Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

The weekend mix: Here’s to new parents

I’m an uncle. Very exciting stuff. Little Rainey was born into the family yesterday. My own daughter is 9 now. I hazily remember the first few weeks after she was born. We didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours at a stretch for 6 weeks. You don’t know problems from normal baby stuff. Having a baby can be hard adjustment for the body, the bank balance, and the bedroom. It’s a tough job.

Good luck with that.

Of course, there is no greater source of wonder, joy, and fear than your own baby. You can have an academic understanding of how having a baby will change your life, but until you actually do it… It’s the difference between reading the ingredients list and actually eating ice cream.

A lot of artists have been moved by their own experiences as children, lovers, and parents. Here are some I got to thinking of when I heard the news.

  1. Joy – Phish
    Phish has written a lot of songs about nothing in particular (“Stun the puppy, burn the whale. Bark a scruff and go to jail.”) and about fictional situations. This is a heartfelt song Trey wrote to his daughter. “We want you to be happy, ‘cos this is your song too.”
  2. Mama’s Always on Stage – Arrested Development
    These guys were talented and had a positive message. I wish they could have kept it together. This track has it all: a fast, danceable groove, rocking harmonica, exuberant backing vocals, and praise for mothers from Speech. It’s a must-have for your collection.
  3. All U Can Eat – Ben Folds
    In this song, a father advises his son not to be an ugly American.
  4. Isn’t She Lovely? – Stevie Wonder
    From one of my top 5 desert island discs, “Songs in the Key of Life.”  This is one of Stevie’s most celebratory songs. Every second of the 4-minute harmonica solo is worth close attention.
  5. Three Is a Magic Number – Blind Melon
    15 years later, I’m still sad about the untimely death of Shannon Hoon. Shortly after the birth of his daughter, Nico, and shortly before he died, Blind Melon covered this Schoolhouse Rock classic.
  6. You’re My Girl – Neil Young
    Neil Young visited Motown on his album, “Are You Passionate,” and wrote this great song about taking his daughter out into the woods to show her some things.
  7. Wild World – Cat Stevens
    Old school. Before he changed his name to Yusuf Islam and called for the murder of Salman Rushdie for insulting Islam and Allah (may he be praised eternally), Cat Stevens was a loving father and great songwriter.
  8. Daughters – John Mayer Trio
    “Try!” was fantastic live album, which I just realized I should write up this week. Some of the pop Mayer writes loses me, but he’s a tremendous talent and rocked that album. This is a live performance at the GRAMMYs.  “Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers be good to your daughters too.”
  9. Beautiful Boy – John Lennon
    This wonderful, soothing John wrote for Sean is part lullaby, part fatherly advice and also contains a favorite lyric of mine, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
  10. Mother Mother – Tracy Bonham
    Ms. Bonham writes a letter to her mother about going out into the world. The gutsy and honest vocal performance makes this track rock.
  11. A Father’s Son – Citizen Cope
    Greenwood laments a man’s life gone wrong because he didn’t grow up like his father.
  12. When You Dream – Barenaked Ladies
    This is a surprisingly sober and beautiful song from these goofballs. He wonders what a child with so little experience could dream about.
  13. Robots for Ronnie – Crack the Sky
    This 70’s rock band that almost made it big reminds me of Phish in their goofy lyrics and brilliant, often jazz-influenced music. This ballad is about parents buying a robotic friend for their fat loser of a son.
  14. To Zion – Lauryn Hill
    People advised her to think of her career, but she decided to have the baby. She says, “Now the joy of my world is in Zion,” referring to her son, Zion David-Nesta Marley (grandson of Bob Marley).
  15. New Mistake – Jellyfish
    They wound up sounding an awful lot like Queen on their second album, but since I like Queen, that’s not a problem for me. This is a cool power pop examination falling in love and having a baby.
  16. Alligator Pie – Dave Matthews Band
    Dave Matthews is still putting out great music. His daughter, Stella, asked, “Daddy, when you gonna put me in a song?” 2009, apparently.
  17. Kooks – David Bowie
    My all-time favorite song written by a father for his child. Bowie invites his child to “…stay in our lovers’ story.” Listen and read along.
  18. Sons & Daughters – Decembrists
    I like the hopeful tone of this song. He promises a better world for our children, which is what we all hope for.

