Taylor Hollingsworth: Life with a Slow Ear

RIYL: Steve Earle, Conor Oberst, The Jayhawks

If 2009 were to yield a list of its strangest LPs, I, for one, would nominate the aptly named Life with a Slow Ear for at least an honorable mention. Not that its ragged, homespun ruminations offer anything especially unusual in and of itself; heading up the country and getting back to the roots is a popular path these days, especially for musicians who hunger for a respite from a daily diet of scorching guitars, amplifiers turned up to the max and rhythmic onslaughts that could replicate a small tsunami.

The surprise then isn’t that Taylor Hollingsworth follows suit. A journeyman musician, he spent time in the service of Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley Band before upping both attitude and amplitude for his initial series of solo outings. However, now that he’s opted to unplug, the thing that separates him from his fellow rustic ramblers is – in a word – his vocals (That’s two words. -Ed.), a high-whining cornhusker of a drawl that suggests a cartoonish attempt at hillbilly authenticity. It undercuts any attempt to take these musings seriously, if for no other reason than it’s such a jolt every time he commands the microphone. While one could concede there’s some synchronicity in his chipmunk chatter and the twangy plunking of “I Didn’t Know It Was the Devil” and “Westfalia,” anytime the mood turns somewhat surreptitious – as in “96 Crayons” and the blustery boogie of “New Orleans Blues” – Hollingsworth actually sounds silly. Attempting to give some weight to “Sin City Blues” – which references both Gram Parsons and Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Memphis with Those Memphis Blues Again” – Hollingsworth’s voice betrays him, even despite his obvious instrumental dexterity. So while Life with a Slow Ear Is otherwise an admirable effort, it’s a less than critical ear that’s required. (Team Love 2009)

Taylor Hollingsworth MySpace page

Watch Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform “Empire State of Mind” at the World Series

I haven’t heard Jay-Z’s new album, The Blueprint 3, but I really like this single. Alicia Keys’ voice is just so powerful. The problem with most female pop singers is that they don’t sing from their their gut. Keys sings with a believable conviction that can simultaneously touch hearts and bring down buildings.

Anyway, enjoy the video.

Greg Laswell: Covers

RIYL: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley

With his previous albums, Greg Laswell established his penchant for cinematic soundscapes, purveying a downcast disposition and a haunting, shrouded motif that provided spectral settings for his weary ruminations. Now, he’s taking a brief detour from his own musings via this enticing five-song EP, which retraces songs by Echo and the Bunnymen, Morphine, Mazzy Star, Kristen Hersh and Kate Bush — and, in some cases, actually bests the originals. These songs were somewhat gloomy to begin with, and Laswell makes no attempt to alleviate the mood. Even so, he manages to add a new dimension; by giving a shadowy and shimmering sheen to “Killing Moon,” a lurching yet assertive stance to Hersh’s “Your Ghost,” and buoying the tempo on “In Spite Of Me,” Laswell effectively puts his imprint on each. Likewise, “Take Everything” retains the laconic feel of Mazzy Star’s original, while transforming the song into a stately piano recital, and his take on “This Woman’s Work” strips the song of its harsh veneer and replaces Bush’s signature sensuality with an emphasis on its gentle soul. Ultimately, like every effort in his repertoire, Covers affirms that Laswell’s an original. (Vanguard 2009)

Greg Laswell website

Hem: Twelfth Night

RIYL: Incredible String Band, Amazing Blondel, Pentangle

It ought to come as no surprise that a combo which has taken its cue from iconic Anglo folk music should carry those interests further – in this case, creating an album rich in Celtic and Baroque tradition. But in accepting a commission to pattern a soundtrack for the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Hem’s allowed their Elizabethan extremes to run rampant, augmenting their usual mellow musings with a contingent of pipes, flutes, whistles and orchestral flourishes all in keeping with the trappings of the period. Mostly instrumental, it gives vocal nods to a theatrically superior cast that includes Anne Hathaway and Raul Esparza, but it’s a relatively unknown David Pittu who proves best suited to singing the sonnets, especially on such traditionally-tied verses as “The Wind and the Rain,” “Hey Robin, Jolly Robin” and “I Am Gone, Sir.” As the titles suggest, this is neither rock, nu-folk nor any combination thereof, but rather a sound that owes its origins and inspiration to the Bard. Hem enthusiasts will likely note this as a momentary detour in anticipation of a band project due early next year. For their part, theater purists will probably appreciate the effort and admire its authenticity. (Nettwerk 2009)

