Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross: Twenty Two! Double on the snake eyes…
Right out of the chute, Jon and Rob tackle the ineptitude of record companies not releasing albums for all the wrong reasons, politics in music and the deplorable antics of certain aging rock musicians; the incredible mis-steps by Cinemax with their cancellation of “Quarry” and some of the very good (and overlooked) shows currently on as part of the summer season; how media personalities live up to and surprise you when you meet them in a positive way; Emily Barker’s stunning new album, Sweet Kind Of Blue; Midnight North’s Under The Lights; the insane episode of “Morning Joe” vs. President Trump; D.W. Dunphy’s great interview with producer/drummer/legend Butch Vig; the non-interesting baseball All-Star Game and of course, the highly popular “In Our Heads” segment.
Make yourself comfortable, sit back and enjoy another thought provoking and entertaining conversation…
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Twenty Two
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Back in April, I presented you with a poll that asked you to chose your favorite version of “Respect,” the Aretha Franklin cover, or the Otis Redding original. Aretha won that particular vote pretty handily. I thought I’d try the same thing with another song this week, asking you to choose your favorite version of “I Can’t Get Next to You” — the rhythmic, driving take by the Temptations, or the intense, slow-burning version by Al Green.
Let’s talk about the song itself first. “I Can’t Get Next to You” was written by Motown stalwarts Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. The first version of the song was recorded by the Temptations. Dennis Edwards had replaced David Ruffin by that time, but the rest of the classic Tempts lineup was intact, with Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Otis Franklin. Whitfield produced the record, and the always-able Funk Brothers provided the backing track.
The Temptations took “I Can’t Get Next to You” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1969, and it stayed there for two weeks until it was replaced by the Elvis Presley classic “Suspicious Minds.” The record also topped the R&B chart. Pieces of the Temptations recording were used on other records. The Jackson Five appropriated the bridge for their 1970 hit “ABC,” and the applause that opens “I Can’t Get Next to You” was borrowed by the Temptations themselves for their 1970 smash “Psychedelic Shack.”
There have been a number of covers of “I Can’t Get Next to You” including takes by the Osmonds, Savoy Brown, Annie Lennox, and Toto. But at least in my mind, there is little doubt that the finest of these covers was the one released by Al Green in 1970. The song provided the title of the album Al Green Gets Next to You, and the single reached #60 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #11 on the R&B chart.
This is not a matter of which take on the song is better. They are as vastly different as the Aretha and Otis versions of “Respect.” Green replaced the muscular, up-tempo group effort of the Temptations with a dramatically slowed down, solitary, deeply felt, down-on-his-knees-begging-for-love, Hi Rhythm Section version. So it’s simply a matter of which one you prefer or maybe even which one you prefer at one particular moment.
This is that moment. Listen to the two versions below and be reminded of the greatness of each one. Then vote in the poll and make your feelings known. The comments section is open to you if you would like to comment beyond your vote.
Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.
Popdose is presenting and premiering for you something a little different and very new: Stockholm, Sweden native Audrey X’s new single “Black Skies.” The anthemic track offers up Audrey’s powerful vocals combined with shimmering production to create a song full of passion. “Black Skies” is the first of a set of standalone singles she plans to release throughout 2017. Fueled by her need to generate memorable and hopefully inspirational songs, Audrey X delivers a potent single that illustrates her vocal prowess.
After singing in her church choir at a young age, Audrey X realized her potential and sought out professional assistance to advance her abilities as a singer. Subsequently, Audrey was coached once a week by vocal coach Christoffer Lauridsen, and shortly after began recording her first single, “Volcano.” Following the success of “Volcano,” she released the tracks “Never Gonna Leave,” and “Club of Jaded Hearts.” As a result, she was interviewed by radio stations across the U.S. and the U.K., and received airplay in countries across the globe. In addition, the track was played in every Lindex retail store throughout Europe.
Audrey X’s music is characterized as edgy, melodic and unapologetic with subtle elements of r&b. As she has grown, her sound has become increasingly more mature, and has achieved a specific aesthetic of empowerment and strength that is justified through her character.
I first heard Peter Himmelman back in ’87 with an incredible album called Gematria; it’s now 30 years later and he still can amaze you with a coupling of words or turn of a phrase. His is a very warm, yet very focused literary style of songwriting; his lyrics are very often melodic novels. And now he is about to deliver There Is No Calamity, a brand new collection of eleven songs – his 13th studio album and first since 2014’s The Boat That Carries Us.