I may return to this topic, because I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of songs inspired by artists’ children. Enjoy this song with a coke because, you know, we have to stay straight for the kids.


March 6, 2011 Posted by | Alternative, Classic Rock, Hip Hop, Jam Bands, Mix CD, Popular, Rock | 2 Comments

Ass-kicking rap rock from Blakroc

I was writing up The Black Keys’ latest studio release, “Brothers,” when I discovered a project that got by me when it was released in November of 2009. The project is called “Blakroc” and I was so excited when I read about it I think I peed a little. Get this. Hip-hop record exec Damon Dash is a huge fan of contemporary blues rock geniuses The Black Keys, a band comprised of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. His idea was to put together a rap rock album featuring The Black Keys and the talents and flow of Q-Tip (Tribe Called Quest), Mos Def, Raekwon (Wu-Tang Clan), RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), Billy Danze (M.O.P.), Jim Jones (The Diplomats), Pharoe Monch, Nicole Wray, and Noe (ByrdGang). Yeah. Read that list again.

A great idea well executed.

“Blakroc” is as good you hope it is. Wonderful melodies with fresh and organic instrumentation provided by The Keys make a fantastic backdrop for some varied, clever, and spirited raps by one of the best all-star casts I’ve ever heard on a rap album. Most of the songs are hard rockers with some blues roots – like most Black Keys albums – though a couple of the tracks are a bit softer. I ripped 6 of the 10 tracks on my copy of “Blakroc,” though I’m going back and forth on another that will probably make my iPod. Check out the ones I thought were the best.

  • On the Vista – After he released “The Ecstatic,” Mos Def jumped into my top 5 favorite rappers. This is a great track to open the album. Mos Def’s flow is magic and instrumentation flows around his message like slow water.
  • Hard Times – It’s so refreshing to hear a great rapping rhythm laid down by live instruments instead of some sterile and repetitive sample. You can hear the genius of this on this track, the guitar line repeats over and over, but it is subtly different every time Auerbach plays it. It just adds a lot of depth to the track.
  • Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo) – For the first few moments of this song it sounds like a straight up Black Keys song but then you realize it’s Mos Def singing and not Dan Auerbach. And then the flow kicks in, but it never loses the soulful Keys feel.
  • Hope You’re Happy – Q-Tip and Billy Danze lay it down with some beautiful help from Nikki Wray over top of a blues/rock groove from Auerbach.
  • What You Do To Me – The backdrop is vamping guitar and noodling Hammond organ. Dan Auerbach actually provides the lead vocals at the chorus on this track, which makes sense, since he has such a soulful and distinctive voice. The raps are cool and energetic. Great track.
  • Done Did It – This track closes the album, and it’s a rocker. Heavy bass guitar, ripping electric, and Carney pounding the skins back some hard but fun flow.

I read about and tracked down an extra track that is not on my disc (what the…?). It’s called “Coochie,” and it features Ludacris and a recording of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Not my favorite track from the project, but certainly an interesting concept.

Kudos to Damon Dash for not only having this great idea, but for making it happen. The joy in the music is obvious and the photos I’ve seen and an outtake at the end of the album show that the musicians had a great time doing it. Everybody run out and buy it and maybe they’ll have to do another.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | Blues, Hip Hop, Rock | 4 Comments

The Friday mix: Halloween songs

My daughter is a ninja this year. I’m glad we’re past the whole princess or fairy or fairy princess thing. Ninjas are way cooler and she knows it. Halloween has been my favorite holiday since it overtook Christmas when I was about 8 years old. I love the weather, the candy, the fantasy, the fear. All of October is great leading up to it. As I did last year, I put together a Halloween mix for you. Enjoy.

Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns.

