EP Review: Loscil – “Suns”

The songs are sparse exercises in stoicism at times, but – like most Loscil recordings, it seems –  there’s a lot percolating beneath the surface. Perhaps less than usual – but still a lot.

That appears to be the verdict for Loscil’s Suns, a five-track, 30-minute EP that ruminates on and explores some of the same palette as 2016’s excellent Monument Builders, but is less a successor than a companion to that record. The EP is available now through Bandcamp.

Toying with concepts of restraint and desolation, Loscil ambient-soloist Scott Morgan presents listeners with soundscapes removed from his familiar flourishes, from the sun-baked opener (the droning “Monument Destroyers”) to a song that thrives off only the occasional interjection of a bass note (the eerie “Animal Silence”). “Edifice,” unlike its neighbors on the outing, pulses with life. But Morgan’s “redux” of Monument Builders’ “Anthropocene” (track four of five on Suns) is a stripped-down, elegiac bit of electronic air, arguably the EP’s finest moment and far from the territory of between-LPs throw-aways. The closing “Beton Brut” shows flashes of promise – is that the sustained drone of a cello, mid-thought? – but, until the closing minute or two, falls somewhat short of “Antropocene (Redux)”’s scope.

It’s surprisingly unclear what narratives Morgan is trying to deliver or what messages he’s trying to share here. The “voice” – though, of course, this is all instrumental, all sound-pictures — is a little opaque. There are shades of environmental decay, of course, a strong theme on Monument Builders, but, for commentary on the destruction of nature, it’s seriously lacking in adornments.

All in all, Suns is a fine addition to the Loscil catalogue for those hungering for more content from the ever-moving Morgan. But, if I had my druthers, I’d stick with Monument Builders.

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Soul Serenade: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” — Who Did It Best?

It’s that time again. Yes, it’s time to do your civic duty as a citizen of the soul music community and help to resolve an age-old question: one great song, two great versions, who did it better? Your vote will go a long way toward deciding this crucial question, so before leaving, even if you don’t want to read the rest of this, cast your vote below. You don’t have to input your email address or anything else. Just vote.

In the past maybe you found these polls too easy. Maybe you thought, “hey, is this guy kidding? This is a no-brainer.” But this week I’m convinced that I have a tough one for you. No one can say that the choice between Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips is an easy one. Oh, you might have your favorite, and that’s the one you’ll vote for, but calling either version superior is a stretch, to say the least.

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” in 1966. Barrett, you had contributed mightily to the success of Motown with his early hit “Money (That’s What I Want),” had the idea one day while walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He’d been hearing the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine” quite often. There’s no telling if he knew that the phrase had its beginning during the days of slavery when slaves passed messages through their own version of a telegraph, the human grapevine. Whitfield helped Strong to flesh out the idea and a classic song was born.

It was neither Gaye nor the Pips who recorded the first version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” That honor fell to the Miracles in 1966 although it has been claimed that Whitfield meant for the Isley Brothers to record it first. Some say that the Brothers did, in fact, record it but no one has been able to come up with the recording. The Miracles version appeared on their Special Occasion album in 1968 but Berry Gordy, Jr. had decided that it was not worthy of being a single.

Meanwhile, Marvin Gaye got a crack at the song in 1967. Whitfield produced the five sessions that were needed to complete the recording. The Funk Brothers laid down the track and the Andantes sang the backing vocals. Gaye wasn’t happy when Whitfield asked him to sing the song in a key that was higher than what he was used to, but Whitfield had been successful when he got David Ruffin to do the same on the Temptations hit “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” so Gaye ended up abiding by the producer’s wishes.

Once again, Gordy decided that Gaye’s version was not single-worthy and it became an album cut on In the Groove. Later that year, Gladys Knight & the Pips took a whack at it. Once again, Whitfield was behind the producer’s desk. He had admired what Aretha Franklin did with Otis Redding’s “Respect” and wanted to get a little bit of that Muscle Shoals funk into the record. Hence the funkier arrangement.

Gordy still wasn’t convinced that he had a hit single but he reluctantly gave in and the Pips version was the first single to be released on the new Motown imprint Soul Records in September 1967. Their take on the song shot up the chart to reach the #2 position.

In August 1968, Gaye’s In the Groove album was released and when DJs began to play “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” regularly, Gordy rethought his earlier decision and Gaye’s version was released as a single in October of that year. By December, it was the #1 single in the land and remained atop the charts for seven weeks. It became the biggest single in Motown history until it was eclipsed by the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” nearly two years later.

