Dizzy Heights #32: Stare at the Skies and Wonder

This is one of the few shows where I catch a groove and ride it all the way to the end. One of the advantages of keeping my mouth shut, I suppose.

What groove is that, you ask? One of the widescreen variety. These are big songs, ones that build until they explode. And, what should come to the surprise of no one, the show is entirely UK acts, with one group of Aussies.

And we have a Popdose premiere! Simple Minds have a new album, Walk Between Worlds, coming out February 2, and I play a song from the album here. Kind of amazing how revitalized the band has been of late.

Artists making their Dizzy Heights debut this week: Dave Edmunds, Clearlake, Codeine Velvet Club, Coldplay, The Soundtrack of Our Lives and, inexplicably, Doves. How on earth did that take over a year to happen?

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Soul Serenade: BT Express, “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)”

As the 1960s transitioned to the 1970s soul music began to transition too. The sweet sound of Motown soul began to give way to something deeper, something harder, something funkier. Of course, funk had been around for awhile, primarily in the form of James Brown who had already been putting forth the funk for a number of years. But suddenly he began to get some company.

In the early ’70s, Brooklyn was a hotbed of musical activity. There was even a “Brooklyn sound” and one of its proponents was a band called the King Davis House Rockers. The band recorded a couple of singles, 1967’s “We All Make Mistakes Sometimes” and “Rum Punch” in 1972 but they went nowhere. Three members of the band, guitar player Richard Thompson, and sax players Bill Rissbrook and Carlos Ward did go somewhere, however. Somewhere else. They formed a new band that they called Madison Street Express.

BT Express

New players were drafted to fill out the lineup including bass player Louis Risbrook (who later took the name Jamal Rasool), percussionist Dennis Rowe, drummer Terrell Wood, and vocalist Barbara Wood. The new band hooked up with a producer named Jeff Lane and made a deal with a production company called Roadshow Records. Their first recording was “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied,” a song that was written by Billy Nichols.

Roadshow shopped the record to a number of labels and found a taker at Scepter Records. Scepter, however, didn’t think much of the Madison Street Express moniker and suggested that the band change their name to Brooklyn Transit Express. In August 1974, Scepter released “Do It” and it quickly shot into the Top 10, ultimately peaking at #2 on the Pop chart will simultaneously topping the R&B chart.

As you might imagine, Scepter was most interested in continuing their relationship with BT Express. They agreed to an album deal and even gave Roadshow their own imprint within the company. The band’s first album reached the top of the R&B chart and hit #5 on the Pop chart. The album spawned the smash single “Express” which was also an R&B chart-topper while reaching #4 on the Pop chart. Disco was beginning its ascendency and the BT Express records were in the mix.

BT Express released an album a year beginning with that 1974 debut. While the albums continued to be successful on the R&B charts, their success on the Pop chart began to diminish with each release. The band went through several lineup changes and faced a challenge when Scepter went belly-up in 1976. They made a distribution deal with Columbia Records but began to get lost in the shuffle of the much larger company, which had many other acts to promote.

After five years, BT Express decamped from Columbia and made a final album for Coast to Coast Records in 1982. There was a single for Earthtone Records that year and they eventually wound up their career recording for a label owned by their manager, King Davis. All-in-all, BT Express placed eight singles in the R&B Top 40. In addition to “Do It” and “Express” other chart singles included “Give It What You Got,” “Can’t Stop Groovin’ Now, Wanna Do It Some More,” and “Shout It Out.” Six of their albums reached the Top 40 on the R&B chart, the first two making it to #1.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Forty-Seven

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Forty Seven

On this forty seventh (!) installment of Radio City…, Jon and Rob have no shortage of material or topics to discuss; items that will surely provoke you and make you think.  Or musical items you may want to add to your own collections.  Hear here as they talk about the Jeff Beck at the Hollywood Bowl DVD, celebrating his 50 years in music; the self-titled debut album from Chicago’s Lucille Furs; a terrific new E.P. from The Get Ahead, Mind Is A Mountain; the not-storm snowstorm; E.P. from The Get Ahead, “Mind Is A Mountain”, Trump’s 2018 opening Tweets and so much more.
Why listen to any other podcast?  This has all the elements and rationality you could ever hope for or need. Leave it in the very capable hands of our heroes – they’ll get you to your next destination with no funny business.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Forty Seven

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.



