Category Archives: music

The end of mainstream blues?

The White Stripes broke up yesterday.

You’re forgiven if that doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, considering that Jack White’s name hasn’t been used in conjunction with ex-wife Meg in at least a couple of years.  Between producing records and playing in about 37 other bands, collaborating with Alicia Keys and appearing in guitar documentaries (watch It Might Get Loud, it’s superb), Jack White has been everything but The White Stripes.  And for the most part, that was ok.  The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather are both fantastic blues-infused bands, but with the exception of “Level” by the Raconteurs, these bands haven’t exactly reached the heights that The White Stripes conquered in the early 2000s.  White Blood Cells and Elephant were mammoth albums that brought garage rock and blues to the masses.  Not since the early days of the Stones has blues music been at the forefront of rock.

It’s comforting to think about the recent commercial successes of The Black Keys, possibly The White Family’s closest musical brethren.  Can they carry the blues flag?  One could argue that without The White Stripes, we wouldn’t be hearing Black Keys songs on the radio or television commercials.  They were, and still are, pioneers and architects of the dirty, low-fi garage blues duos that play direct homage to classic Chicago blues, and they will be missed.

For sure, their departure leaves a huge, regrettable hole in the blues’ modern identity that will be tough to fill.

For posterity, here they are covering Son House’s “Death Letter.”  It’s my favorite modern re-interpretation of a blues song.


I told you this would happen…

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

“Don’t Carry It All”…performed live on NPR by The Decemberists.

Question:  what exactly is that huge, long-scaled mandolin lookin’ thing in the back there?  I thought it was an octave mandolin but I think the neck is too long for it to be one of those.  My other guess is a bouzouki.  Thoughts?

Also, Colin Meloy makes funny faces that rival John Mayer’s.


Tremble, Little Lion Man

Gotta love the English-folky-Dave Matthews-soundin’ mash of goodness that is “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons.

I feel like I’ve been rediscovering my love of folk music in the past few weeks.  You know it’s serious when I find myself browsing the “Folk Instruments” section of musiciansfriend and staring longingly at banjos, mandolins and lap steels instead of Les Pauls and Telecasters.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself writing some stupid blog post about a new banjo at some point in the future…

And now, I must go listen to Pete Seeger songs and try to remember where my box of harmonicas is.

P.S. – I’ve watched a few live performances of that song (and listened to the album a bunch of times) and I’m really impressed that that guy’s voice sounds so good and uniform each time.  That’s talent, man.


Album Review: The Decemberists – The King is Dead

And now, with feeling…

With the exception of 2004’s Around the Sun, I’ve always been a fan of the classic REM sound.  So it was refreshing to hear the clear REM influences in The Decemberists new album The King is Dead. And that vibe comes straight from the source, in the form of Peter Buck’s unmistakably sublime rhythm work.

The lead single, “Down By the Water,” not only features Peter Buck’s magic hand, but also the vocal stylings of singer Gillian Welch.  The two merge beautifully with the lush Decemberist soundscapes.  Songs like “June Hymn” and “January Hymn” are tender and soft ballads that complement the more upbeat and textured tracks perfectly.

My personal favorite track again features Buck:  “Don’t Carry It All.”  With a Heartbreakers vibe, singer Colin Meloy’s opening line of “Here we come to a turning of the season” turns the page on the disappointment that was The Hazards of Love, their uneven previous offering.  They certainly provided a great listening experience; each song is layered, rich and interesting to hear.  Aside from the obvious rock undertones, it’s easy to catch the country and bluegrass highlights and a healthy dose of good, old fashioned folk.

2011 is barely a month old, but The King is Dead is easily one of the most consistent and smooth albums of the past year.

I don’t do stars, people, just go buy the album.

Don’t be surprised if I spend a solid majority of the next day or two looking at live videos on YouTube.  Also, don’t be surprised if, two days from now, you find a Decemberists video posted here because it’s stuck in my head like a musical splinter.  That happens, you know.

OTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS:

It’s been about a year or two since I wrote about a specific album.  It was fun.

Happy Weekend, all.  Try not to get too snowy.


The Devil Won’t Let Me Be – Musical Musings?

I have nothing to say at the moment, so here’s more music…

The Black Keys:  Sinister Kid

The sign of a good band is when they play their songs live and it’s 1000% better than anything they’ve released on CD, or mp3, or whatever media is in vogue at the time.  Nothing sucks more than when you go to see a band whose album you’ve been enjoying only to find they lack the chops to play to a crowd.

