Friday, August 17, 2007

Max Roach 1924-2007

Max Roach: "Conversation" (from Deeds, Not Words 1958. Buy/download)

The great jazz drummer Max Roach died yesterday. (Born in Newland, NC, so there's the "local music" connection I'm hanging this post on.) He was a real innovator in a way that's hard to appreciate when so many have followed in his footsteps. Most notably in his solo pieces, he treated the drumset as an instrument. Rather than displaying mere technical flash, Roach created themes -- melodies, really -- and structured his solo around them just as a trumpet or piano player would. You can hear this in "Conversation" which I've posted here.

What's particularly impressive to me is the way he continued to stretch his boundaries throughout his life, working with a full-blown percussion ensemble, a brass quintet, a string quartet, gospel choirs and hip-hop artists. It's also worth noting how effectively he used his music and his celebrity to advocate for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

On a personal level, he was a key figure in opening my eyes and ears to jazz in particular and a wider range of musical possibility in general. In high school, when I was still at the stage where Neal Peart seemed like the pinnacle of percussion prowess, Roach gave a clinic that I attended. I was completely awed by what he could accomplish with nothing more than a high-hat.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Vacation's Almost Over

Back soon. Enjoy some summer songs for now.

The Red Collar Company: "Bring on the Summer"
(from Rockin' the Blocks compilation 2005.)
You might could still get a copy of the Rockin' the Blocks CD if you bug the folks at Downtown Durham. This was an early incarnation of Red Collar -- Jason plays a mean harmonica!

Work Clothes: "Fort Bragg Summers"
(from These Are the Shoes We Wear 2005. Buy it. Web site.)

Chris Stamey (with Yo La Tengo): "The Summer Sun"
(from V.O.T.E. 2004 Buy it.)

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts:
"One Little Cookie"
(from Yellow Bus 2001. Buy/download)
"Day Camp"
(From Way Out 2004. Buy/download)

Well, I definitely did not expect to get scooped on this by Scan, but Rick Cornell had a very nice post about Justin Roberts, who performs at the Carrboro ArtsCenter tomorrow (5/12) at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Rick's exactly right -- Justin makes kid-themed music that adults will get a lot out of as well. His most recent albums -- Way Out and especially Meltdown! -- are really wonderful pop with sophisticated and interesting arrangements and production. Whereas on the early albums he was sort of a kids' music James Taylor, he's developed into more like a kids' music Brian Wilson. (Honestly, I think he's gone about as far as he can go in that direction -- I love Meltdown, but if he goes any further in that direction, it'll be overdone.)

Rick even called out "One Little Cookie" which has always been one of my favorites as well. One of my wife's favorites is "Day Camp", which has a nice Violent Femmes feel to it. Click here to launch Justin's radio player, where you can hear a couple of other songs, starting with the excellent "Our Imaginary Rhino" from Meltdown!

I'll be at the 11:00 show tomorrow, the third one we've seen at the ArtsCenter. Justin puts on a great show even when it's just him and a supporting musician. (I'd love to see the full Not-ready-for-Naptime Players band someday, though!) The early show's sold out, but it looks like you can still get tickets for the afternoon show. If you've got kids, go see this show!

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Un Deux Trois

Un Deux Trois:
"Everything That Is Happening Is Happening"
(from Lovers EP 2007. Buy it here.)

Just a quick post to say how much I've been enjoying the newish EP from Un Deux Trois. It's a low-key set of songs from Heather McEntire of Bellafea and Jenks Miller of In the Year of the Pig. I don't know either of those bands terribly well, but this sounds nothing like I'd expect from a combination of the two. While they both strike me as far more raucous, Un Deux Trois is stripped down and acoustic. The casual nature of the music belies the fairly somber tone of the lyrics, which are generally either regretful or angry (though the last song, "45 rpm", offers rueful acceptance of a less-than ideal situation: "We're not in love but it sure feels nice.")

I'm glad I spent some time considering the lyrics, since they are pretty poetic. I'm especially fond of the scene depicted in "Everything That Is Happening Is Happening", with its heat-weary refrain of "I just want you to come clean" and the marvelously ambiguous closing line: "There's nothing like regret to keep you on your knees."

McEntire and Miller are playing separately at 305 South in Durham tonight as part of a big CD release show for Burly Time Records, a label launched by the Indy's Grayson Currin. Burly Time has new CDs from Miller as Horseback, Bowerbirds, and Megafaun (seemingly the remnants of DeYarmond Edison, a band I enjoyed but never got to write about). A very nice lineup, and I'm looking forward to hearing them. Also on the bill tonight, Des_Ark and Pykrete. That's a lot of great music -- and a free show to boot!


Friday, April 27, 2007

Nathan Oliver

Nathan Oliver:
"Black Ship White Sails"
"No Name"
(from Nathan Oliver 2007. Buy it here.)
My Space :: ReverbNation

Nathan Oliver's self-titled debut CD is a little gem of well-crafted, folkish pop songs. UNC dental student Nathan White enlisted a fine cast of musicians to flesh out his creations, including Lee Waters (Work Clothes), Matt McCaughan (him again -- Rosebuds, Portastatic, etc), and the production skills of Zeno Gill.