This is an album that you need to sit and listen to; pay attention to in a quiet, calm place. The intensity of the lyrics are restrained but no less fiery. The production is crisp and taut, as is the playing so there is, indeed, a very fine balance. The soulfulness of “245th Peace Song” has a singalong feel, considering the directness of the message – and this kind of contradiction is part of his genius; the galloping vibe of “Smoke and Flames” reminds me of a late ’60’s kind of track you’d hear dominating radio and the slow balladry of “Rich Men Rule The World” is no less a head-turner along with the chorus (“…and rich men run the world here/it don’t run on mercy – it runs on fear…”), which speaks volumes. On “Love Is What Carries Us Away”, I can hear snippets of a Brian Wilson-like arrangement – ethereal and melodic with a not-standard arrangement; “Depth Of You” is a warm, pure pop masterpiece and “Ropes and Wings” is directly from the Stax book of arrangements with a gospel tinge and a magnificent use of horns and Hammond B3.
Once again, Peter Himmelman reminds us that songwriters of consequence still do exist and still try with the same vigor that they have had from the beginning of their careers. To me, that’s a very comforting thought. So again – sit up, pay attention and listen carefully to what Peter Himmelman has to say.
There Is No Calamity will be released on Friday, August 11th, 2017
It’s been non-stop stories about Russia and Trump in the news since the election. Congressional investigations into Russian “meddling” of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election coupled with special council Robert Mueller’s FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible…alleged…collusion with the Russian government to gain an advantage in winning the contest against Hillary Clinton has dogged Trump before he was even sworn in as president.
Trump tried to make all the noise go away by firing FBI director James Comey. The official line was it was because of Comey’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails (!). But really Trump — in a moment of pure “I don’t give a shit” bluntness — blurted out to NBC’s Lester Holt that Comey was fired over the Russia investigation into former NSA director Michael Flynn. More specifically, Flynn’s (undisclosed) conversations with high level Russian government officials about sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over meddling (there’s that word again) in the election. Those conversations also could be tried in court under the Logan Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 953 ) wherein it is a crime for a citizen to have conversations with members of foreign governments against the interests of the United States. In other words, Flynn broke the law when he had conversations with a Russian ambassador to negotiate (or reassure) them that the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration would change with a Trump administration. So far, Flynn has not been charged with a crime under the Logan Act — or any other act — but his actions certainly suggest that he could be.
Later, it came out that Trump said to Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” That request in itself is most likely an obstruction of justice. But the law is only embraced by Trump when it benefits him. Otherwise, who cares about obstructing justice. So, when Comey didn’t heed Trump’s request, Trump essentially said — through a chain of command starting with Rosenstein to Sessions and finally to Trump –“You’re fired.”
However, his action had the opposite effect: it created more noise.
As it is with scandals in Washington D.C., it can be difficult to keep up with the breathless coverage and never-ending “Breaking News.” Trump supporters wave all this noise away saying that the media (and by “The Media” they are only talking about media outlets they generally hate) are creating these stories about Russia to derail Trump’s ability to Make America Great Again.
However, those who smell a rat and only see a con man in Trump, are obsessed by the constant Russia revelations because some also view Trump and his ilk as traitors who gained power through dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Moreover, they see a president compromised by a foreign power who can’t or won’t solemnly swear to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
With that, I wanted to find a way to distill a very good piece on Vox about all this Russia business into a kind of table of contents — with some personality. So why not “About Me” pages as carrots to lure you down the rabbit hole of Russia! Russia! Russia!
Look, I’m sure you’re a lovely town. As a two-time Duke grad, I have to give a bit of respect to our fellow “Southern Ivy,” Vanderbilt. And yes, there’s that whole music thing, which is even better than the music scene in my hometown of Athens, Ga. (In fact, the only songwriter I know of from my high school naturally gravitated toward Nashville at some point.)
But you can’t just keep stealing all the great musicians from the East Coast. We’re dying over here. We’re getting slammed by everything from hurricanes to political movements telling us we’re not “real America,” which apparently only exists if you can see a corn field or coal mine from your house.
The latest is Nicole Atkins, whose voice should have been declared a state treasure in New Jersey. She’s a throwback in one sense — it’s easy to imagine her being fed a steady stream of Brill Building tunes and dueling with a Phil Spector Wall of Sound or a gargantuan Jimmy Webb arrangement. But she has embraced modernity, hosting a wonderful SiriusXM show and crowd-funding her albums with charming videos and other updates for those of us shrewd enough to chip in a few bucks. And she also writes the bulk of her own songs — quite well, in fact.