Hem MySpace page

Otis Redding: The Best: See & Hear

RIYL: Sam & Dave, Al Green, Solomon Burke

In an era when pretenders to the R&B throne spring up like swine flu in the local emergency room, it only takes a glance back at Otis Redding’s career to remind us that no one has ever managed to recapture his electrifying, unfettered energy and passion. Like Sam Cooke, James Brown, Aretha, the Four Tops, the Tempts, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke, Otis was one of a kind: a man who relied not on gimmicks or false sentiment, but a genuine, explosive talent that took every song to the precipice between triumph and tragedy. From the stage at Monterrey to ballrooms across the nation and venues around the world, Otis proved he was the ultimate interpreter of gritty, sweat-stoked, heart-wrenching soul, a man whose fiery appeal transcended race or nationality, rock or R&B.

As with many other incendiary talents, Redding’s career was an abbreviated one, cut short in a tragic plane crash in December 1967 — mere months after he electrified a mostly white Monterey audience that had also witnessed Hendrix, Joplin, the Byrds and the Springfield. Ironically, his biggest breakthrough, the moving “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” wouldn’t even pierce the charts until after his demise. Still, the classics he left behind in a relatively short period earned him a permanent presence in the lexicon of great contemporary singers — one who is yet to be bested, and likely never will.

Shout/Rhino’s new two-disc compilation — boasting a CD of greatest hits and a DVD of live performances captured the year before Redding’s death — provides a brief summary of the man’s brilliance; a mere introduction at best. The numbers forever identified with Redding make the cut: “Dock of the Bay,” of course, “Respect,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “I’ve been Loving You Too Long” — the better-known songs that defined Otis’ magnetism and his ability to adroitly shift from finesse to frenzy. Watching him drive himself with such exhilaration and determination, as seen on the video performances of “Shake” and “Satisfaction” (each included twice on the DVD for good measure), verifies the emotion he exuded each time he took the stage.

A singer for the ages, Otis had a talent that was eternal. In the face of such greatness, “brilliance” is an adjective that doesn’t even begin to suffice. Pick up this package, and you’ll quickly understand why. (Shout! Factory 2009)

Shout Factory website

I would definitely buy “The Who: Rock Band”


Given the success of The Beatles: Rock Band, it’s logical to think other prominent bands could get their own version of the game in the near future. Thankfully, we haven’t heard anything along the lines of Fall Out Boy: Rock Band or Paramore: Rock Band, but anything is possible these days.

The people behind Rock Band must have some serious musical taste. They are supposedly working with The Who. Roger Daultrey, the band’s frontman, confirmed the rumors:

“The game, yeah, yeah, they’re going to be doing a Who one next year. There is one planned. [The idea] is fabulous. Anything that gets non-musical people interested in music is wonderful.”

It seems appropriate that the legendary band would go with Rock Band over Guitar Hero.

Given the cinematic and conceptual nature of the Who and Pete Townshend, Rock Band seems like a better fit for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band than Guitar Hero. Whereas GH has created lifelike avatars and restored famed venues for their artist-based games like GH: Metallica or GH: Van Halen, MTV Games upped the ante with The Beatles: Rock Band, crafting entire dreamscapes to accompany the music and offering replicas of the Fab Four’s instruments, an approach that would work well with the Who’s concept albums like Tommy and Quadrophenia.

A release date hasn’t been announced.

David Nail: I’m About to Come Alive

RIYL: Vince Gill, Kenny Chesney, Train

That cha-ching sound you just heard was the royalty cash register for another mainstream pop/rock songwriter, as a country music artist has not just cut a song by the band Train, but made it the title track for his MCA Nashville debut. The artist is David Nail, and while Nail has endured ups and downs and at least one failed move to Nashville, the story has a happy ending, or at least a happy middle upon the release of I’m About to Come Alive, which might also be symbolic for the young artist. Nail has co-written about half the material here, and it might be curious that he’d go with a full blown cover song as his title track, but if you follow Train at all, you know it’s one of their best and most heartfelt songs. And it comes a couple years after Gary Allan had success with Vertical Horizon’s “Best I Ever Had.” But back to Nail, because he and producer Frank Liddell have managed to put a set of tunes together that is as good or better than anything Nashville has produced in the past decade. And the same can be said for Nail’s powerful vocal ability. Of course the title track is stellar, but there are some other beauties on here, especially “Red Light” and the Garth Brooks-ish “Looking for a Good Time,” the latter of which features some pretty guitar work. (MCA Nashville)

