Solomon Burke — the legendary singer, songwriter, and pioneer of soul music — passed away this weekend from natural causes. He was 70. Known for his influence on contemporaries like Sam Cooke and James Brown, his song “Down in the Valley” appeared on Otis Redding’s 1965 album Otis Blue. Probably his best known song, “Cry to Me,” was featured on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.
Although he never reached the same level of success as Cooke and Brown, Burke made an indelible mark as a writer and performer of soul. And even late in life, Burke experimented with his sound and recorded an entire album of country music, titled Nashville. He stopped by Studio 360 in 2006 and told Kurt Andersen “it’s time to do different things and time to get out of the mustard and ketchup (catch up).”
The next time you hit the club, you may find yourself rocking out to a song sung by a nine-year old.
I’m amazed at the buzz swirling around Willow Smith‘s first single “Whip My Hair.” The song is sassy, confident, and already receiving comparisons to Rihanna. Of course, it’s no secret that Willow comes from an entertainment dynasty: she is the daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith and at the tender age of nine, she’s inked a record deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.
One thing that impresses me about Willow’s song is how mature she sounds. Her vocals are already a pretty convincing alto. And her chosen wardrobe is much more avant-garde than her famous parents or brother. When you take a break from bobbing your head and finally listen to the lyrics, you’ll realize they’re actually pretty age-appropriate. This young star-in-the-making has already created a successful pop product, with a style that’s all her own.
But will she be a one hit wonder? She has many years ahead of her for that to be determined.
It’s been an awesome year for Owen Pallett. His record Heartland has just been named one of the best of 2010 — and it’s only July.
Dusted Magazine, a discerning online music publication, just put out their Mid-Year Roundup. It’s their take on the top 10 albums of the year so far, and Heartland is among them. Pallett finds himself in excellent company: the list also includes new albums by post-punk architects The Fall and the late avant-guitarist Jack Rose.
The record has also been named a finalist for Canada’s annual Polaris Music Prize, ranking Pallett with indie rock heavyweights Broken Social Scene and Tegan & Sara, among others. Again, not too shabby. We’re rooting for Heartland to win over Pallett’s homeland when the awards are announced this September.
It’s hard to imagine a band getting more exposure than by playing at the opening ceremony of the World Cup. With the eyes of the world on South Africa last Thursday, the nation’s own BLK JKS delivered what was arguably the best performance of the night.
At the heart of their music is a tenacious fidelity to afrobeat, a mélange of traditional African styles with progressive Western ones like funk and jazz. However, the BLK JKS have upped the ante, casting the elements of afrobeat in the unlikely mold of alternative rock, while referencing such disparate genres as dub, prog, and psychedelia. Incredibly, the combinations, transitions, and contrasts never sound forced with these guys – that’s because all four BLK JKS are also really smart composers. Their new album Zol! showcases this talent, particularly on “Paradise,” in which the band moves from dystopian guitar riffs to sun-soaked Afro-Cuban interludes in the blink of an eye.
BLK JKS wrote the title track from Zol! as an unofficial World Cup anthem. It’s a joyous song, and easily the most “traditional” track on the album. So it was surprising when they chose to play the more aggressive, politically-charged “Mzabalazo” at the opening ceremony instead. But I’m not complaining: it’s my favorite song on the new album. It’s also a more fitting one to share with the world, as it shows just how BLK JKS mix the heaviness of Western rock with the musical vocabulary of Africa.
In 1969, experimental composer Alvin Lucier designed a simple project with a not-so-simple intention. He sat in a room and made a short recording of his voice, which he then played back into the same room and re-recorded. Lucier then re-recorded the re-recording, and repeated this process over and over again, making copies of copies until his voice became completely unintelligible. However, he found that the shape and size of the physical space emphasized certain frequencies over the course of the process – so what you’re hearing by the end of the actual “piece” is the room’s natural harmonic tendencies. In effect, Alvin Lucier turned his room into an instrument.
The work was appropriately titled, I Am Sitting in a Room. Last year, YouTube user canzona took inspiration from Lucier to begin his own project, I Am Sitting in a Video Room, which came to conclusion just last month. canzona did the same thing as Lucier, only with a YouTube clip; he uploaded a video of himself, ripped it from YouTube, re-uploaded it, and repeated the process 1,000 times.
It’s worth noting that in the updated version, the project shows how the internet and all digitized information produce unexpected phenomena the same way physical environments do. At work in canzona’s project are the “artifacts inherent in the video codec of both YouTube and the mp4 format.” Just as Lucier “played” a room, canzona “played” YouTube.
