movie where the main draw was war. And it doesn't get in the way. Excellent action scenes (actually would have liked to have seen more). Loads of blood. A touch of sex. This film looked like Spike TV commissioned it. And if they didn't someone should fire their marketing director cause this was absolute genius.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Editorial: The Art Of Improvisation

One of the little bits of music that I have myself passionate about is the art of the ad-lib, coming up with something spontaneously within the contours of an established song and attempting to add to it. Now most commonly, people think of instrumentation in terms of improv and I guess this would be correct. But the type I tend to focus on is the vocal improvisation.

I tend to think there are two types of vocal improvisation. The first would be the musical type, which would include the melismas and scatting that so many are fond of. The more difficult of the two would be the type that actually attempts to add new lyrics. I'm just basically sounding too academic for what amounts to some extra words. But when an artist does it well, it just adds so much.

Now the best purveyors of the tradition spring forth from the southern Black American style of music. Blues and gospel are the only areas where ad-libbing is a requisite component of any successful artist in those feels. And usually in both types. Rhythm and blues used to be a more consistent source of great improvisers but as the music moved away from its blues and gospel roots, that fell to the background. Still the melismas and such were emphasized, but that organic quality that existed that let people come up with their own words has faded to the background.

All hope is not lost. Still some hope exists. R. Kelly is most indicative of this but even in his modern take on R & B, he is most reminiscent of the old artists. A casanova battling demons all while maintaining musical genius. In When A Woman's Fed Up towards the end, he abandons the chorus in favor of telling you some obscure details regarding his lost love. "Raised in Illinois, just outside of Chigago." A simple line but its addition and spontanaeity add to the total effect of the song. The desperation and despair he advances throughout the song is captured in that little line. If the song was an essay, he found his conclusion.

That idea of performance and relating an event, no matter how petty or small, seems to be absent from most music today. That organic feel is absent more often than not. But thank God for the Kellys, Dave Hollisters, and whoever that even try to do what their hearts move them to do.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Live Notes: The Roots (DAR Constitution Hall, Washington D.C.)

So I made the trip (to be documented in a later post) to D.C. to see the Roots with my good friend Posh. When I found the concert it was a lovely excuse to see her. Plus I got to miss work the following Sunday.

But anyway back to the music. This would be my first concert after the official release of Game Theory. At the August show, they previewed the material off the album but now I was armed with more knowledge of the music. But before we got to the main course there were a couple of appetizers that we had to get through.

First up was Lupe Fiasco, the man with the most critically acclaimed hip-hop album of last year with some of the highest sales, though still kind of anemic by the old standards. I finally got to listen to the whole album on the ride down and was amazed at the musical vision the kid possesses. And he's conscious. But due to the open bar we visited before the concert, well we missed him. Eh, I don't think it would have been too different than the Central Park set I saw him do.

Next was local superstar Chuck Brown. Armed with a many-piece band, they did a medley of their go-go hits. For those who don't know, go-go is a style very popular amongst the D.C. area heads. It is very focused on the percussion. Sometimes it sounds like the drums on Amerie's "1 Thing." But he rocked the place. Even me. I think it was the ebullience of my neighbor that got me so amped.

So after a well-timed trip to the facilities, The Roots were up next. They quickly dove into some of their more recent material and never really slowed down. The night was like a non-stop party. It's hard to distinguish where one song ended and where another began because it was just that fluid. And I was dancing my ass off. (Kudos to Posh). Whipping through hits like "Long Time" and "Love of My Life (Ode to Hip-Hop", they also found time for extended jam sessions including one with a brass setion led by expert trombonist Jeff Bradshaw.