I’ve always been a fan of The Black Keys, but it wasn’t until Sarah took me to see them at the Electric Factory two years ago that I really fell in love with them.  They put on such a great show with tremendous energy that I almost prefer to root out live videos on YouTube instead of listening to their albums.  I recently bought their iTunes session live album, and it is just amazing.  I’ve barely played any of their back catalog since I got it, as they just have a swagger that’s impossible to replicate in a studio.  This is one of the bigger reasons for my U2 fanaticism, but I won’t go there or else I’ll bore you for hours.

Hey, how about that, I had something to say after all…


Brown Sugar

And now for another addition of “Songs Stuck in My Head:”

The Rolling Stones:  Brown Sugar

Great guitar riff.


Watch The World Die

“We can live beside the ocean, leave the fire behind, swim out past the breakers, watch the world die.”


Shameless – Ani DiFranco

This has been stuck in my head all day.


I have a Mandolin…and Natalie Portman’s pretty cute.

I like to consider the week after Christmas “Spend Your Gift Cards Week.”  So far, I’ve bought a few Blu-Rays (District 9, Family Guy), some clothes (pants for work, nothing exciting, calm down), a mocha at Starbucks, a TV stand/cabinet/whatever.  Oh, and a mandolin.  I almost bought a ukulele but I’m glad I didn’t.  Maybe I will during next year’s “Spend Your Gift Cards Week.”

So, first, about the mandolin.  It’s a pretty Epiphone MM-30s.  It wasn’t terribly expensive, but as a result it was poorly set up and seems like it had been sitting in the corner at Guitar Center for a while.  In that regard, I’m happy it was liberated.  On the other hand, I’ve put an hour or so of work into it and it’s still not quite up to par.  I think it needs a neck adjustment and maybe the nut needs to be filed.  I plan on doing that as soon as I’m done blabbering about it here.  I liked this mandolin because not only was it the only one in the store, but it has a solid top and a cool sunburst finish.  I also love that it says “The Epiphone” on the headstock…makes me feel like it’s a vintage instrument even though it’s not.  I tried to date it, but I can’t find info on the serial; I suspect it’s about 3-5 years old.

And now for Natalie Portman, although to get there we have to go through a few things.  When I walked out of the store with my new toy, I figured the first song I would learn would be REM’s “Losing My Religion,” because that seemed obvious.  Then I remembered Paul McCartney’s “Dance Tonight.”  I enjoy that song; it’s a lot of fun and it seemed like it would be easier to learn.  It was.  So then I traipsed over to YouTube to watch a video of McCartney playing it so I could learn the song, and I stumbled upon the video, which you can see here:

And hey!  That’s Natalie Portman!  With Paul McCartney!  And a mandolin!  YAY!

And we’ve come full circle.


My Favorite Album of 2010: “Brothers”

I’ve been a fan of the Black Keys for a few years now (I first heard them in 2003 when Thickfreakness came out.  They were featured in some guitar magazine so I went out and bought the CD).  It seems recently they’ve enjoyed quite a bit of radio and commercial success on the heels of Brothers, their 2010 album.  I’m happy for them and all that, but I can’t help but feel a little bit of that hipster “OMG I KNEW THEM BEFORE THEY SOLD OUT!!” rage.

For the record, I don’t consider them to be sell-outs.

I like Brothers as the best album of ought-10 for two reasons:  1) it’s the best and 2) I appreciate that they went off in a slightly new direction with the album.  It’s never easy to change your vibe, but they successfully infused a healthy dose of funk and soul into their already-developed dirty Akron Blues.  The result is a unique hybrid that’s both brand-spankin’-new and old-school Black Keys.  Also, kudos to them for expanding the tonal palette and branching out instrumentally; the use of keyboards and bass make for some funky rhythms and deep texturing.

For the new, uninitiated Keys fans, I strongly suggest getting your ears on the “old” stuff…especially Rubber Factory, it’s a personal favorite.

And for some fun, here’s “Next Girl,” the best track off the album.  The video is hilarious and ridiculous, so naturally it fits well with the spirit of this blog.  You’ll have to click on it and go right to YouTube because I can’t embed it properly, DRM and all that crap.

If you want to hear how it really should be played, you’ve got to hear it live: