Song of the Week – Something to Believe, Weyes Blood

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Titanic Rising, the 2009 album by Weyes Blood (Natalie Laura Mering) is receiving huge plaudits in the year-end polls for Best Albums of 2019.  Paste recently placed it at #1!  I like the album, but I don’t love it.  Some of the atmospheric noodling on it just bore me.  But the album does contain one of my favorite songs of the year – “Something to Believe.”

“Something to Believe” starts of sounding like The Carpenters, but hipper.  But the simple piano based ballad develops into so much more.  There’s a haunting slide guitar that perfectly hits the mark.  And the production expands into a fully orchestrated arrangement with Mering’s vocals soaring above it all – Court and Spark era Joni Mitchell like.  This is no doubt partly in credit to Foxygen’s Jonathon Rado, who co-produced the album.

Lyrically, Mering calls for the need for connection to other people.

Give me something I can see
Something bigger and louder than the voices in me
Something to believe

On a side note, the name Weyes Blood was inspired by the Flannery O’Connor novel Wise Blood, so I assume that’s how the band name is supposed to be pronounced.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Say It & The Slummer the Slum, “5” Royales

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The earliest history of Rock and Roll covers the period when Alan Freed coined the term for the R&B records he was playing for teenagers in Cleveland on WJW radio.  And one of the most important R&B groups of that era was the “5” Royales.  The group was led by songwriter/guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling, who penned songs that would remain important for many decades, including:

Think – also recorded by James Brown and Mick Jagger

Dedicated to the One I Love – Shirelles and Mamas and Papas

Tell the Truth – Ray Charles and Ike & Tina Turner

But besides being a great songwriter, Loman was a terrific early electric guitar player.  I wanted to select a song that would highlight his playing, so I’ve chosen one of the group’s lesser known records, “Say It.”

“Say It” follows a predictable R&B formula, with piano triplets leading the way.  But its fuzzed out licks probably influenced more than a few ‘60s garage band guitarists.  Check out the insane riffs that open and end “Say It!”

Another, more popular “5” Royales track that features Lowman’s Les Paul is “The Slummer the Slum.”

Lowman’s guitar stabs are the prototype for Steve Cropper’s approach on Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions.”  Then at about 40 seconds, Lowman rips off a wild solo and does it again at around 1:35.

If you haven’t had exposure to Pauling beyond this post, please read the excellent article by Lisa O’donnell from his hometown Winston-Salem Journal.

Enjoy… until next week.

The Cavemen, Night after Night

I think these guys are from New Zealand. What I know for sure is that on this elpee they’ve made great songs and arrangements that fuse the Beatles to the 13 Floor Elevators, and take most direction from the Dolls.

But to me, this doesn’t sound like homage, it sounds like joyful expression. Could I be wrong? Their earlier albums are rawer and less imaginative. But that isn’t the bar. This album isn’t about what it means, it’s about how great it sounds. And then, it means something. That’s punk we haven’t heard recently. I think.

Song of the Week – Harmony Hall, Vampire Weekend

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Well, we’ve reached December and the year-end is right around the corner.  For me, that means it is time to start thinking about my favorite songs and albums of the year.

An easy call for me is to include Vampire Weekend’s 2019 release, Father of the Bride.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  After waiting 6 years for this long-player, their fans were starving for some new music from the group.  I remember going onto Spotify that May day it was released and seeing that several of the friends I follow were all listening to it simultaneously.

I wanted to make a cut from Father of the Bride a SotW earlier in the year, but I couldn’t decide which song to pick.  Would it be “This Life,” or maybe “Sunflower?”  I’m going to go with the first single they dropped from the album – “Harmony Hall.”

This track is 5 minutes of crisp, clean music that exudes a Grateful Dead, jam band vibe – especially with the guitar figure that starts around 3:45.  They even make judicious use of the vibraslap.

The lyrics are vague and could be interpreted in many ways.  To me, the lyrics evoke societal frustrations, but vocalist Ezra Koenig delivers them with an optimistic tone.