Incidentally, Gladys Knight was not happy when Gaye’s version did better than hers. She accused Whitfield of using a track he had created for her group. Gaye denied the accusation, although, troubled by personal issues including the illness of his singing partner Tammi Terrell, felt that he didn’t deserve the success he had with the record.

Over the years there have been many covers of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” including an 11-minute epic by Credence Clearwater Revival. But there’s little doubt that the two greatest versions of the song ever recorded were those by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips. So which one is your favorite? Do you like Gaye’s soulful passion or Gladys Knight & the Pips quicker, funkier take? I know, you love them both. But if you had to choose just one …

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

Dizzy Heights #28: When the Doorbell Strangely Rang

Four weeks ago, I started a show with three of these songs, but kept putting it off because the idea was to play songs that sounded like fall, or at least the end of summer, and summer, where I live, was not ready to leave yet. So I waited. And summer is still hanging around, but not quite like it did four weeks ago.

We have two artists making their Dizzy Heights and Popdose premieres this week, starting with classic pop songsmith Jesse Terry, and later Australian electronic artist Fuzz pops his head in. That’s where the show pivots, but in a good way, I think.

I also shamelessly reference two staff posts in this episode (SYNERGY!). First up, Our Top 100 songs of the 2000s. A song I play in this show made the list…with one vote.

The Popdose 100: The Best Songs of the Decade

And I wrapped up with yet another reference to our, in my humble opinion, damned good list of love songs.

The Popdose 100: The Greatest Love Songs of All Time

Artists besides Terry and Fuzz making their Dizzy Heights debut this week: Dan Wilson (solo), David Mead, Hurts, The Hollies, Toploader, The Pernice Brothers, and Stephen Bishop. Yep, the Bish makes an appearance, and you can probably guess which song.

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Album Review: The Red Button, “Now It’s All This!”

You can have two dozen bands attempt to “sound like The Beatles” which is all well and good, but when you have a group like The Red Button, you know these musicians take it further than the “average” Beatle fans. The Red Button’s main catch is that they know how to CONSTRUCT a song; they know how to write a hook; refine a melody and give it that something extra special. To be fair, their influences aren’t just the obvious; they’re a bit more sophisticated and deeper – and most importantly, these guys KNOW how to get it on-the-one with their harmonies and arrangements.

And this album isn’t just a new release, per se; it’s a brand-new 6 song E.P. to go along with the re-packaging of their first two hard-to-find albums, She’s About To Cross My Mind (2007) and As Far As Yesterday Goes (2011).  Now these two releases are re-mastered and here with these 6 new songs as a double CD, titled after Ron Nasty’s famous press conference remark during the “Rutles are bigger than God” flap (go look it up and watch – if you never heard it before, well…  I can’t help you.  Although Nasty did go on to say that God had never had a hit record…).

If they didn’t record a song beyond “Cruel Girl”, it would have set an automatic legend; such an instantly powerful and memorable track – catchy and simply perfect.  And that 12-string guitar solo – yes…  “I Could Get Used To You” shimmers with its mix of organ and guitars and 7th chords – psychedelic pop at its lovingly crafted finest; “Hopes Up” walks right out of late ’64/early ’65, circa Something New or Beatles ’65 (let’s be realistic here – I’m referencing the American albums I grew up with and that’s all you need to know) and “Can’t Stop Thinking About Her” is pop-balladeering 101 and absolute sweetness.

“Girl, Don’t” is another Rickenbacker-sculpted pop masterpiece; “Caught In The Middle” is a good old-fashioned rave-up with harmonica blasting the opening wide and and riffs and meaty beats and harmonies – most bands would give their collective left nut for a track as good and lively as this; “Picture” goes in a slightly different direction – almost Beach Boys like with its piano arrangement and light touch and “It’s No Secret” is in that same vein of mid-’60’s “sophisticated pop”.  “Can’t Let Candy Go” is another bubblegum-psychedelic pop piece that just leaps out of the speakers and grabs you by the throat and shakes you in a groovy way; “Tracy’s Party” gives The Smithereens a run for their money (!) and “Solitude Saturday” definitely has that Magical Mystery Tour vibe.