  1. Monster Hospital – Metric
    I wanted to kick this mix off with a scary as hell video. Enjoy. Metric’s lead singer, Emily Haines, is a member of Broken Social Scene, but this song sounds more like an old Breeders tune. It might be a protest song. “I fought the war but the war won.”
  2. Looking at the Invisible Man – The Dead Weather
    Jack White and Alison Mosshart at their funky freakiest. A dirty bass line and weird lyrics make this sound bad ass. I wasn’t crazy about this follow-up album, but I really like this song.
  3. Miracle in the Bazaar / Lockjaw – Todd Rundgren
    This is from the album “A Capela,” a project by Rundgren in which every sound on the album is some straight or electronically manipulated product of Rundgren’s voice. I really wanted to just put on ‘Lockjaw’ – a fable about an ogre who nails lying children’s jaws open with a rusty nail, using his head for a hammer. It begins at the 4:14 mark of this link. Still, ‘Miracle at the Bazaar’ is kind of creepy, so it fits.
  4. Deadweight – Beck
    This was released on the ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ soundtrack back in 1997, so you may have never heard this gem. It’s a winner, if you edit off the minute of chaotic noise at the end.
  5. Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
    Who writes better spooky party music than Danny Elfman, the man who wrote the music for Nightmare Before Christmas and who voiced Jack Skellington when he sang? Yeah, that would be no one.
  6. Evil Guh – Jookabox
    This was a really cool project, and this song’s dark topic, plodding pace, and disturbing delivery make it perfect for the holiday.
  7. Phantom Don’t Go – Jookabox
    Twofer, because it really is cool and both work nicely in a Halloween mix.
  8. Johnny Is Dead – Q Tip
    Bummer for Johnny; good news for us. A simple keyboard backbone for Q Tip, but it’s all he ever needs.
  9. Dead Man Walking – David Bowie
    Brrraaaaaiiiinnnnssss! This is some of Bowie’s later, less organic rock. I still really like it.
  10. Heaven’s Dead – Audioslave
    Cornell has my favorite voice in rock n’ roll. And he can write a great melody. Great song.
  11. Scarecrow People – XTC
    They wrote some oddball songs and this is one of them, but God help me I love these guys.
  12. Bloody Cape – Deftones
    What would a Halloween mix be without some crunching metal? The Deftones lay some violence on us.
  13. In My Blood – Starsailor
    OK, so the tone of this song is hopeful, not spooky. The title makes it belong, plus the song is cool, heavy pop. It reminds me a lot of Black Crowes, actually, which is odd since the band is British.
  14. Wolf Like Me – TV on the Radio
    The more I hear TV on the Radio, the more I like them. I saw them at Bonnaroo and they were impressive. This is a great track.

Enjoy this mix with a black martini. Have a good weekend and a great holiday.

October 29, 2010 Posted by | Alternative, Classic Rock, Hip Hop, Mix CD, Popular, Rock | Leave a comment

The Friday mix: Work, work work

Thirty-five million Americans and I are all looking for a job. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for a couple years, but I’m trying to get back into the market. As you might know, it can be a disheartening and frustrating process. I can tell you that the only thing worse than having a job is looking for one. On the plus side, I have lots of time to write a music blog. This week’s theme occurred to me as I was submitting resumes to open jobs and working my Linked In contacts. These songs all deal with work. Do you know anyone looking to hire a good technical writer?

Perhaps. But all play and no work makes Jack a poor boy.

