Vollmilch EP – Vulfpeck

Funk

It is rare to hear real funk music anymore. Funk still exists but has either retreated into the shadows or blended with other genres to create something of an offshoot. Vulfpeck is relatively new to the music scene but is working in a large way to revive the funk of old; the music that is impossible not to dance to; the music that excites the soul and energizes the mind. Count me in.

This week I am reviewing Vulfpeck’s first effort: Vollmilch EP. While this album is absent of any vocals it largely succeeds in both replicating and perpetuating funk music. Vulfpeck is reminiscent of a true funk rhythm section and features a four-member lineup playing piano, Wurlitzer piano, synthesizer, drums, percussion, pocket piano, bass, saxophone, Moog and more. Vulfpeck’s strength lies in their ability to create modern and provoking grooves that never seem to lose their momentum.

Vulfpeck was conceived as a tribute to old-time rhythm sections from an era of funk, in the 1960’s and 1970’, that has long since passed. They decided to add a German persona to the band thus the name Vulfpeck. In a sense, Vulfpeck is attempting to revive interest in a lost era of funk for a new generation and it seems to be working. Vulfpeck has garnered a good deal of attention as of recent, especially through their live performances. This is what excites me most about Vulfpeck.

I feel that Vulfpeck’s music is ultimately destined for the stage. While I have yet to see them live, I have been hearing good things. I view Vulfpeck as a similar act to Galactic (the New Orleans Jazz-Funk Jam Band). While Galactic’s recorded music is fun to listen to, their strength lies in their ability to perform live. They tour constantly, hitting many music festivals in the summer, and play instrumentals behind a diverse cast of rotating guest singers. Their music is spectacular live, fun to dance to, and no two shows are the same. Vulfpeck seems to be on a similar path which is welcome in my book. We need more of these bands.

Vollmilch is an EP so it is a bit shorter than a full album. The record clocks in at 6 songs and 26 minutes. Vollmilch starts with the intro Outro. Yep… This track opens the album with a bang and was my first exposure to the group. You instantly get smacked in the face with an irresistible funky rhythm featuring piano, drums, bass, and sax. Next up is A Walk to Remember, a swingy-soulful tune with a funky-as-hell bass line.

Adrienne & Adrianne is track three on the album and identifies Vulfpeck’s ability to play their instruments in a way that highlights each of their individual skills while never overshadowing. You would think that the piano keys would fly off the piano on the chorus of this track. The album has three tracks to follow but I will let you explore those on your own.

Every track on Vulfpeck’s Vollmilch is a keeper. Vulfpeck’s first attempt at recorded music makes it clear that they have the kinetic ability to connect with one another. I believe this talent will be exemplified through their live performances. I should mention that this EP was released in 2012 and Vulfpeck has released a few full-length albums since then including the newly released The Beautiful Game. So go ahead and check them out. If you are a fan of funk in any shape or form Vulfpeck deserves a listen. You will be glad you did.

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.

Time Fades Away – Neil Young

Classic Rock

In Neil Young’s entire massive library of music there may be no album with more history and significance behind it than 1973’s Time Fades Away; an album that many people, including some of Young’s fans, may have never even heard of. What we have here is a sometimes dark, always sincere album recorded during a time of great turmoil for Neil Young. It is an album that is hard to even analyze sometimes given the disparity of feelings about the record between Neil and his audience. Do you want to talk about an obscure piece of rock n’ roll history? Let’s talk Time Fades Away.

Time Fades Away was Neil Young’s first ever live album that was recorded during his massive 1973 tour that included somewhere in excess of 60 shows over three months.  The Stray Gators served as his backup during this tour in place of Crazy Horse. The album is one of the three albums that are included in Neil’s “ditch trilogy” which also includes Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach and is considered, in addition to the other two, one of the most significant Neil Young albums ever made.

While the album was originally released in 1973 it was never reissued onto CD due to Neil’s feelings towards in and probably more importantly towards the unpleasant experience of that 1973 tour. This was the very same tour that followed the death of Crazy Horse guitarist and Neil’s friend Danny Whitten. He ended up overdosing on valium the very night after Neil fired him from the tour due to his instability. God only knows how deeply that affected Neil on this incredibly stressful tour.

In addition to the passing of Danny there was turmoil among the band members during the tour that resulted from money disputes and many other various disagreements and incidents. The result of this overwhelming negative experience for Neil was the shunning of Time Fades Away; I believe he even went as far as to call it his worst album ever at some point. In contrast to Neil’s feelings towards the album I can tell you that the critics and more importantly his die-hard fans cherish it as one of the best and most overlooked Neil Young albums of all time.

Time Fades Away is a truly classic rock n’ roll album. Through the eight songs on the album we get a little of every style of Neil Young. From the upbeat rockabilly swing of Time Fades Away to the classic hard rock sound of Last Dance this is an awesome showcase of original Neil Young live tracks. Love In Mind is a highlight here and features Neil solo on piano. The song is short, intimate and you can just picture Neil sitting up on the stage playing piano under the spotlight. Don’t Be Denied is a steel guitar laced country rock jam that tells a short story of Neil’s youth to his success as a musician and the business of it all. “Well, all that glitters isn’t gold, I know you’ve heard that story told, and I’m a pauper in a naked disguise, a millionaire through a business man’s eyes, oh friend of mine, don’t be denied.”