The bottom line is Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruckberg are two dynamic songwriting masters/talents, full stop.  One listen to The Red Button’s new Jem Records release, Now It’s All This!, will tell you all you need to know – all this musical goodness is courtesy of The Red Button.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Now It’s All This! will be released on Friday, October 20th, 2017

http://theredbutton.com/

Popdose Profile: King G & the J Krew Celebrate “Humpback’s” 25th Anniversary

Twenty-five years ago today, the beat was born.

It was the sound of young adults from Louisville – a sprawling collection of collaborators, most of them close friends since childhood – surging with ideas, and busting out with a declaration that they intended to live an unfiltered, untethered life of art and music. It also was an incredible encapsulation of a moment in time: a Bizarro-world hybrid of rap and rock, heavy on samples, levity and inside references, that pre-dated nu-metal and all of its posturing and faux-seriousness. In the years that followed, its example was overshadowed, obscured even, by the bands the project and this self-released CD begat – Rodan, Crain, Rachel’s, June of 44, Shipping News – but it remains a founding document, a kind of Rosetta Stone for those interested in finding it.

Twenty five years ago today, on Oct. 10, 1992, King G & the J Krew released Indestructible Songs of the Humpback Whale. And, all these years later, its “beat poetry with a beat” still resonates as loudly as ever.

+ + +

“SOUL POWER – the J Krew scheme / Plus faxed sample snack by Deadly D / Epicenter Mindquake = Kentucky / Over grass true blue not ever green / Non-amateur front beat-voice factory.”

Post-rock’s history is inscribed with at least one great rap album. And the 19-track Humpback – which now is available in slightly edited/bootlegged form on Bandcamp, for those looking to track down a digital copy – is nothing if not adventurous.

After a cut-and-paste hip-hop tribute to WKRW – “A.M. radio intro when the only solution is soul” – the group gets down to business with aggressive guitars, pounding live drums, and an even more in-your-face, trade-the-mic delivery (“Sit The Calm”). From there, it’s a funhouse trip of Public Enemy-style rap (“Land of 2000 Beats, Part Two,” “Blackout”), synth-infused R&B (“Bass: The Final Frontier”), beatboxing (“Downhearted Blues”) and enveloping sound experiments (“Big Angry Jazz,” “Biscuits ‘N’ Gravy”). The group even throws in a medley of Slint’s “Kent” with Midnight Star’s “Freakazoid” for good measure – complete with weeping strings.

On songs by which Noble, Mueller and King are most known – Shipping News’ “A True Lover’s Knot” and Rodan’s “Everyday World of Bodies,” say, or “Lloyd’s Register” by Rachel’s, complete with King’s film projections – elements are tightly interwoven, as inextricably linked and functional as the threads of a rope. Humpback, despite its sonic brazenness, has the same quality of completion, of interconnection – of ideas melding into mission, of a circle being completed.

+ + +

“Searchin’ high and low / Ever loser with a pick and an ax / Scopes out another frontier to jab his two-edged flag / A sword for a straight edge – they divvy the earth / Into orderly shapres for their money’s worth / Don’t mean to bust farmin’ food for guy / But strip minin’ for jewels.”

King G & the J Krew didn’t really form the way most bands do, with a practice session in a garage or an impromptu performance in some dusty VFW lodge. They started, though not at any precise moment or place, at duPont Manual – a public, magnet high school in Old Louisville, adjacent to the University of Louisville campus, seeking students with potential for high academic achievement.

Greg King, band name: King G (of course), and Jonathan Hawpe (Secret Weapon) knew each other since elementary school. But, on Aug. 26, 1985, the first day of his freshman year, King met Jason Noble (a.k.a. M.C. Diogenes) and a history and bond of friendship that extended nearly 30 years, into the tenure of bands like Rachel’s and The Young Scamels, was born. (They remained extremely close until Noble’s tragic death on Aug. 4, 2012.) Later in the 1985-86 school year, King met Jeff Mueller (a.k.a. Crawdad) – they were on the same bus home together – and, as a group, the ideas started percolating under the surface of things.

“Once we’d all met, the momentum quickly built in terms of deciding ‘WE ARE ARTISTS,’ in no small part due to some awesome teachers we had in the visual arts program there [at duPont],” King told me recently. “We all really dug in and worked our asses off on every art form we could get our hands on, really tried a lot of things out, experimented, and honed our technical skills.”

All three loved 1980s hip-hop so it was only natural that expressions in music soon followed, most notably in acoustically interesting stairwells.