  • Working for Vacation – Cibo Matto
    Ah, the quirky and brilliant Cibo Matto, whose lineup included Miho Hatori, Yuka Honda, and Sean Lennon. They did some strange and wonderful work, and this is a prime example.
  • Love on a Farm Boy’s Wages – XTC
    My love of XTC is well-documented. Who else writes songs about the difficulties a farm boy faces paying for a wife?
  • I’ve Been Working – Van Morrison
    I wrote this song up a few weeks ago but I chose it again today because I haven’t been working. This is from “His Band and Street Choir” and it is a vintage gem.
  • Walk to Work – Viriginia Coalition
    VACO plays accessible, good-time pop. This one is funky and fun.
  • Barnaby, Hardly Working – Yo La Tengo
    This is a sweet and quiet song like they released on “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.” I actually prefer the outtake version from “Prisoners of Love” that is more of a long, noisy exploration.
  • Finest Worksong – R.E.M.
    “Document” was the first R.E.M. album I owned and it has a special place in my heart. This song kicks off the album and the first few blaring seconds always take me back to high school.
  • I Go To Work – Us3
    “Hand on the Torch” came out in 1993 and remains a favorite of mine to this day. They took a bunch of samples from the Blue Note Records archives, remixed them, and rapped over them. Fantastic.
  • At Home, At Work, At Play – Sparks
    Sparks is a fearless and influential band my uncle turned me on to back in the early 80s. Here is a live performance that couldn’t have been recorded very long ago. As an added bonus, you get the incredibly weird 23-second ‘Propaganda’ before ‘At Home At Work At Play’ starts. They still sound great.
  • Workman’s Comp – Mos Def
    From the insanely brilliant “The Ecstatic,” (read my review of this album on AltSounds) this one discusses the perils of shagging your boss.
  • Dream Job – The Dears
    I am reminded of some of the slow, pretty work by Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) or, more recently, Cat Power, except that it’s a guy singing.
  • I Would Be Your Slave – David Bowie
    Breathy synthesized percussion, gentle strings, and Bowie’s quiet wail make this song quietly compelling. The chord progression takes some surprising turns.
  • Earn Enough for Us – XTC
    XTC again, and I didn’t even use ‘Senses Working Overtime.’  Here is Partridge again, singing about making enough money working to pay for his girl.
  • Five O’Clock World – The Proclaimers
    The original song by The Vogues is great, but I really like the energetic version The Proclaimers dropped in 2004. This link will take you to the samples from this album, but you’ll have to click on track 8 yourself.

Enjoy this mix with a hard-earned cold beer at the end of the day. Have a great weekend.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | Classic Rock, Electronica, Hip Hop, Mix CD, Popular, Rock | 2 Comments

Funky and deep hip-hop from Brother Ali

Brother Ali hates it when writers mention he’s an albino in the first two sentences of album reviews. Sorry, bro. It’s interesting. I was particularly interested because I listened to the entire album and thought he was black. It wasn’t until I was researching the album for this post that I learned he’s a white dude from Wisconsin named Jason Newman. So, he’s already really white, because he’s from Wisconsin, and he’s especially really white because he’s an albino. OK. I’m sorry. I had to get that out of my system.


Jason Newman converted to Islam and changed his name to Ali.


The fact is, Brother Ali is a smooth MC and his 2009 release, “Us,” has a great sound reminiscent of some of the guys out of Chicago like Common and Lupe Fiasco. The beats on “Us” are usually pretty simple, but the songs are decorated with horns, backing vocals, and some assorted other instruments. The album was produced by Ant of the hip-hop act, Atmosphere, who I also just discovered a few weeks ago, and he does a nice job with the songs. I mentioned Chicago, but it’s a slightly stripped down version of that sound — not quite so busy. Some of Ali’s song concepts are cool, some are heavy, but almost all of them are interesting.

These are by no means all the good songs on “Us,” but they are my 4 favorites.

  • Crown Jewel – The basis of this song is a great horns hook, but Ali’s vocal groove is smooth and the handclap percussion draws you right in. If you listen to one track from this album, go put this one in your ears.
  • Tight Rope – Ali’s flow is unbelievable. Check the second verse about being the childr of divorced parents.
  • Breakin’ Dawn – Again, they use a relatively simple beat, but they flash some sitar and cool backing vocals. Ali tells the story of a talented young preacher coming up.
  • Slippin’ Away – This is a sad, sad story about a good friend who was shot and killed at 23. I love the electric piano and heavy electronic bass line.