I'm almost at the point where I won't blog any more about Roots concerts. Not that they're bad or anything. On the contrary, they continue to get better. So every time I feel like I write the same thing. Awesome show, amazing musicality, fun fun fun. Oh I'll probably still keep writing. I think The Roots have become my favorite group.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Announcement: Anthology Month Tentative Artists

Although we are still in March, my April Anthology Month idea had me so excited that I had to start thinking of the parameters for such an adventurous expedition. Off the top of my head, I guess its safe for viable candidates to have more than four albums worth of material. And it would also help if I was unfamiliar with most of it, so that's a no go to the Roots and all those Soulquarians & Tongues (but who knows if I'll cheat).

In (first letter) alphabetical order (* indicates super-tentative): 9th Wonder*, Bob Marley, Coheed & Cambria, Coldplay, MF Doom, Madlib, Incognito, Ego Trip Collection, Gang Starr, Jean Grae, Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, Prince, People Under The Stairs, Pink Floyd, Prince, Radiohead, T.I. (surprising right?), The Beatles (yeah might not make it the whole way), The New Pornographers, The White Stripes, Unikone Collection

Yeah we'll see how this one goes.

Update: Murs is now on the list.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Notes: Bilal - Love For Sale

Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a young prince who was hailed as the next new thing. Powerful record executives and world class producers almost hurt themselves to work with the young impresario. But it seemed that the genius that he encapsulated was hard to translate to a broader audience. Met with little interest above cult status, he receded from the spotlight, occasionally coming to the surface for a guest appearance or even a concert.

A short synopsis of the career of Bilal, a very different, and very good, singer. Trained to do opera, but hailing from Philly, it was only so long before soul pulled him back in. Thank God for that. His first album did have the backing of Jimmy Iovine, the man at the center at most of the biggest musical successes of the last decade or so. Dr. Dre heard some of his tracks and had to work with him, which resulted in two tracks for his debut album. But that album, largely produced by himself and assorted Soulquarians, really didn't do much. He still has cult status with the wildly devoted Soulquarian and neo-soul set but that doesn't translate into sales.

And so that may be why his sophomore album, Love For Sale, was shelved. Initially there were postings on his MySpace encouraging us to not download it so that it wouldn't be shelved. But I waited and waited, so I finally just found the darn thing.

One thing you can never accuse Bilal of being is conventional. That's probably why he never translated to a larger audience. His kookiness is just too kooky for the general public. I believe that the public has a high tolerance for musicians' eccentricities, but as long as they give you that regular sounding music, everything is gravy. Bilal doesn't live life like that though. Music is his life so if he's eccentric in one thing, it will find its way into a song. This album is no different. It starts off with Something To Hold On To, which immediately dives into some swirling orchestration and his high pitched wails. This time around, I guess he decided he wasn't going to ease people into his rollercoaster but just push you into it.

While this jolt is somewhat disconcerting, it prepares you for the rest of the album. The next track is actually a slow burner that is one of my favorites You're All I Need (Feels Like Heaven). Here we see why Bilal is so appealing. In his scratchy falsettos and their accompanying disparate, yet cohesive harmonies, he makes these especially infectious hooks. On the next couple of songs, he takes us back, first to a Family Stone area with Gotsta Be Cool and then to a Curtis Mayfield/Al Green sounding Make Me Over which thumps like no other.

The next couple of tracks sound more like Soulquarian manifestations. I almost can see James Poyser (amazing keyboardist) working on these tracks. They all have a relaxed feel to them but still reminiscent of old soul with its brass orchestration punctuating so many elements of the song. The groove of the relationship song Get Out Of My Hair is best indicative of this quality while Lord Don't Let It takes us to a more relaxed side, yet not still.