David Nail MySpace page

Google tries to combat torrents

music search

Everyone and their mother downloads music illegally. I’m a self-admitted criminal, but my recent love affair with old music and vinyl records has set me on the right path. The problem is, those who download music only download music. Sure, they may buy the new album from their favorite band, but I imagine the average youngster downloads at least 90 percent of their music. I could never figure out torrents, so I don’t have one. Although they do sound appealing, I prefer the high-fidelity sound on old vinyls and those few new albums that are properly produced. Plus, I actually like having my music in a tangible format. Digital is nice, but certain aesthetics are always sacrificed. Who doesn’t appreciate unwrapping a new CD or pulling a vinyl record out of its sleeve?

Still, illegal downloading persists, but Google is trying to do something about it. The company realizes that, when people attempt to download songs on torrents, their search engine is the most popular. Thus, Google has just released a feature that permits users one free spin of their desired track. The user is then encouraged to purchase the song through services such as LaLa and MySpace.

“The best way to address that [torrent-searching] situation is to provide a really great and comprehensive and fast, excellent music service,” says R.J. Pittman, a product management director at Google. “We really feel the way is to make it much better for people — and that’s going to have a positive impact on music industry.”

With the new system, Google users will find a large “play” button at the top of the results page when they search for an artist, song or album. They’ll also get one free stream, as well as “buy” links to LaLa, MySpace, Rhapsody, Pandora, iMeem and others.

One advantage for Google is the search giant didn’t have to make deals directly with the labels to get the music — they simply let LaLa and MySpace, who already have such deals, lay the groundwork. Labels, contending with another 20 percent drop in CD sales this year, according to Nielsen Soundscan, have been more aggressive recently to remake themselves in the digital age. “They have been supportive [of the Google deal],” LaLa’s Ralston says. “They understand there’s a new world out there.”

I don’t think this will decrease downloading, but it might put some money back into the artists’ pockets.

Composers and lyricists to form union?


I was shocked by this article. In the film, television, and video game industries, actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, and editors are each represented by their own guild. Somehow, composers and lyricists still aren’t unionized. The Society of Composers & Lyricists is now attempting to partner with the Teamsters in hopes of gaining the same security as their peers.

Composers and lyricists are among the few creatives left without a collective bargaining agreement. Services like orchestration, conducting and music performance are covered by American Federation of Musicians (AFM) agreements, but not the act of writing music or lyrics.

They were represented in the late 1950s and 1960s by the Composers & Lyricists Guild of America, but after a 1971 strike and a 1972 lawsuit against the studios and networks over music-ownership rights, producers refused to negotiate with them. A 1984 attempt to restart the union failed when a Reagan-era National Labor Relations Board declared composers and lyricists “independent contractors.”

The trouble with that ruling, many composers say, is that almost everyone in the biz is an “independent contractor,” agreeing to perform services on a one-off basis for producers — yet writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors and others enjoy protection under WGA, DGA, SAG, IATSE, the Teamsters and other unions.

Imagine if these guys went on strike. The studios would have to hire a bunch of unqualified musicians. It’s a shame composers and lyricists have it this tough. Even the ones who have been in the industry for ages still have trouble securing work.

For more information, check out composersguild.org.

Pavement hysteria continues, will headline Primavera Fest


When I told my friend that Pavement was going to tour next year he said, “I bet you they play Coachella.” While they haven’t been confirmed for the gigantic festival in the California desert, they will definitely be the main attraction at Primavera Sound in Barcelona.

The recently reformed US band will top the bill on the opening day of the festival, which runs from May 27-29 2010.

It is the group’s first confirmed date in mainland Europe as part of their worldwide reunion tour.

As previously reported on Gigwise, Pavement will also play two dates in London on May 11 and 12.

All is according to plan. They haven’t announced any shows taking place after their dates in New York City. I’ll be attending their show on September 24 in Central Park, which I hope is the final date of their reunion tour.

Below is a video of Pavement’s frontman, Stephen Malkus, performing solo at last year’s Primavera Sound.

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