I had never heard of Brother Ali before, which I guess means I’m just behind the times because “Us” debuted at #56 on the Billboard 200. So clearly a lot of people listen to his stuff. I have ordered a couple of his other albums so I’ll let you know what I find.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Hip Hop | 1 Comment

Smooth and bright hip-hop from Jurassic 5

Jurassic 5 came out of Los Angeles, CA in 1993 and brought me two musicians who are scattered throughout my iPod, rapper Chali 2na and DJ Cut Chemist. Chali 2na has brought his baritone flow to Ozomatli and has popped up all over the place in one-offs with Talib Kweli, Damian Marley, Linkin Park, Galactic, and others. Cut Chemist also worked with Ozomatli and has collaborated with, produced for, and remixed a host of artists. The full complement of guys in Jurassic 5 only lasted 3 albums. Cut Chemist left the band before their 4th release, “Feedback,” but the group still had so much talent and so many ideas that this release is a winner.

They were already starting to fly apart by this time, but the creative juices were still flowing.

I will probably write up another Jurassic 5 album some other day, but for now, listen to these 4 tracks and consider picking up the disc. These guys are talented and cool and knew how to assemble an album by this time in their careers.

  • Back 4 U – An uplifting piano chord progression keeps things fresh while the guys take turns trading verses. They mix in some recordings of a Jurassic 5 live show and the effect is energetic and engaging.
  • Gotta Understand – An R&B vocal sample and halting but funky percussion back a bit of flow from the boys in the verses and a sung chorus.
  • Work It Out (feat. Dave Matthews) – I’m a big Dave Matthews fan so this could hardly miss me. It is a great track, too, with the usual flow backed by keyboards, clean guitar, and Matthews’ smoky voice.
  • Get It Together – Again, this is just piano, beats, and flow. The guys tell a couple cool stories about walking in someone else’s neighborhood and getting called out, and about getting advice from one’s father.

The band broke up in 2007. Like many break-ups, this one wasn’t unanimous. One of the founding members, Zaakir is quoted as saying, “I don’t want to sit here and fake around with it – we’re not seeing eye-to-eye right now. I’d like to keep it going, but you can’t force grown men to do what they don’t want to do.” Of course, he also got very mad when Linkin Park invited Chali 2na to work with them but didn’t invite him. Well, I like all of their work, so hopefully we’ll get some quality work out of all of them in the future.


September 15, 2010 Posted by | Hip Hop | Leave a comment

The Friday mix: My very favorite hip hop

I made a mix of my favorite hip-hop for a special new friend and when it was done I realized I hadn’t recommended more than half of the songs on it to you. My hip-hop mix has some 300 songs on it and these represent just about the best I have ever found. I hope you enjoy them.

Honestly, it can't be THAT good.