I'm not sure that the dental student thing is that relevant to the music, but I suppose that spending that much time staring into people's mouths might twist your perspective a bit. And there is something pleasingly off-center about this album, from the sonic quirks that make this more than generic guy-with-guitar rock (I guess that's viola on "Black Ship White Sails"?) to the obscurely dark tone of the lyrics. White ranges from quiet, acoustic numbers like "Sleep Song" -- mainly guitar, but still there's a noise in the background that complicates things -- to straight-ahead rockers like "Greys and Blacks". In between, he nods to the Violent Femmes ("Old Slow Poke") and reimagines the Ace of Base song "All That She Wants" in a bleakly haunting manner. But amidst all this, White has some lovely pop songs, and the two numbers that I'm featuring highlight that craft.

Nathan Oliver plays Sunday night (4/29) at the Cave in Chapel Hill, opening for the Trolleyvox. They don't have any more shows on their calendar after that, so check them out now!


Monday, April 23, 2007

The Rosebuds: Night of the Furies

The Rosebuds:
"Get Up Get Out"
"I Better Run"
(from Night of the Furies 2007. Buy/download)

I've been giving the new Rosebuds music time to sink in before I say anything about it. It's quite a departure from their previous albums, most easily glossed as "Rosebuds-go-new-wave". Given my real fondness for their prior output, I felt like I owed them more than my initial, knee-jerk "I don't like this" response. So I've listened to it plenty, and thought about it a lot. I've come to see some good things about it, but it's still not really doing much for me.

There are certainly some continuities here. Ivan Howard still has a knack for melody and nice bits of la-la-la/ooohhh-ahhh. The lyrics and overall tone carry on the darker vein the band had opened up on Birds Make Good Neighbors. Really, I think the lyrics are pretty interesting -- the overall album has a sort of Southern Gothic/Faulkneresque feel to it, with the relentless pull of grim fate hanging over the proceedings.

But earlier Rosebuds albums bounced along with a charming casual energy -- Ivan's jangly guitar, Kelly Crisp's organ, shuffling drums -- and an overall organic feel. Night of the Furies, on the other hand, is dominated by 80s synth patches and drums that are either programmed or processed so much they might as well be. Bass is far more prominent, and the guitar is pulled way back. A few changes are welcome -- it's good to hear Kelly taking more lead vocals, and the occasional touches of piano are nice -- but on the whole, the production just doesn't work for me.

And I do think it's the production more than the songs themselves, which as I noted above, have strong lyrics and a good melodic core. I wish this version was a remix album and I could hear the originals. Failing that, I suspect that they open up a bit live, especially with a fine drummer like Matt McCaughan on board. There are some live performances from SXSW here and a video here (via Scan) that seem to confirm this idea.

I'd like to think my reaction is more than simple rockism or reactionary change-is-bad sentiments. Maybe it's a bit of both, since I do feel like the production puts what could be some compelling songs at a bit of an emotional reserve, and I keep trying to imagine what they would sound like as "old-school Rosebuds songs". Maybe I'm just wrong -- Night of the Furies seems to be pretty well-received in most quarters -- but to my ears, this is a misstep by a good band. I'll definitely be looking to see what happens next.

Update 5/4: This review gets at a lot of what I was trying to say, in a much more articulate manner. Thanks Robbie!


Friday, April 06, 2007

Callum Robbins Benefit at BCHQ on Saturday

Fin Fang Foom: "In Harm's Way" (from With the Gift Comes the Curse 2005. Buy/download)
Red Collar: "Used Guitars" (from The Hands Up EP 2007. Buy/download)
Caltrop: "Dr. Motherfucker" (from Caltrop 2006. Buy)

There's a couple of good causes you can support by attending this show tomorrow night. First of all, you can help a cool fledgling performance space in Durham, Bull City HQ, get off the ground. It's great to see a grass-roots place like this spring up, and I certainly hope they can make a go of it. (Especially in light of this fascinating discussion and the closure of a couple of fine venues in Raleigh lately.) They could use a good turnout.

This show in particular is a benefit for Callum Robbins, the fifteen-month-old son of "DC punk rock icon, J. Robbins", who was has a brutal disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I don't really know Robbins' work in bands like Gvmt Issue, Jawbox, and Channels, but I have kids, and thus huge sympathy for parents dealing with such a serious -- and expensive -- problem. This show is part of a much wider effort to help support Callum, and you can certainly make a direct donation, but seeing this show would be a great way to kick in as well.