“We’d find ourselves in the stairwells at school. Greg would beatbox, and Jason and I would harmonize. That sort of evolved into us writing rap music and making fanzines a lot, too,” Mueller said. “The band itself wasn’t necessarily a joke but we never took it too seriously. It was about collaging and mingling together as many weird things as possible.”

The collage aspect of their references became evident in fanzines like Daddy! London! and Nuclear Waist, publications – before the eras of the Internet or even desktop publishing – filled with pure drippings of late-80s culture, artwork, plenty of inside references, and sometimes-serious musings on the state of Reagan-era American politics.

By the time they completed their run of fanzines, they were getting attention. Even legendary, Louisville indie record store Ear X-Tacy was advertising within their pages. But the operation was decidedly lo-fi.

“I had a bedroom on the top floor of my house, with my parents’ bedroom below, so it was very much a little sanctuary for us to mess around on projects, undisturbed, for hours on end – and late into the night, as often happened,” King said.

The synthesis into King G & the J Krew as a musical outfit, however, is murky.

Was it the famed Run DMC show in the summer of 1988 that spawned their interest in starting a project? Was it King and Noble knocking back and forth beats to the Miami Vice theme song? Turns out Mueller, who later went onto a run as post-rock guitarist of note, kicked off the rhymes.

“Jeff wanted to rap the Jewish song ‘Hava Nagila,’ so I recall making a beat, writing a keyboard line to accompany it, and him rapping it. I think that was our first attempt at a song, as a team, I guess,” King said.

King had been composing music before that – he was classically trained on the piano and expanded his musical color-palette on the keyboard while listening to music like Tangerine Dream. Noble also toyed with the piano, though he and Mueller later found success on six strings.

The earliest King G recordings featured friend Alan Lett on guitar and a lot of experimentation with sound pedals, which the group used for sampling. The Krew’s first real achievement was SNUG, a 50-minute “EP” recorded to Hawpe’s four-track TASCAM and self-released on 200 cassettes in the summer of 1990, between the band members’ freshman and sophomore years in college. The recordings were both a riot to hear and rough around the edges – but a point of departure.

“It was really, really fun – but total chaos,” Mueller recalled.

+ + +

“Defying the notion of anti-jazz / When there is no sacrifice / No give and take, no solos — all silence / It’s all pounded out on bricks and metal / Mufflers.”

Given the fact that King G & the J Krew was “together” for the better part of a half-decade, they didn’t perform live much. They made their public “debut” in the spring of 1989, during the band members’ senior year talent show at duPont. It was, to say the least, strange but wonderful.

“We were nervous as hell. Jason dressed like a member of The Cure, sort of, and Jeff was at the height of his personal style. I wore a costume crown,” King said. “We had put together a song called ‘DIS,’ which combined the ‘Hava Nagila’ experiment from before, but as part of a super long opus, which included a stripped down a capella passage. It was one of the best experiences of my life, even though we caused feedback at one point.”

From there, into the halls of legend.

The group played its Senior Art Show; at a huge party at Hawpe’s house, which featured Drew Daniel, later of the acclaimed electronic duo Matmos, on “dark texture of some kind;” at Danielle Dostal’s birthday party; on KCAI (mostly “Biscuits ‘N’ Gravy”); and at Zodiac in Downtown Louisville on New Year’s Eve in 1991 or 1992.

And then the humpback went the way of the dinosaur.

“When you’re in your late teens, early 20s, when you feel like all you’re responsible for is yourself,” Mueller mused, “it doesn’t matter how many dishes you break. It matters how hard you break them. That’s where we were.”

+ + +

“If love, as the immortal P. Benatar says, ‘is a battlefield’ then Middle School is absolute Doomsday.”

Noble and Mueller had dropped out of art school by the spring of 1991 and were living in a house on Taylorsville Road in Louisville when they started work on Indestructible Songs of the Humpback Whale. With King, who soon left for another school-year at Kansas City Art Institute, they wrote and recorded “Bass: The Final Frontier;” after King left, they simply went from there.

“We kind of holed up in a couple of different houses and went insane – we just worked on rap music for a year,” Mueller said.

Enter Aaron Frisbee.

Frisbee, a friend of the group and intern at Alan Hart Productions, heard about the Taylorsville Road sessions and loaned Mueller and Noble an eighth-track cassette recorder – hardly state-of-the-art, even for 1991 – to up the ante on production.