Anger wants a voice / Voices wanna sing

Singers harmonize / Till they can’t hear anything

I thought that I was free / From all that questionin’

But every time a problem ends / Another one begins

I don’t want to live like this / But I don’t want to die

On a side note, last year Koenig had a kid with Rashida Jones (daughter of Peggy Lipton and Quincy Jones) of The Office and Parks and Recreation.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Shine On, Humble Pie

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In October, Peter Frampton officially retired, wrapping up his “Finale: The Farewell Tour” in nearby Concord, CA.  Sadly, the underrated guitarist was motivated to undertake a final tour because he has been battling a degenerative muscle disease – inclusion-body myositis – that would eventually rob him of his ability to perform.

Most famous for his mega-sales, live double album, Frampton Comes Alive! (1976), Frampton deserves recognition for so much more.

Frampton started to play in bands when he was only 12 years old.  By the time he was 16, he was recording with The Herd.

When Steve Marriott, of The Small Faces, formed Humble Pie in 1969, Frampton was recruited to be in that band’s original line-up.  Frampton joined Humble Pie, in part to escape the teen idol image he was tagged with as the frontman for The Herd.  He stayed with the band until 1971 when the development of his softer, pop songwriting didn’t fit in with Marriott’s more hard-rocking vision.

Today’s SotW, “Shine On,” is a good example of that quandary.

“Shine On” is the lead track from Humble Pie’s fourth album, Rock On (1971).  The heavy guitar combined with a keen pop sensibility of “Shine On” point toward the songs that would make Frampton an international superstar later in the decade with hits like “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way.”  He delivers a terrific, soulful vocal too.

It was fitting that Frampton chose to close out his career in northern California.  His high watermark, Frampton Comes Alive!, was recorded primarily at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Sayonara, Akiko Yano

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Back in the mid-‘70s, a 21-year-old, Japanese jazz pianist, Akiko Yano, was in the midst of recording her first solo album with the Japanese group Caramel Mama, when someone suggested she work with some western rock musicians.

She liked the idea… if she could work with an American rock group that she really adored – Lowell George’s Little Feat.  Little Feat agreed to the gig and met her at Hollywood Sound Studio in Los Angeles for the recording session.

The resulting album, Japanese Girl (1976), has Little Feat on side 1 and her Japanese accompanists on side 2.  My pick for the SotW is “Sayonara.”

“Sayonara” immediately grabs you with its sexy, funky groove.  MOJO’s Jim Irvin writes:

The album opens, paradoxically, with Sayonara, introduced by what sounds like the unmistakable New Orleans lope of Bill Payne’s piano.  Except that it’s Akiko who plays all the keyboards on the record.  Halfway through, the song dissolves into a scat vocal segment, jazzy piano leads into a dreamlike jam and climaxes with the band going full tilt as Akiko hits long, siren-like notes on the synthesizer.  You’re immediately aware this record isn’t going down any expected path…”

At the time, Yano didn’t speak English (and Little Feat didn’t speak Japanese), but they clearly had no problem communicating musically.

If you’re a Little Feat fan (and who isn’t!) you will love this hidden gem that has been recently released outside of Japan for the first time.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Not, Big Thief

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I read some very favorable reviews of the fourth album (and second released in 2019) – Two Hands – by the Brooklyn based band, Big Thief, so I decided to give it a listen.  Singer Adrianne Lenker’s breathy vocals are very pretty, but after several cuts, nothing was really grabbing me.

Then the seventh song, “Not,” came on and I was hooked.  And it is worthy to be featured as the SotW.

Instead of the “indie-Americana” (I just made that up) that describes most of Big Thief’s material, this track veers off into a cacophony of grungy guitar distortion – and I mean that in the best way.  Neil Young would approve!

The “negativity” of the lyrics is complemented and reinforced by the noisy accompaniment.

It’s not the room
Not beginning
Not the crowd
Not winning
Not the planet
That’s spinning
Not a ruse
Not heat
Not the fire lapping up the creek
Not food
That you eat

Keep an eye on Big Thief.

Enjoy… until next week.