Album Review: Jaguwar, “Ringthing”

Jaguwar began life as a trio, formed in Berlin, Germany by Oyèmi and Lemmy in 2012. Their drummer Chris signed up in 2014 to complete the current line-up; to date, they have released two EPs and have taken their wall of sound (heavily “shoegaze” influence – think My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Curve influenced noise pop) on to countless shows in the U.K., Denmark, France, Serbia, Germany and beyond.

This first full-length album, Ringthing is a shimmering, energetic reverberating, crashing monolith of an album. Jaguwar sway from combining sweet pop figures with white-hot amphetamine noise to sounding like a serendipitous encounter between Husker Du and Ride. “Noise & detail” is how the band describes their soun, which would not be wholly inaccurate.

Starting with the frenetic “Lunatics”, it’s an enjoyable sensory assault; you want, need and like gripping onto the bar of this musical roller coaster as it takes you up and down with no restraint; “Skeleton Feet” is another pulsing track that opens with an exquisite sound of guitar scrapes that can be likened to a melodic pane of glass breaking and falling in tune; “Slow And Tiny” uses a cacophonous soundscape in the background of an otherwise breakneck tempo that reminds one of running through a nightmare – haunting yet completely enticing.  “Crystal”, has that certain ’80’s swirling feel – a cross between The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees – one of those great, cinematic musical ice sculptures that shimmers; “Away” is straight out of the Chameleons/early U2/Comsat Angels/Sound school of structure and production – echogated guitar, space and heavily propulsive rhythm section and the aptly-titled “End” is a soundscape instrumental that oddly enough sounds a great deal like Husker Du’s “The Tooth Fairy & The Princess” – a slab of modern psychedelic to end this spectacular album in a very satisfying fashion.

What can I say more than you really need to seek this album out and listen to it, from beginning to end.  A dynamic debut album that gives me more hope than I’d previously had – that young bands are taking their cues from one of the richest musical periods and putting their own stamp on it.  Well done…  well done, indeed.


Ringthing is currently available


Popdose Premiere: Dhanya, “Lesson”

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to gain exposure to a variety of world music through an artist I was working with, particularly Indian melodies that were, at once, derived from Sanskrit texts but which also had a significant pop element.

This amalgam made the genre accessible to those who had maybe never delved into the uber-popular but somewhat unknown body of work from Indian artists and definitely gave me deeper appreciation for those infectious sounds.

In that same vein comes Dhanya, a Venezuela-born and raised artist who channels her Indian roots in varying degrees into her music. Today, I’m really stoked to share “Lesson” with you. It’s a track that calls back to Dhanya’s roots in subtle, but incredible, ways in slight variations in arrangement that tilts a bit Eastern.

The result is an over-seven-minute song that takes the listener on a colorful, powerful ride across the world and replants him or her back on comfortable soil. This is an ideal place for world-music beginners to start — Dhanya is an excellent tour guide.

“Lesson’s” lyrics are also deeply introspective, reflecting subtle spirituality that’s gorgeous and ultimately meaningful. “This was originally a poem I wrote,” says Dhanya, “reflecting on how life lessons can often seem like a horror movie — being swallowed up by the earth and being pulled underground to be re-worked and healed in the dark. Instead of resist, you accept and learn the lesson or it will chase you relentlessly.”

Check out Dhanya’s “Lesson” in its Popdose Premiere below, and watch for her self-titled debut out February 1!

Popdose Exclusive Premiere: Jack Mosbacher, “Ready for Something Good”

Popdose presents another exclusive premiere with this new song from San Francisco-based singer Jack Mosbacher.  “Ready For Something Good” is the title track from his upcoming album of the same name.

His radiant sound has evolved to exude the old school power of Alabama Shakes and Leon Bridges, with the pop sensibility of Andy Grammer and Ed Sheeran. Today, Mr. Mosbacher aims to add happy elements to the next generation of soul.

In his own words, “this song was my best shot at fighting whatever pessimism and fear is gripping the world right now with some small dose of optimism and hope. I so badly want 2018 to be a good year, for me and for all of us. I think we’re all so ready for something good, so I figured if I sang it over and over, I might do my small part in manifesting it into happening.”