He also arranged a bizarre meeting with a studio exec interested in signing King G & the J Krew to a professional contract. (No joke.)

“It was an interesting time, a fork in the road, where fate showed Jason and the group the Old Guard,” Frisbee told me. “Jason and his peers were more DIY, like Slamdek and Touch-and-Go. That really crystallized their desire to do it the way they wanted to.”

Tim Furnish, band name: Jor-El and later of Parlour, played “chunky metal guitar” for the band during its Taylorsville Road period.

“They were very animated and energetic. Always up to something silly. Became quick friends. Jason ended up staying at my parents for a while because he had a family issue and a crush on my mom. He’d later marry my sister,” Tim laughed.

“Jeff and Jason had an inseparable chemistry,” Tim added. “They riff off each other like no one else I’ve ever known.”

The chemistry of the moment was evident everywhere, it seemed.

From King’s journal at the time:

“The basement with bare bulbs and long twine drawstrings grew hot and languid, the cement walls turning inside out with the air, building on our backs some nights; so we would stop and go upstairs, where heat rose and some ferns grew on chaffing window sills. As a summer goes, our music met the august, burning in a Kentucky humidity, and we couldn’t complete it fully. I left the [drum] machine in my brother’s hands.

“Rewind to upstream. Early June, the Krew and I met in the wooded park of the Cherokee name, to discuss and intuit some lyrical ingenuity for the up and coming musical consummation. We hang on the stone block near the creek, leading to the Big Rock, and changed locale to a red chafing park bench, then to a fresh orange jungle gym, the trees very full in a summer wind, branches in every level from ground to the tops. At each spot we jumped around rhymes and meter times, but eventually left the park ‘cause nature was just too cool to look at just then.”

After King left, Noble, Mueller, and Furnish – Furnish was, by then, playing in Crain – moved into The Rocket House, an aging brownstone in need of some love and tenderness in Old Louisville. (The life of the house and its residents were chronicled in the famed underground film Half-Cocked. While some of the tone of that picture was spot-on, the film made the musicians’ efforts to make art seem more haphazard than they ever were.)

By this time, friends recalled, Noble and Mueller had “clicked,” a trait they displayed in Rodan, and, later, well into the 2000s with Shipping News.

At The Rocket House, they completed the record, amid countless indie bands practicing and passing through the space. Within months, Noble and Mueller would join Kevin Coultas and Tara Jane O’Neil in King Kid International; that blossomed into Rodan. Before it was released, Humpback already was becoming a footnote in larger histories.

“In a very real sense, the record was a blossoming of Jason and Jeff’s rock songwriting sensibilities, through the lens of a hip hop project we’d started as teenagers,” King told me. “My involvement was more ‘overt’ with SNUG, and bringing energy and gear to the table overall, and of brainstorming and encouraging weird ideas alongside theirs. And being co-author of the decision to live a life of art, at all costs.”

+ + +

“Kentucky, Baltimore, Cincinnati, K.C. / Everywhere full-force teenage on the street / Violence and dreams boomin’ system locust beat / From cassette-carrying King Krew EP / The locusts rises, we got animal sound on our side / Humpback the bass-shark, the snare-dolpin ride / Spreadin’ blue fire in the fleur-de-lis city / River fountain in the rear-view, we pull a U-ey.”

Indestructible Songs of the Humpback Whale was, like a Babylon Dance Band show or the 1984 Squirrel Bait demos, a document of the Louisville music scene – a snapshot in the community’s time and place that crystallizes something grander and more abstract than just the music contained therein.

“Towards the middle of the writing and recording of the CD, the Indestructible Songs CD, a huge community of people were helping us,” Mueller said. “There was Tim, Simon [Furnish]. Kevin Coultas from Rodan played on a song. It was very much like a Louisville Thing. It became a very serious project. We spent a lot of money and time making sure it was realized.”

“Jason told me he enjoyed listening to that record as much as anything he had worked on – it was very pure,” Frisbee remembered. “Not to be blasphemous, but I almost feel Jason was a messianic figure, the type who could hit chords and resonate with people. Really, he was talented musically but his real superpower was getting people involved in a cause.”

The core members of The Krew didn’t stray far from each other, despite the fact that, in the end, they didn’t all stay in Louisville.