In Hollywood, it sounds like Bilal stole Erykah's band from Worldwide Underground and asked them to rework some Cameo records. It is not exactly the most fulfilling track. The next track's extended introduction helps wipe out the taste but you can tell that it is going to be along the lines of a meandering opus that Mr. Oliver tends to favor. White Turns To Gray dwells in the land between seduction and longing. As I listened to the song, I couldn't tell if he was reminiscing about past times with an ex-lover or trying to seduce his current one. The song has such a dreamlike quality, it doesn't matter. You can just tell that someone will be sleeping with someone else by the end of the song. And these are the tracks where he excels. From his live performances and even his albums, it seems like Bilal needs some time to fully explore his ideas. The repetition and freedom of these extended tracks allows him the lattitude to really get what's on his mind out there. African drums and panting helps give the next opus a hurried pace. Sorrow Blood And Tears then leads into some spoke word from Common then moves into Bilal singing over a Fela Kuti like rhythm. Once again more time means Bilal gets to travel as far as he would like to go. Without hindrance, you feel as though you are getting the true artist. The album finishes with Sweet Sour You, another track that sounds like Freakquency was involved. This time though it's not really off-putting, instead rather catchy and well sweet.

Whereas 1st Born Second was all over the place, this sophomore offering is much leaner and easier to take. I was amazed that the only track I felt the need to skip was the aforementioned Hollywood. Bilal did great work on this album. Sad that so few will ever hear it.

Announcement: Vocal Arts Epilogue/New Month!!!

Ah March is already upon us. February was always a sneakily short month. I guess that's why it doubles as the month for Black History (take that comment however you'd like). But sadly Vocal Arts Month is over. But it doesn't mean that the singing will end. I am glad for whatever guided me to make such a declaration because it made me rediscover how good singing can be for the soul. Plus I discovered so many buried nuggets within the mines of my computer, its been wonderful.

So seeing as how February was such a success once I set a goal, March is hereby officially Listen One Time Month. This is basically an effort to jumpstart what was my primary reason for starting this blog which was to go through all these playlists of new music that I hadn't touched. Though I have done that to some degree, I have made no serious inroads. So I will listen to an album that I have not heard in its entirety, from front to back, each day. 31 days, 31 albumms. It will be tough on Sundays since I work all day. And Sabbath presents the issue of finding enough new Christian music to survey. And when I travel, will I remember to load my iPod with the right choices? Plus just my own quality of being lacksadaisacal. But if I don't say it out loud then the odds of it happening are even less likely. So here's the first step.

Here's the tentative schedule (Album then artist in parentheses):

01 - Love For Sale (Bilal)
02 - On The Jungle Floor (Van Hunt)
03 - Redemption (GRITS)
04 - Joyful Rebellion (K-Os)
05 - Dynamite (Jamiroquai)
06 - Born & Raised (Joy Denalane)
07 - Motown Sings The Beatles (Various Artists)
08 - Food & Liquor (Lupe Fiasco)
09 - Beauty & The Beat (Edan)
10 - Call It What You Want (LA Symphony)
11 - Ghetto Pop Life (Danger Mouse & Gemini)
12 - Push Comes To Shove (MED)
13 - The Woods (Sleater Kinney)
14 - Arular (M.I.A.)
15 - Funeral (The Arcade Fire)
16 - Back To Basics (Christina Aguilera)
17 - WOW Gospel 2007 (Various Artists)
18 - '93 Til Infinity (Souls of Mischief)
19 - Rebel Soul Music (Martin Luther)
20 - Illinois (Sufjan Stevens)
21 - Release Therapy (Ludacris)
22 - Return To Cookie Mountain (TV On The Radio)
23 - At Carnegie Hall (Thelonius Monk & John Coltrane)
24 - Songs For The Storm Volume 1 (Kirk Franklin)
25 - 20 Years Old (Janet Jackson)
26 - In My Mind (Heather Headley)
27 - Taken To The Next Phase (The Isley Brothers)
28 - Silent Alarm (Bloc Party)
29 - LCD Soundsystem (LCD Soundsystem)
30 - Some Kinda (Dwele)
31 - Welcome To Diverse City (Tobymac)

And that's that. Going through and making this list already has me gassed about April. I've decided that will be Anthology Month where I go through the catalogs of artists throughout the month. So far Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jay-Z, and Sublime have made the list. I might go through the Ken Burns Jazz series as well. But let's just get through March, shall we?