4th of July – Carl Broemel

Indie Folk/Indie Rock

If albums were seasons Carl Broemel’s 4th of July would be summer. This album is a great candidate for your sitting by the pool, relaxing, drinking a beer chill-out album of the summer this year. While the holiday weekend may be a bit off I thought this would be a great album to write about on this beautiful Memorial Day weekend. Carl Bromel’s 4th of July is a stunning album that you may have missed last year and should be added to your summer song playlist immediately.

When most people hear the name My Morning Jacket they may be reminded of frontman Jim James. This is for a good reason given Jim’s adept vocal and instrumental ability. This being said, lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Carl Broemel is easily one of the most talented people on MMJ’s roster and the rock scene as a whole nowadays. Upon listening to Carl’s solo work it is easy to hear his large influence and contribution to MMJ’s music. Carl’s solo work strays from MMJ’s and favors a laid back folk approach that features Carl’s instrumental abilities in a large way.

4th of July is the third solo release from the Indianapolis born, Louisville based musician. Unlike many musicians in today’s musical landscape Carl is classically trained and proficient not only on guitar but also saxophone and pedal steel among other instruments. Carl’s broad ranging instrumental skills can be heard loud and clear on 4th of July even if they are not the most excited renditions we are used to hearing on the MMJ records.

4th of July is reminiscent of a summertime daydream and can be that perfect album to help you detach from any stress in life that may be plaguing you. After all, the album does start with a track entitled Sleepy Lagoon. The album is fairly short with only eight tracks although two of which do exceed the seven minute mark.

The title track 4th of July is a main attraction on the album and is also the longest spanning over ten minutes in length. The track is dreamy and detached and is the one song on the album that highlights Carl’s instrumental approach the best. The track starts off as relaxed as most on the album but quickly transforms into something more engaging and eventually tapers off slowly with Carl’s mystifying guitar work. This track will remind you of Carl’s influence on MMJ’s sound with its similarly entrancing sound.

One of my personal favorites off 4th is Rockingchair Dancer a four minute drifting berceuse who’s lyrics discuss the realities of aging. Try not to fall asleep but if you do it will be a nice way to drift off. Lyrically the track Snowflake is the highlight off the record. The lyrics are innocent and features lines such as Every raindrop’s the same, you’re no snowflake. It’s a nice and simple song and sometimes that is welcome on a relaxing day.

I highly recommend giving Carl Broemel’s 4th of July a listen. For those of you who are looking for an unwinding album for the summer months look no further than 4th of July. Carl is a main contributor to the big sound of My Morning Jacket and that is easy to hear in his solo work. From exciting guitar solos to mystifying saxophone to country pedal steel melodies there is a lot to like about Carl Broemel’s musical ability. My only request is that on his next release we get a longer record. I could use another four tracks in addition to the existing eight on this record. Carl should take that as a compliment!

See you next week.

Station to Station – David Bowie

Classic Rock/Funk-Rock

Station to Station is commonly regarded as a rock n’ roll masterpiece. This album is not only one of Bowie’s most unique and adventurous albums but also one of his most fabled. Recorded in 1975, released in 1976 and incredibly fun to listen to in 2017 Station to Station is a product of Bowie during one his most turbulent eras. Station is a consistently shifting, electrifying, and provocative performance fueled by sensational creativity and lots and lots of cocaine. This record transcends generations and is a must own for any rock n’ roll enthusiast.

Station to Station was recorded in Los Angeles during what has been described as a drug fueled psychotic episode. The Thin White Duke was apparently involved in all kinds of weird shit during this time and has little recollection of any of it. I even remember reading that Bowie had absolutely no memory of recording this album. Los Angeles seemed to evoke the most extreme in Bowie and after he left to return to Europe he was quoted as saying that the city should be wiped off the face of the earth. It is both strange and intriguing that such a magnificent piece of music resulted from such chaos.

In musical terms Station to Station is engaging. Racking in at 6 tracks, 38 minutes the album is fairly short with no wasted space. The album constantly changes shape through funky, serenading, and rockin’ refrains. Those who like Bowie at his funkiest will have a lot to enjoy here.

Bowie was really experimental with the recording of Station to Station. This record was produced during the era where Bowie was testing differing electronic elements and instrumental manipulations. Station is heavily synthesized in a way that helped evolve Bowie’s craft at the time and helped usher in a new era for him. Unlike many albums from that time Station to Station in no way sounds archaic. To this day I hear contemporary and ground-breaking music when I listen to Station and I feel that I always will.