At some point, New Jersey isn’t going to take this any more. You already borrowed Bon Jovi for a while. What next — a mashup of Born in the USA with Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue?
(I know, I know — like most urban areas in the South, your politics are a bit more complicated than we might think from watching cringe-worthy Daily Show correspondent bits. I grew up in Athens, you know. Yes, that place made famous by Herschel Walker, Michael Stipe and the B-52s. Maybe you could send a few musical voices that way? Didn’t hurt Bob Mould’s career to hang out near UGA for a while.)
Don’t tell us you needed to take Atkins away from the East Coast to broaden her musical horizons. She’s already adept at any genre she chooses. Her Wikipedia page lists her genres as “crooner, soul, psychedelic, Americana.” Well, that narrows it down.
Sure, the country detour she takes on a couple of tunes on her new album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, is worthwhile. She co-wrote two songs with Chris Isaak, each one turning the clock back a few decades. The opener, A Little Crazy, would be a little cliched if not for that gorgeous voice cutting through the over-the-top production. The titletrack, a wistful farewell to a trouble-making alter ego, brings modern psychology to a traditional country setting.
But, dear city of Nashville, we didn’t need you to teach Atkins how to get in touch with her inner Patsy Cline. She covered Cline years ago, one of many demonstrations of her genre-hopping skills. She also showed her range with a short collection of covers, Nicole Atkins Digs Other People’s Songs, in which she does a perfectly fine job of bringing Dream A Little Dream of Me to life, gives a lively reading of Nada Surf’s Inside of Love and takes the listener on a wondrous melodic ride on The Church’s Under the Milky Way.
And she shows plenty of range in her own work. Like Rachael Yamagata (probably the next East Coast chanteuse-songwriter you’re going to steal away from us), she knows her way around a torch song in both spare and complex arrangements.
She even shows dramatic range in her videos, from the foreboding Vultures to the playful Girl You Look Amazing, where she dances, bowls, dines and makes out with an invisible man over sharp guitar hooks and a disco bass.
Now she’s married. And newly sober. After years of finding hope in yearning and heartbreak — check out Together We’re Both Alone or Maybe Tonight — she’s certainly earned a life of domestic bliss. If she needed to move to make all that happen, fine. We get it. At least she left a nice note, bittersweet with a touch of the macabre, with the new tune I love Living Here (Even When I Don’t).
The common thread is all her different styles is that she sings the hell out of everything. It’s not all American Idol or modern RnB ego-tripping. I listened to Girl You Look Amazing for probably the 100th time this morning, and I still marvel at the subtle touches she brings in every line. She’s like a master blues guitarist, using bends and vibrato to bring the most out of a melody. I’d pay to hear her sing Three Blind Mice. Or maybe her next album will be heavy metal. Either way, I’m sure I’ll still be hearing something new on the 100th listen of Listen Up.
For me, that’s the standout of the new album. But I’m biased toward pop-rock with soulful flourishes — as much as I love Rachael Yamagata’s breakup ballad Reason Why, I’d love to hear her do more songs like Faster or 1963. Atkins offers up a sonic buffet here, building a bridge between country, RnB and whatever’s left of “adult alternative.”
So look here, Nashville. You didn’t make Nicole Atkins better. She made you better. And we’re not going to sit back and let you monopolize great singer-songwriter talents. At least she’s on tour this summer, and I can check her out in Arlington.
Wait, what? That’s Arrington, Va., not Arlington?
Dammit. Well, maybe one of my kids will go to Vanderbilt or something.
A pissed-off East Coaster who’s at least grateful that more people should get to hear Nicole Atkins
There’s an immediate good vibe upon hearing the opening riffs coming from Keys To The House, the debut album from Virginia’s Trongone Band. This band, led by brothers Andrew and Johnny Trongone, have a feeling of joy about them. It could be youth; it could be that it’s their first album, which is always a joyful release – not just of music but of ideas and creativity that’s been built up, but no matter what it is, this album is just that – joyful. Soulful, funky, groovy – this album has beauty, tunefulness and get-downness in numbers.