Noble went on to King Kid International and Rodan after King G & the J Krew, then to post-classical ensemble Rachel’s, his excellent solo project Per Mission, and Shipping News. Mueller joined Noble in King Kid International, Rodan and Shipping News, and gained lots of recognition for his role as guitarist in June of 44. Today, he runs Dexterity Press. King went on to provide film projections for live Rachel’s shows, and develop a career in film editing and cinematography.

Were Noble still alive, both King and Mueller agreed there’d be some kind of celebration, some kind of new project or reunion, to mark the record’s silver anniversary, maybe complete with thick shakes.

Noble’s death remains raw in these hearts, despite efforts to focus in a positive way on his “Love Always Wins” attitude and extensive musical canon.

“What this does is it makes me miss Jason significantly,” Mueller told me. “It’s more about being proud of something I was a part of, but also marking Jason’s musical legacy.”

The anniversary also reminded Frisbee of a punk show in Louisville by some anonymous, touring Chicago-based band, where the band members heard tracks from the then-soon-to-be-released Indestructible Songs of the Humpback Whale.

In short, it knocked them over. As it does many of us.

“They said, ‘Man that’s music that cool people are going to be listening to,’” Frisbee said. “Now, 25 years later, cool people hopefully get a chance to hear it.”

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Thirty-Three

 
Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross:  Episode Thirty Three
 
Usually, the boys do that thing with a smart remark, a wink and a laugh.  But this particular show was recorded later than usual – done on the Monday when everyone was trying to come to grips with the Las Vegas massacre, only to be hit with the devastating news that rock legend/god Tom Petty had died.  It took a lot for Jon and Rob to carry forth and do the show as best they could under the circumstances and it’s to their credit that they managed to balance it all.  So aside from their assessment of the Las Vegas horror and an obviously loving tribute to Tom Petty, listen as they have the last word on the President’s disastrous visit to Puerto Rico; the welcomed return of “South Park” and “Tosh.O” to Comedy Central; the rockabilly sounds of Lara Hope & The Ark Tones and the brilliant debut of Sven-Erik Olsen; the next installment of Rob’s mini-series, “1984 – The Year The American Underground Came Above Ground”, focusing on The Replacements’ Let It Be; the winding down of a draining baseball season and the bumbling start to the N.F.L. campaign and, without fail, “In Our Heads”.
 
So sit back and take this one in.  This show offers more than just cheap laughs – it also offers thought and hope…
 
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Thirty Three
 

 
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.

Popdose Exclusive Video Premiere: Vaness Alegacy, “Hoping & Waiting”

Popdose would like to introduce you to Vaness Alegacy, a Toronto-based singer; we are presenting  her debut video, which is also her first single, “Hoping & Waiting”. Ms. Alegacy is a raucous and energetic fireball whose delicate, soulful vocals and raw punk attitude is a major catalyst to her overall presence. “In a world of producer-driven pop where every act sounds the same, Vaness Alegacy is the freshest artist I’ve heard in a long time. The combination of talent and unforced fusion of rock and urban is the future!” says music director of “Canadian Idol”, Orin Isaacs.

“Hoping & Waiting” tackles the struggle of watching someone you love deal with addiction. The song speaks to the impact addiction has on one’s family and friends and paints a picture of what it’s like to watch someone deal with something so painful and destructive – knowing in the end, you can’t help that person if they don’t think they need it. “Letting go isn’t the same as giving up. It’s just sometimes the only option.” says Vaness Alegacy.

https://www.facebook.com/vanessalegacy

Soul Serenade: Big Mama Thornton, “Hound Dog”

In 1950, a kid from Baltimore met a kid from Long Island in Los Angeles. The older of the two, Mike Stoller, was a piano playing college freshman. The other, Jerry Lieber, worked in a local record store called Norty’s while he was a high school senior. The pair bonded over a common love of blues and R&B.

Lieber and Stoller began to write songs together. Jimmy Witherspoon recorded their first song, “Real Ugly Woman,” but it was Charles Brown who gave them their first hit with “Hard Times” in 1952. That same year, Lieber and Stoller wrote a song for a blues singer by the name of Big Mama Thornton. The song was called “Hound Dog.”

Big Mama Thornton

She was born Willie Mae Thornton in Alabama and began singing in the Baptist church at an early age. Thornton left home at the age of 14 and got a job with Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Revue. It wasn’t long before she was being called “the new Bessie Smith.” In 1948, she moved to Houston where her career began to gain some traction. Three years later she signed with Peacock Records. The next year, with Lieber and Stoller producing, Thornton recorded “Hound Dog.”