The album starts off with the 10 minute title track Station to Station; a segmented track that evolves from experimental noise into funkier and funkier portions. Accompanying Bowie’s outstanding singing are ripping guitar solos, piano glissandos, and grooving basslines. By the end of the song you will most defiantly be playing air drums, guitar or bass so make sure you are aware of your surroundings and try not to hurt anyone.

Track two on the record is a Bowie familiar: Golden Years. What more can I say about Golden Years that has not already been said? It is a song seemingly about focusing on the actual and enjoying the best years of life; who can’t relate to that? Golden Years is yet another soulful jam (full of plenty of whops) and is undoubtedly the biggest hit off this album.

One of my personal favorites off Station is TVC15; a track loaded with swing piano and Elvis-esque vocals. The song was apparently influenced by Iggy Pop’s drug fueled hallucination where he believed that a TV set was attempting to eat his girlfriend. Bowie created the antagonist TCV15 for the track… or I guess you can say that Iggy did technically. Regardless, this track is really fun and I like to think of it as the centerpiece of the album.

Station to Station is a must own for any Bowie enthusiast. This is almost not even worth saying because surely all Bowie enthusiasts already own this record. If you do not, now is a good time to run over to your local record shop and pick one up on vinyl. With Station not only do we get to experience Bowie during one of his craziest time periods but we get a lively and inspired record that will cause you to reflect and dance at the same time; I guess Bowie had a habit of doing that.

See you next week.

Cornell 5/8/77 – Grateful Dead

Jam Band/Classic Rock

The Grateful Dead played thousands of shows over their decade’s long tenure on tour; many of which were recorded. It is almost hard to believe that with such a massive library of recordings one show could stand out so blatantly above the rest. Yet there is one show that is regarded as legendary among deadheads all over the world. One show described as the pentacle performance by those lucky enough to be there and as nothing less than a pristine recording for those who were not. This show was Cornell 5/8/77.

It was this very week 40 years ago that this concert was played in Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I could almost imagine the crowd funneling into Barton Hall that night; cool and breezy, temperatures in the low 50s; blissfully unaware that they were about to see the very show that deadheads would not stop talking about for the next 40+ years. So what makes this show so special you might ask? Why all the fantasizing about hippies in Ithaca anyway? Well, from where I stand, it was a combination of multiple factors that night; a Grateful Dead perfect storm of sorts.

See, I was not actually there. Nor was I even alive… But I am here to talk about the record and that is something that I am more than happy to do. As an avid fan of the Grateful Dead and their many live recordings I can tell you that this record is not just hype. I could tell how special this performance was during my very first listen. In fact, this recording was so special that it has even been included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The overall sound quality of this recording is a cut above the rest. With the varying level of quality that exists among the many live recordings this one really stands out. The instruments sound clear and distinguished, the vocals are well balanced and blend properly, and the whole thing sounds so professionally mixed you would think this was a planned official release recording. Indeed it was not. This show became famous just as many other Dead shows did; through hand-to-hand circulation; recorded off the soundboard.

What is even more important than the quality of the recording is the Dead’s energy that night. You can hear it in the music. Not only are some of the songs more up-tempo than I am used to hearing but they are played with such conviction. The Grateful Dead was switched on that night. It is almost hard to explain but you can very well hear it in the music. Here you have the Grateful Dead in pure form.

The setlist for this show was a recipe for success. The first set skipped the extended jams for the most part instead favoring a long list of classic Dead songs. The set started with New Mingelwood Blues and included songs the likes of Loser, Jack Straw, Deal, Brown Eyed Women, Mama Tried and the eleven minute finale Row Jimmy. Most of the songs on set one are some of the best respective versions that I have personally heard.

Set two starts off with one hell of a bang with the sixteen and a half minute Dancing in the Streets. This song features such an electric jam that it is easily one of my favorites of the whole show. I have heard Dancing in the Streets on other GD recordings but never quite like this. Set two continues with Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, and Estimated Prophet. Need I say more?

Set three is the grand finale and graces us with spectacular versions of St. Stephen, Not Fade Away, Moring Dew, and One More Saturday Night as the closer. I have to say that the St. Stephen and Morning Dew really stand out as key pieces on this recording. Set three would not be the same without them.