Of the album, Johnny Trongone says, “it was one thing to develop and write the songs over the past year as we played them out on the road, but it was a completely different world to take them into the studio, put them under the microscope and really turn them into songs.” Primed for the festival circuit, the band has graced the stages of Virginia’s Roosterwalk, Tennessee’s Riverbend Music Festival, Florida’s Slide Into Spring Festival, The Allman Brothers’ Peach Festival in Pennsylvania, and West Virginia’s Deep Mountain Roots Revival. This family affair recording process helped the band grow “so much on a personal and musical level, and listening back and dissecting these tracks helped us learn so much about each other’s playing.”
Starting with the Black Crowes-ish “Blind”, you know where this band’s roots lie. Certainly, there are some Chris Robinson-isms in (presumably) Andrew Trongone’s vocals, but there’s a real down-home essence that does equal the same kind of passion that the Crowes delivered on “…Money Maker”. The old-time honky-tonk piano drive of “Nothing To Lose” is a very satisfying moment, as the body of the song gives way to the beauty of Hammond B3 organ stylings, making this a near-gospel-like piece. “Anne Marie” is a straightforward country stomper that’s as catchy as the day is long; “Straight To Hell” rocks hard (a neat counterbalance to the country sounds of “Anne Marie”) and “Ain’t It Funny” is soul-rock at its naturally Southern best, especially with that delicious Fender Rhodes break.
There’s nothing I can say more than when you hear this album, you’re going to enjoy it. It will warm you and lift you up. Which is critical at a time when most music is instantly disposable and forgettable. And as a debut, The Trongone Band has delivered a strong first statement. Here’s hoping there’s more in the stable down the road.
The cello flirts lovingly with you, then roars and lunges forward, bearing its teeth.
The composition in question is “A Seat Amongst God and His Children,” the second song and most transfixing moment on Montreal artist Alder & Ash’s sophomore release, the appropriately titled Clutched In The Maw of the World, out July 28 on Lost Tribe Sound.
It starts with a gently thrummed but somehow ominous rhythmic pattern, a wispy line of melody, and then lashes out – a slashing lead cello line that sounds like the amplified edge of a razor scraping over metal, with a distorted loop of grungy notes keeping time. There, it wails like a beast after triumphantly pouncing on its prey. After a moment of calm, briefly sated, the cello starts to stab at your ears again and the aural animal goes back in to finish the bloody feast.
The images this blend of ambient/experimental and post-classical music brings to mind are appropriate. On its Bandcamp page, Alder & Ash frames itself as “a counterpoint of two extremes,” with the music divided between “stillness, introversion and penitence” and “violence, cacophony and angst.” You can’t say the performer doesn’t deliver on his promises. This is brutal listening, indebted as much to acts like ambient duo High Plains as it is to black metal and post-rock. And it is beautifully accomplished in its missions.
On “All His Own, The Lord of Naught,” the loops have a slithering quality to them as the cello waxes vaguely Middle Eastern, a hint of scales giving way to the throaty aftermath of a scream. Then, there are the melancholy moments – the somber title track, which feels, at times, as if it is too depressed to even muster the strength to lament, or the beautiful, album-closing “The Glisten, The Glow,” which displays an eerie, somewhat tragic resolve over the spare, lulling plod of its looped “percussion.”
Alder & Ash does a hell of a lot with a cello and a loop pedal alone and, for further evidence, Lost Tribe also is reissuing its first LP, the previously digital-only Psalms for the Sunder from 2016. Both records make for riveting, if occasionally uneasy listening, the Romantic giving way to the Neurotic, the beauty dramatically drawn black by the stain. Here’s the pull-quote: if you’re a student of storm clouds, you owe it to yourself to find this stuff.
The last twelve months of Darling West’s musical career can hardly be described as anything less than fantastic. Since the release of their second album, Vinyl and a Heartache, they have played concerts all over the world, been listed on the biggest radio channels in Norway and appeared on the Top 100 Country charts in the U.S.; they’ve been played more than two and a half million times on Spotify, been booked to the biggest festivals in Norway and Americanafest in Nashville and won a Norwegian Grammy.
Despite all this, the band have no plans of resting on their acquired laurels, and now they’re releasing two songs from the album they plan to issue in early 2018.
They haven’t changed their style during the last year, but you could still hear a new and revitalized Darling West. The band are still playing their sweet Americana/country/folk, but there’s a lot more drive in the music and the melodies are catchier than before.
The first taste of their forthcoming album are the singles “While I Was Asleep” and “After My Time.” And the video for “After My Time” is now here – for you to view and listen to as a Popdose exclusive premiere.
As mentioned above, the last twelve months have been pretty great for Darling West, but there’s nothing that indicates that the next twelve won’t be even better.