Each iteration of canzona’s video is available on YouTube. A redux version of I Am Sitting in a Video Room is forthcoming, which should allow users to experience the gradual disintegration continuously from start to finish. The effect may not necessarily be pleasant – but it makes you wonder if doing the same thing to another, more sonically- or visually-rich clip could result in something more beautiful than the original. With an estimated 120,000,000+ on YouTube, the possibilities for this kind of experimentation are endless.
Troy Andrews earned his nickname at a jazz funeral. Only four years old at the time, Andrews was parading with a trombone almost twice his size – his older brother spotted him and shouted “Trombone Shorty!”
A couple feet taller and twenty years older, Shorty still hasn’t outgrown that exclamation, or its roots. A bona fide New Orleanian, he’s a consummate trombonist and trumpeter who’s been playing instruments since he could walk. Now, thanks to a boundless enthusiasm and an awe-inspiring talent, his new album Backatown has been sitting comfortably near the top of the Billboard Jazz chart for six straight weeks.
See how I called him awe-inspiring? It’s a loaded label, I know. But anyone who can do this…
Yeah. Pretty nasty. It’s a technique called circular breathing, which is more often reserved for instruments like the didgeridoo. Circular breathing allows a wind player to sustain a continuous tone or tones for an ungodly amount of time – it’s extremely difficult to master and utterly hypnotic to watch. Shorty’s got it down cold.
In addition to the new album, Shorty’s also making waves with a new collaboration. In light of the massive oil spill in the gulf, Shorty recently teamed up with Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def, and the immutable Preservation Hall Jazz Band to record a benefit song for the catastrophe. Check out “It Ain’t My Fault” to hear this bittersweet take on a classic New Orleans sound.
You can also catch Trombone Shorty on HBO’s new series Treme, where he and a slew of other local musicians constantly pop up around his old hometown. Producer David Simon and cast member Kermit Ruffins talked with Studio 360 earlier this year about the importance of having New Orleans natives on the show.
It’s extraordinary geekery with one potential setback: the mesmerizing visuals may just eclipse the music. As one commenter on YouTube posted today: AMAZING! but did anyone actually pay attention to the song?
Last week, singer-songwriter Zee Avi brought her ukulele by the studio. From what we’ve been hearing from listeners, she has a bunch of new fans since the broadcast – including me.
Hearing her play the uke took me back. I can picture the one we had lying around our house and I remember how my school-age fingers found those fat strings much friendlier than the sharp metal ones on the guitar. It’s cool to hear Zee Avi making grown-up music on that instrument.
I recently discovered some other musicians who make cool, grown-up music on a “kid” instrument too. Their choice: the recorder. Remember the recorder? That whistling torture device employed by children nationwide.
I never really got anywhere with mine. But I was thrilled to find Tim Eriksen playing “Carol of the Birds.” Like Zee Avi, he does something special with the instrument + YouTube. In his case, it’s playing all four parts of the piece of music and using a split screen to form his one-man quartet. Neato!
I know I’m well past the age of someone who should be doing this, but every once in a while I like to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Last weekend while watching “Jane and the Dragon” (great show, by the way), I saw a commercial for a new cereal called Raisin Brahms.
As in the 19th century German composer Johannes Brahms.
Ok, so it’s not a real cereal. It’s actually a public service announcement created by an organization called Americans for the Arts. As part of their “The Arts. Ask for More.” campaign, they partnered up with the NAMM Foundation and the Ad Council to produce commercials that encourage parents to get their kids interested in the arts. Because Brahms really is part of a complete breakfast. Take that Frosted Flakes.
We were quite taken with Jill Sobule when she came into the studio for a performance chat with Kurt earlier this summer:
Jill Sobule: Please don't steal from her. It's for your own good.
Jill’s new record, California Years, has been getting great reviews – and she’s been hailed as a pioneer of truly independent music by getting her fans to finance the record. Still, the question she gets asked most frequently doesn’t have anything to do with the future of the music industry: everyone wants to know what she thinks of pop superstar Katy Perry. Perry cribbed the title of Jill’s 1995 single “I Kissed a Girl” and turned it into a gigantic hit. Jill’s been mum so far, until this interview that went up a few days ago on the Rumpus, where she says that she has tried very hard to be polite:
It did bug me a little bit, however, when she said she came up with the idea for the title in a dream. In truth, she wrote it with a team of professional writers and was signed by the very same guy that signed me in 1995. I have not mentioned that in interviews as I don’t want to sound bitter or petty… cause, that’s not me. Okay, maybe, if I really think about it, there were a few jealous and pissed off moments. So here goes, for the first time in an interview: F— you Katy Perry, you f—ing stupid, maybe “not good for the gays,” title thieving, haven’t heard much else, so not quite sure if you’re talented, f—ing little s–t.
Yikes! Our advice: don’t cross Jill Sobule. She might just independently finance your butt-kicking.