Ready For Something Good will be released on Friday, January 19th, 2018


Popdose Exclusive Premiere: Steve Barton, “Before I Get Too Young”

Popdose is very pleased and proud to present to you the first brand new track from acclaimed singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Barton (from the legendary band, Translator), “Before I Get Too Young”. This upbeat, delightfully spiky track is from his forthcoming 3-CD (yes, you read correctly – a triple album!), Tall Tales & Alibis.

The three albums which make up Tall Tales And Alibis each have their own unique feel. Album one is filled with more upbeat songs; album Two captures a moody vibe – and is all sung in Barton’s lower register. There is a cover of “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning” and a slow, quiet and dark version of Steve’s Translator hit “Unalone.” He plays and sings everything on these two records himself, and produced these tracks at his studio in Portland, OR. The third album is a band effort recorded in Los Angeles with a core group, specially hand-picked for these sessions. The line-up includes Dave Scheff from Translator on drums, Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s Attractions on drums for three of the songs, Nelson Bragg (Brian Wilson band) on percussion, Derrick Anderson (Bangles) holding down the bass spot and part of the treat is having the band play live in the studio on all cuts.

So close your eyes and listen in to this wonderful new track from Mr. Barton.  As per usual, he delivers.

Tall Tales And Alibis will be released on Friday, March 2d


Popdose Video Premiere: 3 Videos That Will Transport You Elsewhere

As the world gears up for the Grammys, it seems like pop fever has swept the nation (or maybe just LA, where I live). I’m finding myself turning to some snackable, light fare in the form of ’00s and ’90s Top 40 pop more than ever, delighting in the not-too-complicated hooks and easy-going melodies.

But also, I’m loving some of the new pop emerging onto the scene, largely made by independent artists. I’ve got such a soft spot for these warriors who put everything they have behind their craft — hence why, in other realms, I write essential resources for indie and DIY musicians.

Today, I’ve got three awesome finds for you readers. These videos were all made by artists invested in their crafts on every level and doing an astounding job. The accompanying videos to these stunningly catchy tracks each transport listeners to a new, exciting place. Join me in going there, won’t you?

“Meant to Be,” Alexa Friedman

While it’s easy to get swept away by the lush visuals of a gorgeous private beach, it’s important to listen to the words of Alexa Friedman‘s “Meant to Be.” While so many pop tracks focus on superficial grandiosity, she sings about a sense of self that’s betrays her young years. It’s a crucial message for her peers who are growing up in arguably the toughest time in history — political drama, the threat of domestic and international terrorism, and, oh yeah, social media. Her sweet vocals complement the lite-EDM backbeat, also, which makes this track a treat for the ears, too.

“Right on Time,” The APX

From the beach we travel back in time to the ’80s. Holy hell, the first time I heard this song, I swear I de-aged. It’s got the great funk groove of a throwback classic, but with a modern feel that makes it feel hip and somewhat secret, like only the coolest people would know and appreciate “Right on Time.” The APX (short for the After-Party Experience) is a husband-and-wife duo who were clearly born to make this insanely on-point sound that completely transcends time and space. If you think I’m over-exaggerating, have a listen and tell me you wouldn’t have bought this on cassette at one point in your life.

“Crazy,” Myles Marcus

Our next destination isn’t so much a time or a place but a feeling. One that we’ve probably all faced at one point in our lives (or most certainly will). Myles Marcus captures the desperation and frustration of being unable to stop your mind from thinking about someone, even when that person is destructive to themselves, and, ultimately, to you. “Crazy” is a soaring ballad that’s beautiful simple but also extremely earwormy. Marcus, who attended Berklee (so you know he’s a pro at crafting an emotional melody), has such gorgeous vocals that they might make you crazy. This track and video certainly will — in a good way.

The Ted Zone: “David Bowie: The Last Five Years”

It’s been two years since David Bowie left this veil of tears. And in that two years, there’s been a lot of time to reflect on the cultural impact of his music. Whether you like early Bowie, Berlin Bowie, ‘80s Bowie, ‘90s Bowie, or albums he recorded in the 2000s until his death, it’s clear that it has been a mixed bag for an artist whose first single (“Liza Jane”) stiffed in 1964 when he fronted the group Davie Jones with The King Bees.