The record topped the R&B chart, but as happened all too often in those days, Thornton saw very little money from it. She continued to record for Peacock until 1957 but never had another hit. In the early ’60s, she wrote and recorded a song called “Ball ‘n’ Chain” for the Bay-Tone label. The record was never released and when the song was recorded by Janis Joplin several years later, it was the record company that had the copyright and again Thornton ended up on the short end of the stick.

Thornton relocated to San Francisco, but her career was clearly on the decline. She continued to tour, and to record for a succession of labels and in 1969, after Big Brother and the Holding Company included “Ball ‘n’ Chain” on their hit album Cheap Thrills, the renewed interest in Thornton led to a record deal with Mercury. But again she found little success and moved on to other labels.

By that time, interest in original American blues singers like Thornton was fading while younger artists were making huge amounts of money playing the blues in arenas. Thornton thought she would be more appreciated in Europe and in 1972 she was part of a successful tour of the continent that included Big Joe Williams, Robert Pete Williams, T-Bone Walker, and others.

A year later Thornton performed at the Newport Jazz Festival alongside Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. By that time, years of heavy drinking were taking their toll on Thornton. She recorded her last two albums for Vanguard Records in 1975. She continued to appear at blues festivals for several years but in 1984 she was found dead in a Los Angeles boarding house, the victim of her excesses at age 57.

Thornton was inducted into the Blues Music Hall of Fame that year. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” includes “Ball ‘n’ Chain.” There is little doubt that racial segregation in the United States prevented Thornton from getting the recognition that she deserved, and she remains under-appreciated to this day for her role in helping to shape American music.

Thornton’s recording of “Hound Dog” spent seven weeks at the top of the R&B chart and sold 500,000 copies. The song has been recorded more than 250 times since then. The most well-known of those records was the 1956 Elvis Presley version which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and topped the Pop, R&B, and Country charts in the U.S.

Album Review: Faith Evans Ruch, “Lessons in Falling”

This has quite a story, as per the press release that came along with this album – Faith Evans Ruch may remember her new album, Lessons in Falling, as the one that almost got away.  Why?  Here’s why:

The act of finishing this record was a defiant one. After a devastating break up and a life-threatening illness, Faith fought to finish an album that started as a love letter to the man and the life she thought was the one. Its sound is her most lush and eclectic yet, returning to the full-band treatment of her debut album 1835 Madison but introducing myriad new influences from soul and R&B to polished contemporary pop to the folk-Americana bones of her songwriting style.

Two years in the making, the album began as a love letter. She was going to call it Mercy. But three days before she was set to complete it, her relationship ended abruptly and Faith made a call to her longtime producer Kevin Houston to cancel the session.

“I told him I was considering trashing the whole project,” she says. “But he convinced me to come do the session and not let go of the art we’d made. He encouraged me to find a way to make peace with my pain in a way that allowed me to still love and finish this record I’d worked so hard on.”

A few weeks after that session, Faith almost lost her life to a severe case of meningitis that left her hospitalized for a week and on strict bedrest for more than a month.

“I’d hit my low physically and emotionally, and I stayed angry and I stayed rolling around in that pain and misery for another couple weeks after I was discharged from the hospital, until I just couldn’t take it anymore,” she says. “I realized that I needed to decide if I was going to let this hold me back or hurl me forward.”

By now you know which one she chose.  And with that, Popdose is very pleased to share with you the first single from the album, “I’m Yours”.  This has all the earmarkings of a radio hit (but as we all know, radio has gone to Hell) – nonetheless, you can easily imagine it coming out of the car speakers, etc.  You know the drill.  It has that kind of punch; that soulful, special Memphis vibe that walked right out of the ’60’s and into 2017.  And that’s just the start.  “Beg For Mercy” is a slower, heavy-duty blues driven piece; something you can easily imagine someone like Albert King wailing on; “Sugar” is undoubtedly an Otis Redding-style track; Ms. Ruch’s voice makes you feel – powerfully – it’s a song to completely embrace and for me, made me return to.  “Blood From A Stone” is a lyrically clever, smooth soul workout; “Rock Me Slow” is the surprise, with its gentle, acoustic-based opening and Ms. Ruch’s vocal skills; I love how the song slowly builds up with organ, into horn section and full band – another “lost” Stax classic, when you think of it and her version of Sonny Bono’s classic “Bang Bang” is a fresh take – a groove mixed with a deliciously twangy, heavily reverbed guitar.