  1. Pacifics – Digable Planets
    Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” was the big hit off this album, but this is my favorite song off the Planets’ first release. It has their signature smooth bass line, tight production, and friendly flow.
  2. Vivrant Thing – Q-Tip
    Ex-Tribe Called Quest-er Q-Tip dropped this great love song on his 1999 release, “Amplified.” It’s a pretty simple song, but the guitar riff is so damn catchy I never get tired of hearing it.
  3. The World Is Yours – Nas
    From his classic release, “Illmatic,” this track has gorgeous lounge piano in the background and strong but simple percussion pushing his rhymes along.
  4. U – Arrested Development
    The first minute of this song is just one of the women in the band chanting “marriage” over and over, but this song truly begins at the 1 minute mark. There is some piano and busy percussion, but this song is all about Speech’s flow and the message of love he brings.
  5. Space Ho’s – Danger Doom
    This entire album was inspired by Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming. This one is about Space Ghost Coast to Coast. The topic is funny and the guest performances by the cast of SGCtC are funny, but neither are as hilarious as Doom’s rap.
  6. Cut Chemist Suite – Ozomatli
    Over the years, Ozomatli seems to have moved away from their rock/salsa/hip hop fusion roots and become more of a Hispanic rock band, which is cool, but it doesn’t touch the sheer hipness of this track. This is my favorite track off my favorite Ozomatli album.
  7. Blow – Miles Davis (featuring Easy Mo Bee)
    I have met a jazz snob who insists that everything Miles Davis did in the 80s and after was crap. Well, it wasn’t all “Kind of Blue,” but there was some very cool work. This is from his last album on which he fused jazz and hip hop. It rocks.
  8. The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) – Missy Elliott
    If there is anyone in the world cooler than Missy Elliott, please let me know who it is. I could have picked any one of 20 Misdemeanor songs on my iPod, but I do love this one.
  9. Angels Sing – Pras/Wyclef Jean
    Pras got back together with Wyclef for this one. It’s got a reggae sound and heavy lyrics. “Why should I fear a man who got a pistol in his hand. You cry. I cry. Every man want heaven. No man want to die.”
  10. Forever Begins – Common
    I’ll be honest. I used some editing software to fade this song out before his dad starts speaking at the end. The first 5 minutes of this song is absolute genius, though. The drum beat is great, the vocal sample is inspiring, the piano is fantastic. This is probably the best song on this mix, which, on a mix of my favorite hip-hop, might make it my very favorite hip-hop song.
  11. I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By (Puff Daddy Mix) – Mary J. Blige Feat. Method Man
    Another great use of the old Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell tune. I’m not usually a big Method Man fan, but this track is great. Blige singing behind Method’s flow is a good pairing.
  12. 13th Floor/Growing Old – Outkast
    I guess I’m a sucker for soulful piano backing a rap tune. Quiet backing vocals and a little scratching make up the rest of the song. It’s a mellow groove.
  13. Beggin’ – Madcon
    Wow, these guys are cheesy as hell, but they’ve really got it going on in this song. It’s a really danceable track. Give it a chance.
  14. Has It Come To This? – The Streets
    Cockney rapper Mike Skinner is amazing. I highly recommend you check out his concept album “A Grand Don’t Come for Free.” This song is off of “Original Pirate Material,” but it gives you a good feel for how he rolls.

Enjoy this mix with some Cristal. Or, if you’re like me and would never spend that much money on something so frivolous, just pick up a nice prosecco. Have a great weekend!

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Hip Hop, Mix CD | Leave a comment

Smart and funky pop from Luscious Jackson

Last week, I mentioned Luscious Jackson and realized I have never written up their great 1994 release, “Natural Ingredients.” I’m not sure how I overlooked this album for so long. It stayed in my CD player all fall that year and 9 of the disc’s 12 songs are still on my iPod (There are 14 tracks, but 2 of them are under a dozen seconds long).

These are some funky, funky women.

Luscious Jackson (named after NBA star Lucious Jackson) consisted of four women. They were pretty hot but, surprisingly, not assembled by a marketing team to appeal to the broadest slice of the 18 to 35 demographic. The women play instruments and write their own songs. Jill Cunniff and Gabby Glaser, the band’s primary songwriters, paid for the first demo with money they made at their restaurant jobs. Theif first gig was opening up for the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. They signed to the Beasties’ fledgling label but only released a few albums before breaking up in 1999.

Their first LP, “Natural Ingredients,” has elements of hip-hop, disco, and pop, though they are usually lumped into that nearly meaningless category, alternative. The songs are not full of blistering solos or complex instrumental lines. Rather, the individual parts are often pretty simple, but fitted together like an audio jigsaw puzzle. The melodies are simple but appealing and the production is top notch. If you missed this album when it was released, check this out.