For the new HBO documentary, David Bowie: The Last Five Years the focus is supposed to be the period from 2011-2016, but producer/director Francis Whately didn’t have much footage, interviews, or images for a 95-minute documentary, so he had to stretch. With a film like this, the compelling story is how, after a long absence, Bowie came back to recording music without compromising his artistic vision. Now, if Bowie — like people in many parts of the world — compulsively and obsessively chronicled his life on social media, there would be a plethora of material for the documentary. But, Bowie being Bowie, he went the other way. Opting for obsessive privacy, he kept any details about work on his album “The Next Day” completely secret. That meant having the musicians who backed him in the studio sign non-disclosures agreements, people who did the artwork to do the same, and even the director of the videos for the record. All of it was hush-hush. The result was — in an age where very little can be kept secret — a surprising return for Bowie. He did absolutely no press for the record, nor did he tour to support the album. His decision to lay low on promotion paid off. The album was number one almost worldwide and certified Gold or Platinum in many countries.

For Bowie’s on again/off again producer Tony Visconti, he was surprised by the reflective tone of the album’s first single “Where Are We Now?” Not only does the song reference his long stay in Berlin, Germany, but in the video, Bowie can be seen wearing a t-shirt that says “m/s Song of Norway.” The reference? Well, it’s about Hermione Farthingale — with whom he had a relationship and collaborated with a group they formed with John Hutchinson in 1968. Yes, she’s is “the girl with the mousy hair” in “Life On Mars?” and the Hermione in “Letter to Hermione.” Farthingale left Bowie for an actor she met on the set of the film “Song of Norway” — which she was acting in. As Bowie said in the documentary, “That really broke me up.” It took him a long time to get over her split with him. Seems unrequited love knows no bounds — and even after being happily married to Imam for decades, it’s clear Bowie still bore the emotional scars of that early relationship.

The interviews with Bowie’s band members who worked on “The Next Day” and the jazz group led by sax player Donny McCaslin on “Blackstar” had some nice moments where they broke down a couple of the songs to show what they added to the proverbial mix — and it was quite a lot. Other highlights of “Blackstar” sessions were when Tony Visconti isolated Bowie’s vocals to show how much he was putting into his vocals on “Lazarus” (you can hear Bowie breathing hard between verses).

Maria Schneider with David Bowie during the recording of “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).”

Knowing this was his last album, Bowie ditched any pretense of commercial viability in the songs by exploring a noir jazz vibe with Maria Schneider on the first version of “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” in 2014. That song went through a major musical revision on “Blackstar” with a kind of manic drum and bass underbelly that changed the tenor of the song. If “The Next Day” has a “looking back” quality (as Visconti said at one point in the documentary), “Blackstar” was both a progressive push to try something new and a bit of a retrospective as well.

With the musical “Lazarus” Bowie wrote (mostly because he wanted to write a musical for a long time), it’s interesting to see footage of the actors rehearsing scenes, and how the musical director convinced Bowie to use the song “Heroes” in the production — even though he was against it until he heard the altered version. Michael C. Hall does give it his all in his portrayal Thomas Newton (The same character in film The Man Who Fell to Earth), but clearly the musical was more of a way for Bowie to explore eras of his life with music from his catalog that, as my Popdose colleague Bob Cashill wrote in his review of the production, “… is about poses, images, stage pictures–milk and blood are spilled, balloons are kicked around, teenage groupies and Kabuki-masked phantasms loll about.” Perhaps those poses are what Bowie’s career was about: A professional life without a central narrative.

How very postmodern.

While the musical lacked structure, Whately’s documentary is more conventional in its ambitions. Focusing on the musical and last two albums are points where Whately aligns the subject with the title of the film — but alas those moments are doled out sparingly. Instead, the film gets sidetracked with extended sections of Bowie’s career in the 1970s. While much of the footage from that era may not have been exhibited before, it dilutes the main theme of the film: Bowie’s last five years. Now, it’s clear the lack of material meant Whately chose to broaden the scope of the film, but he was not bound by a running time. He could have made a very tight one hour documentary with the footage he had from 2003 to 2016. Instead, Whately traversed some of the same ground he explored in his 2013 film, David Bowie: Five Years. As important it is to highlight Bowie’s cultural impact in the 1970s, it’s a well-trodden path. The overall disappointment of David Bowie: The Last Five Years is that it sheds very little light on Bowie’s late-career projects — or the man himself in the winter of his life.