There may be only eight songs on this album but there is no bullshit here. Each and every song is a gem. There exists way too much history and lore behind this album to talk about in a few short paragraphs but I encourage all who are interested to go read about it and more importantly to listen to it! The good news for all of us is that while this album may have fallen into the abyss for a period of time it has since been released in digital format for all to enjoy. Time Fades Away is a highly regarded anomaly among Neil Young fans and critics. While Neil himself may have mixed feelings about the album and tour I hope that he can find solace in the fact that Time Fades Away is still, to this day, bringing a lot of joy and entertainment to his fans all over the world.

See you next week.

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

Indie Folk

Last week Father John Misty released his newest LP entitled Pure Comedy. Father John Misty fans (including most of my friends and I) have been eagerly waiting for this release since 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear. It should be noted that while I am eager to write about this album this week I have only listened to it a few times at this point. While the album is still settling in for me I have to say that I really like it so far. FJM continues to produce great work.

My initial impression is that this album as a whole is very much a continuation of the style we saw in the song Bored in the USA (track 9 of I Love You, Honeybear) almost as if that song was a primer for this album. We see a continuation of the slower pace ballads accompanied by piano, guitar, Tillman’s outstanding vocals and cynical and satirical personality. It’s this persona that FJM fans have watched develop over the past years that sets his music apart. It may sound drab but honestly it’s entertaining as hell.

This is FJM’s biggest project yet racking in at 13 songs and 1hr and 14min. The pace of this album is quite a bit slower than his past releases and, as my cousin pointed out, some of the songs tend to blend together upon first listen. This being said, don’t leave with the impression that the songs are not varied or unique, it’s just that there is an overall tempo to this album that holds firm. The one exception to this would be the track Total Entertainment Forever which is more upbeat.

The album opens with the self-titled Pure Comedy and this song is a great intro to the album. The song exemplifies FJM’s persona perfectly by delivering a twisted view of humanity over piano and drums. Total Entertainment Forever is next and is the very song that was the subject of scrutiny after FJM’s appearance on SNL. The song opens with the controversial lyrics “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift, after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes” of course referring to having virtual sex with Taylor Swift using the virtual reality platform Oculus Rift. This song is upbeat, features great instrumentals including saxophone and is currently my favorite song off the album.

One song that I did not hear until release was A Bigger Paper Bag. This song has been growing on me and is creeping towards the top of the ranks for my favorite songs off the album. Ballad of a Dying Man is maybe the most interesting song here. This song tells the story of an old dying man that remains analytical and critical of people up until his very last breath. We also have Leaving LA which is a mammoth thirteen minute and twelve second song that critiques “LA hipsters and their bullshit bands” (lyrics changed from Pitchfork bands on the album release for some reason) among many other entertaining points.

I feel that this FJM album was worth the wait. Sure the album is a bit different than his prior releases (mainly in the consistent downtempo pace and critical tone) but I really feel that through his lyrics and music Tillman is giving us his most honest FJM yet. How do I think this album stacks up against his other releases? Ask me in a few months and I’ll tell you. Is this album worth your time? Yes it is.

See you next week.

The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers

Progressive Bluegrass

This week I would like to highlight one of the most recent additions to my list of favorite albums. This band also happens to include of my most respected musicians of all time Chris Thile. The Phosphorescent Blues by Punch Brothers is an amazing achievement in the modern Progressive Bluegrass scene and should not be overlooked. Seriously, I am not exaggerating.

I would assume that most people reading this right now are thinking what the hell is progressive bluegrass? Well, the answer is that there is no real set-in-stone definition. The best way to describe progressive bluegrass is as a modern subgroup or subgenre of traditional bluegrass music that has the liberty of adding instruments and incorporating styles that traditional bluegrass would not. Please don’t be intimidated by the bluegrass designation; many people who are fans of folk or rock music will find this music easy to approach.

Most of you who are familiar with the traditional bluegrass format would expect to see an acoustic banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle (violin), upright bass, and sometimes a dobro. What is interesting about modern variations of bluegrass music is that you will often hear electric instruments, drums, and incorporated style elements of folk and rock music. This allows the musicians a little more creative freedom and flexibility. In addition to Punch Brothers you may already know some other progressive bluegrass groups such as Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled by Turtles, and Yonder Mountain Sting Band to name a few.

Now that the lecture is over I will try and get back on topic! The Phosphorescent Blues is an admirably complex and beautiful addition to the modern bluegrass catalog. It is easy to hear that each musician in Punch Brothers is a master of their respective instruments. This is certainly true of Chris Thile who is known as one of the best (many feel the best) mandolin players alive (see Chris Thile Plays Bach: Sonata No, 1 in G Minor on Youtube). As an amateur mandolin player I not only have a tremendous amount of respect for his approach to the mandolin but also his success in bringing notoriety to the instrument in modern times. Chris also plays the part of lead vocals and does so very well.

I feel like I have already said a lot so I will avoid a track-by-track here. This being said I encourage you to give this album a shot. As I mentioned, this album is one of my current favorites and may become one of yours as well. Some of my favorite tracks include: My Oh My, Julep, Magnet, Little Lights, and the ten minute and twenty three second opener Familiarity. I should also note that the video that I posted for My Oh My (my favorite song off the album) is not the record version but instead the version with Chris Thile from The Late Show. I feel that it is an excellent live rendition. I hope you enjoy it.

See you next week.