Well folks there you have it; my short blurb on the legendary 5/8/77 show. If you really want to sponge up the lore and mysticism behind this show go type it in google. You will have plenty of reading to do. I am always grateful for the plethora of Dead recordings that exist out there (yes, I just did that…). I love listening in for the variations, perfections, and imperfections from show to show. Each era of the Dead has a different story to tell through these recordings. Just go ask someone who was there; they will be happy to tell you all about it. Until then be sure to check out the 5/8 recording. You won’t be sorry.

See you next week.

Humanz – Gorillaz

Alternative Hip Hop/Electronica

Throughout music history we can identify artists that have emerged to pioneer, shape, and define their musical genres. Any one of us can name a handful of musicians who we feel have made a significant impact on their respective genres. We have the Led Zeppelins and The Rolling Stones of rock, the NWA and Eminems of rap, the Eric Claptons and B.B. Kings of blues and they have all been successful in molding their respective genres into what we know them as today.

Once in a great while a musical act emerges that pushes the boundaries of modern music and successfully melds components of different genres into something completely new and unique. Music that may be hard to fully appreciate at the time comes to fruition and, thanks to the hard work and creativity of a few talented individuals, shifts the musical landscape for good. This is Gorillaz. Who would have thought that after all these years, in the year 2017, they would continue to be pioneers in the musical scene just as they were after their first release back in the early 2000’s?

As many people may already know Gorillaz can be categorized as a “virtual band” given the animated virtual characters (crafted by the talented Jamie Hewlett) that represent the group in place of the actual musicians behind the scenes. This really adds a ton of character to the group and makes for some really fun music videos and live shows. What is even more impressive is Gorillaz historic ability to blend genres of rock, rap, r&b, soul, blues and more into music that sounds not only modern but unexampled. In addition we have seen Gorillaz change their approach to music with each and every album release. Some of this is undoubtedly influenced by the changes in the musical landscape that happen between album releases. In this case it has been a little over seven years since Gorillaz released Plastic Beach. (Edit. Gorillaz did also release The Fall in late 2010, a free album recorded by Albarn on an IPad during his US tour.)

Like Plastic Beach, Humanz, the latest record from Albarn and crew, fuses with the modern musical landscape while still maintaining what makes Gorillaz so unique. Also like Plastic Beach, Humanz is riddled with featured artists on nearly every track. Appearances include Pusha T, Vince Staples, De La Soul, Danny Brown, and Popcaan just to name a few. In many cases the featured artists are the dominant vocal forces on the tracks with Damon Albarn adding the signature Gorillaz vocals.

The music and production are as good as ever thanks to Albarn and crew. The album constantly shifts form with r&b and gospel harmonies giving way to powerful rap performances and electronic beats. Even if two songs on Humanz sound completely different from one another they are all united under Albarn’s powerful vision and message.

The concept for Humanz evolved from Albarn’s vision of the apocalyptic aftermath of a Donald Trump presidency. What is crazy here is that Albarn’s concept came about back in January 2016 when Donald Trump becoming president was still, in most people’s minds, a slim-to-none possibility. This was far before the flood of anti-Trump albums that we experienced at the end of 2016 into the beginning of 2017. What I respect about Albarn’s approach is that he is subtle in his delivery. This is in no way a preachy anti-Trump album but instead a stylized vision of the apocalypse, post-Trump victory. In fact, the album never names or even directly references Trump once. Albarn did this for a few very good reasons that I won’t get into here but you can read about in multiple interviews with him on the internet. In my opinion this approach is refreshing because Albarn’s dissatisfaction with Donald Trump in no way dominates the album but instead was the driving force behind its conception.

Some of my favorite tracks on the album include Saturnz Barz (featuring Popcaan), Ascension (featuring Vince Staples), Charger (featuring Grace Jones), and Let Me Out (featuring Mavis Staples and Pusha T). In addition I really love Danny Brown’s verse at the end of Submission. Is Humanz the best Gorillaz album ever? No, probably not. Is Humanz just as important and impactful as their past releases? Defiantly. What we have here is one of the most electrifying, dark and ominous pieces of work form Albarn and crew so far that still manages to maintain that fun party sound we have all come to expect. I really look forward to the next Gorillaz release. I just hope it does not take another seven years!

See you next week.