  • Citysong – They create a great, funky groove with the keyboard riff, some occasional bongos, saxophone, and harmonica. This is a great way to kick off this disc.
  • Deep Shag – As John Cusack said in High Fidelity about sequencing a mix, you have to start strong and then kick it up a notch. This is my favorite song on this disc. The hook is catchy and the lyrics are honest and deep.
  • Angel – This has an almost retro disco feel, but it’s cooler than anything the Brothers Gibb put out.
  • Strongman – “It takes a strong man to stand by a strong woman. Yes, it does.” Yes, it does. This links to a live performance of this song, but they do a really good job with this live.
  • Energy Sucker – The video that accompanies this song on YouTube appears to be from some dreadful show. The song is what you’re here for, however, so just listen to the grinding guitar riff and funky percussion.
  • Rock Freak – I mentioned above how well produced this disc is. Here is a prime example. The guitar and keyboards are nicely mixed to play with each other during the verses. Some cool fuzz and flange is put on the guitar at the chorus and there is a little vocal sample that gets thrown in for spice.
  • Rollin’ – The verses are minimalist with sparse work by the guitar and keys, but the chorus is big with sweet harmonies.
  • Surprise – The percussion is busy again on this track and the vocals occasionally range into an almost Middle Eastern sound. Overall, it’s just a solid rock tune, though.
  • LP Retreat – This is such a strange tune. It reminds me of some of the weirder stuff Digable Planets has done. Surely someone must have sampled this to rap over it by now. The groove is so damn cool.

I got their other releases with high hopes, if not expectations. This was the best one, though. Lead singer Jill Cunniff released a solo album in 2007 called “City Beach.” I heard it and liked it, but not as much as this great album.


August 23, 2010 Posted by | Alternative, Hip Hop, Popular | 4 Comments

Energetic and heavy hip-hop from The Roots

A friend and reader turned me on to a Roots album I had not yet heard. I have listened to a little Roots, but the only track I had on my iPod at this point was their collaboration with Cody ChestnuTT, ‘The Seed 2.0,’ covering (and improving upon) one of Cody’s old songs, ‘The Seed.’ Well, my friend recommended “Game Theory” from 2006. I liked it so much, I’m recommending it to you today.

Any more suggestions as good as this one are welcome.

The Roots got their start in 1993 with an independently produced album, “Organix.” Their jazzy approach to hip-hop and their use of live instruments got them a record deal with DGC Records. For a while there, hip-hop was almost all samples. Happily, the live instrument has made a bit of a comeback, in part thanks to The Roots.

Over The Roots’ 11-album career, the band has had some heavy hitters in it, including Ben Kenney (now with Incubus) and Scott Storch (who has worked with EVERYbody and now runs Storch Music Company and Tuff Jew Productions). The band’s skills on their instruments and facility with different grooves has led them to collaborate with all kinds of people. “Game Theory” is no exception, and they brought in several musicians to pitch in.

I ripped 7 of 13 tracks from this album to my iPod. Check them out.

  • False Media – This groove is mostly percussion and flow, though there is some synthesizer in the background. Even stripped down, it’s a great track.
  • Don’t Feel Right – I think this is my favorite track on the disc. Maimouna Youssef’s flow is great, the backing vocals are energetic, and the samples are perfect.
  • In The Music – Malik B and Porn paint a bleak picture of the streets of Philly in front of heavy percussion and a vamping guitar hook. The chorus is great. “Let it bang on the block ’til the neighbors call the cops. The cops gone come but they ain’t gone do shit. They don’t want no problems. Whatta y’all, stupid?”
  • Long Time – A lot of this album is bleak, but in spite of the dark urban story at the heart of this track the music is joyful and triumphant.
  • Livin’ In A New World – Clean guitar and flute never stop moving behind John-John as he lays down a short and sweet rap about how technology tracks us every minute of our day.
  • Clock With No Hands – Keys and light horns set up this R&B groove. In fact, you think it’s going to be a love song when it starts, but it’s a heavy examination of life’s problems and how we all face our problems alone.
  • Atonement – They drop it back a bit for this slow, steady track with pretty backing vocals and strings.

I think I must have missed some of the better Roots albums. I wasn’t crazy about “Phrenology,” but this album rocked. I’m going to go back in their catalog and I’ll let you know what I find.