Until now, I was unaware of Ms. Ruch’s music but after reading the story behind this particular album and having the opportunity to listen to it, live with it, feel and absorb it, all I can say is I want more.  Faith Evans Ruch has that something special and it’s evident to me in these ten tracks.  And I’m very glad this album did NOT get away…

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Lessons In Falling will be released on Friday, October 13th, 2017

http://faithevansruch.com/


Dw. Dunphy On… The Third Heartbreaker: Tom Petty and the Trolls

October 2 was a hard day for three reasons. The first, and obviously most horrific, was the shooting at an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas. The second was the shocking, sudden death of singer Tom Petty. The third reason is for what followed thereafter.

I won’t comment on the first. There’s too much to say about it. It deserves a full column of its own, and even then, the intransigent, dug-in positions of so many will likely be unmoved by whatever is said. It’s all been said so often by now, and I don’t have the raging ego to believe my latest statement will change something more than nothing at all.

On the second, sure, I was a fan. I was a fan since Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed “Refugee” on Saturday Night Live (or, as was in that weird “what are we” period, just Saturday Night). I was a fan when I bought Long After Dark on record at the local Shop Rite, back when they sold record albums at grocery stores.

Was I a die-hard? Perhaps not. I couldn’t get into the majority of the later years like Mojo, and while I really liked Hypnotic Eye, it didn’t stay in the car stereo too long. I’d never gone to one of his concerts, although I would have liked to. It was not something I felt a pressing urgency to accomplish, however.

I am, as I suspect many are, highly appreciative of Tom Petty’s efforts and grateful he was here. I’m glad for “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” “The Waiting,” “You Got Lucky,” the Jeff Lynne years which I occasionally groused about, calling them “The Electric Heartbreaker Orchestra” because of Lynne’s unmistakable production style. He was a favorite, but not THE favorite and every artist is bound to such distinctions amid a diverse audience.

Which is to say, a lot of people are going to have a lot to say about Tom Petty over the next couple of days, which brings up to that third hard point (I did mention three, after all). No sooner did people start posting their condolences, their mourning, their disbelief that he could be dead less than a week after his recent tour ended, than others have to dismissively chime in, “How pathetic. Now everyone’s a Tom Petty fan. Now all the experts come crawling from the woodwork.”

Because people are not allowed to like anything. Because people are not allowed to express what they like. Because people don’t like something enough, in your opinion, to have an opinion worthy of being voiced. Because, because, because.

I find this confusing. Most of the folks who express this dismissive, “too cool to mourn” attitude are the same folks who proudly exclaim that the problem today is that parents refuse to parent right, that they don’t teach their kids any manners, and that back when they were kids, if they didn’t mind their Ps and Qs, their parents would smack the rest of the alphabet out of them. Leaving aside that last part for yet a whole other discussion, if in fact, they were as “raised right” as they brag, they would have obeyed their parents when they were told to respect the dead, or at the very least, show proper consideration during the window of time when people are grieving.

And yes, people have a right to grieve a bit when a celebrity passes, and specifically when a said celebrity has contributed to a moment or two in their lives. When it comes to music, especially, those contributions literally form the soundtrack to memory. When I think about a specific, stinging heartbreak, I will remember “Straight Into Darkness” from Long After Dark. Now, the relationship, the time, the place, and the person who made that song are all gone, and even the memory of the combination has grown thin, like the inseam of very old jeans.

There are instances of pointless star worship. I’d be foolish to deny that, but on the whole, when things like this occur with such whiplash suddenness, the coping mechanism can be as legitimate as that for a friend or a distant family member. It doesn’t destroy you like the passing of a very close loved one, but it certainly gnaws at the heart. How dare anyone, in a moment of typical Internet indifference, try to make anyone else feel diminished for expressing that yet another aspect of their lives is now rendered irretrievable.

What a boring life it would be if we were all so dispassionate about everything and had nothing to say, and we never disturbed the trolls as they mused over what next to be “completely over.” They claim to be taking down the dilettantes, but I think they just don’t enjoy or appreciate much, and envy those who do. That makes it all the more imperative to like what you like, do what you do, don’t be afraid of expressing it. Those who follow this example will create and actually live a life. Those who don’t can claim their moral superiority and “raised rightness” and find solace in being miserable.