So, the music: I've said my piece about Red Collar before. They are great -- don't miss their tour blog for some interesting thoughts about the SXSW experience. I don't know the other bands well at all, but Fin Fang Foom (MySpace/ReverbNation) seems to do some interesting, moody post-punk/math rock stuff. I think the title of their 2001 release Texture, Structure, and the Conditions of Mood is pretty evocative, though the little that I've heard of their later work sounds a little less raucous and thus (to me) a bit more interesting. I'll have to investigate further. Caltrop puts out some complex metallic rock that's more interested in being heavy than being fast. Red Collar's probably the odd man out here -- they are far more straight-ahead rock than the other two -- but there's definitely some interesting music on tap. Suggested donation $5; starts at 8; 723 N. Mangum, Durham.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Don Dixon

Don Dixon:
(from The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room 2006. Buy/download)

Don Dixon has a long history of involvement with great southern rock music. In the 1970s, he was a member of Arrogance, probably the first of North Carolina's should-have-made-it-big bands (and mentioned in just about the first post I ever wrote, though I didn't know much about them back then). Subsequently, he produced R.E.M.'s Murmur with Mitch Easter, and worked on other records in that vein by Chris Stamey and others. He also released a couple of well-regarded pop albums in the 80s and 90s.

Last year, Dixon put out his first new recording in a while, The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room. Each of the songs is a slice of life taking place in a single room -- it's less of a concept album than one with a nice device to ground the songwriting and unify something about the point of view. As Dixon notes, "the the rooms are almost characters in the songs" themselves.

Combustible World is full of smart songwriting, and the great production that you'd expect from someone with Dixon's track record. It strikes me as similar to late-80s/early 90s Elvis Costello -- sharply observed songs and interestingly arranged music that covers a pretty diverse range of styles in the course of the album. "Roommate" is one of the most straight-ahead pop-rock songs on the album, the story of a girl who can't really admit to herself that she's fallen in love with her roommate. "ICU" stands out to me since I'm always a sucker for interesting percussion sounds. The album has plenty of other good stuff, including a cover of Let's Active's "Room With A View".

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Noisy Rockshow feat. the Nein, Maple Stave, Sorry About Dresden

The Nein:

"The Vibe" (from Wrath of Circuits 2005. Buy/download)
"Decollage" (from Luxury 2007. Buy/download)
(MySpace :: ReverbNation)

I'm still absorbing Luxury, the latest release from Durham's art-punk quintet the Nein, but since they are part of a great line-up in a free show at Local 506 tonight, it seems like a good time to give them at least a nod. If nothing else, the show should be loud, including not only the Nein, but Maple Stave and a rare appearance by Sorry About Dresden. I saw Maple Stave at Troika last fall -- their recordings don't do justice to the racket they make! But it's not "nothing else", of course, because the guys in Maple Stave have the technical proficiency to pull off their complex songs, and Sorry About Dresden carry on the classic Chapel Hill indie rock tradition in fine style.

I'm still mulling over Luxury, so I don't have a detailed analysis. (Not that I'm ever much of an album-review guy...) Although I'm generally enjoying it, it's a good bit more experimental than Wrath of Circuits, and I haven't been able to give it a close enough listen to work out what I think of this shift. As these reviews note, this time around, the songs were built from the ground up with tape effect/sample guy Dale Flattum on board (rather than grafting his contributions onto already-written songs), which makes for a more varied and ambitious sound. As with most challenging music, its appeal is not as obvious on first listen. We'll see how it shakes out for me in the long run, but hats off to the Nein for pushing their sound in unexpected directions.

I've posted one song from each album, not because they're particularly representative of either one -- they're not at all, really. But they do sum up something about the difference between the two. In one sense, they are similar to each other, with some spacey sound effects and great pounding percussion. But "Decollage" is more out-there, walking the edge of falling apart.

I've been experimenting with my Reverb Nation account a little bit this week. As a music-oriented social networking site, they have MySpace beat badly in terms of technology and general experience. I suppose the main "drawback" is that you can't customize the appearance of your page, but given the nasty layouts so common on MySpace, I'm not so sure this is a negative at all. In any case, one thing you can do is assemble a mix from various artists and plug it into your own site. So here's a sampler of the various bands at Local 506 tonight -- you can download most of them for yourself if you go to Reverb Nation.

The Oak Room

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Crunchy power pop from Stratocruiser

"Starched White Shirt" (from Revolutions 2006. Buy/download.)

Not a lot of time for posting this week, but I'm committed to keeping this thing rolling. So let me just say that I've been really enjoying Revolutions, the recent release from Chapel Hill's power pop/classic rock quartet Stratocruiser. While I question the necessity of their Led Zep cover, their originals carry on in a fine Cheap Trick-T Rex vein. Great for air guitar! I'll offer up one song here; you can listen to a few more on their MySpace page.

Also: shows to see this weekend: On Friday, the Rock for a Cure show at Broad Street Cafe featuring Red Collar (great show last week, guys!), Can Joann, The Relatively Calm, Saunter, and Jeff Crawford. On Saturday, the grand opening of Bull City HQ, featuring Dead Elephant Bicycle, the Future Kings of Nowhere, Beloved Binge, Eberhardt, and Mandarin Dynasty. (Chaz has to be Durham's MVP this year -- great record store, key Troika guy, and now spearheading this new performance space. Great work!) Wish I had time to say more about these, but perhaps I'll come back to some of these bands soon.