August 2, 2010 Posted by | Hip Hop | Leave a comment

The Friday mix: my latest finds from around the world

It’s been some time now since I put together a mix of world music and I collect it all the time so I have some real gems for you today. In my endless quest for music that sounds fresh or breaks new ground, I can always count on world music. The collision of traditions and cultures is always rich with great new ideas, and even if it is some traditional, indigenous music it is often new to me.

Now, somebody get this guy a drum machine.

  1. Jijy – Big Blue Ball (feat. Arona N’Diaye, Rossy, Jah Wobble)
    This is one of Peter Gabriel’s many interesting projects. Artists from all over the world contributed, including Sinead O’Conor, Karl Wallinger,  Gabriel himself, and many others that I didn’t know (but Gabriel did). It was in production literally 18 years before being launched in the U.S. in 2004. This is a relentless groove that will make you dance like magic shoes.
  2. Mala Suerta con el 13 – Calle 13/Mala Rodríguez
    I speak a smattering of Spanish, but these guys are rapping too fast for me. I believe, though, that these are some explicit lyrics, so you may want to watch out blasting this one. Either way, great track.
  3. Bethe Bethe Kese Kese – Gaudi & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
    A beautiful song, modern production, and the best Qawwali singer ever make this a relaxing and uplifting groove.
  4. Eh Mustapha – Hamsa Lila
    This sample is only 82 seconds of this 7-minute song. After a few minutes of this chillout groove, the percussion picks up and we get a frantic and beautiful flute solo in an entirely different, high-energy vibe.
  5. Ayyu-Ha S-Saqi – Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles
    I’m not sure what Jennifer Charles brings to the table here. There is nothing western about this track at all. It’s a rich and gorgeous interpretation of a traditional Middle Eastern song.
  6. Morro Não Tem Vez (Favela) – Karrin Allyson
    This has a jazzy, French lounge feel, complete with a crazy vibes solo, and Allyson gives it a spirited, airy delivery.
  7. Maria Jose – Kinky
    Sometimes this Mexican techno 5-piece loses me, but not on this one. They keep the rhythm danceable and don’t do anything too weird. Other than this trippy video.
  8. Salla – Makale
    We get some full on Turkish hip-hop from this Turkish/Swiss/Italian act out of Sweden. I absolutely love to hear this western music form completely retrofitted to pull samples from an entirely different tradition.
  9. Jind Mahi – Malkit Singh
    The folks who assembled the Bend It Like Beckham soundtrack found this one for me. Singh’s Bhangra singing is backed with western percussion and accompanied throughout the song by soprano sax. The energy is uplifting and the hook is compelling.
  10. Ya Habibi – Malouma Mint Maideh
    I found this one on a compilation called “Holding Up Half the Sky: Voices of African Women.” It’s a slow and lovely song where Maideh and saxophone take turns. The whole 6-minute song sounds like this and it couldn’t be more soothing.
  11. Guayaquil City – Mano Negra
    This track brings the energy back up a little bit. I love the harmonizing horns and the whole ska-in-Africa feel of the song.
  12. Pikrodafni – Mode Plagal
    Mode Plagal play a funky fusion of traditional Greek music and jazz. I once again offer my thanks to the folks at Rough Guides, this time for turning me onto these guys.
  13. Ana Baashaq el Bahr – Nagat El Saghira
    El Saghira sings a traditional-sounding Egyptian melody, but the violins, keyboard, and what sound simply like guitars update it a little without losing its national identity.
  14. Oriental Wind – Wax Poetic
    They take several minutes setting up this quiet, speedy groove, but eventually we get some really cool klezmer clarinet and trumpet solos. It never becomes full on klezmer, though. It stays cool and jazzy, if a little ominous. The song is only 4:13, but this video’s poster looped it to show more footage of his vacation in Venice.

I hope you enjoy these and that you go out and find a few of these discs. If, by the way, you have a favorite world music album, please please leave me a comment so I can enjoy it too. Thanks in advance. Enjoy this mix with a cosmopolitan. Have a great weekend.

July 23, 2010 Posted by | Chillout, Hip Hop, Jazz, Mix CD, World Music | Leave a comment