Social Distancing Spins – Day 40

By Joel Francis

If you wondered how long Noah and his family were aboard the ark while the hard rain fell continuously, we’ve reached that point. Forty days (and nights). I don’t see any doves in the sky.

Paul Simon – self-titled (1972) Paul Simon’s solo debut (for all intents and purposes) arrived two years after the landmark Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s a very different album from Bridge, but it is also established Simon as an artist who could operate completely independently of Art Garfunkel. If you’ve heard the album think about it for a moment. Where would you put Garfunkel? He certainly doesn’t fit on the big singles, “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Maybe on “Duncan” but not really anywhere else. Meanwhile, Simon’s dabbling in reggae, folk, blues, gospel, even hot jazz on the wonderful instrumental “Hobo’s Blues” with Stephane Grappelli. Simon would quickly eclipse this excellent album with his two subsequent releases, but really the blueprints for everything he would do next, even Graceland, can be found here.

Husker Du – Alternate Land Speed Record (1982) When the producers of the excellent Husker Du box set Savage Young Du were denied use of any material the hardcore punk trio recorded for SST, they did the next best thing and compiled an alternate version of the band’s debut live album Land Speed Record. Nearly the same songs, same order, same venue, different performances. I haven’t compared the two versions but I don’t find anything lacking on the numbers offered here. The 13 songs (there were 17 on the original edition) blast past like you are on the business end of a leaf blower. The second side features the In a Free Land single and a bevy of b-sides. Individually, each song rips and kicks like a chainsaw about to throw a part. Together, they flow like a violent sea of free jazz or an industrial raga. Either way, you won’t need to curl your hair or brush your teeth by the time it’s over.

Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’ (2011) The mastermind behind Tony! Toni! Tone! came up in a big way on his third solo album, the Motown-inspired The Way I See It. Stone Rollin’ was his follow up release and if anything it builds on and improves the sound established before. Opening number “Heart Attack” sounds like a lost Sly and the Family Stone track, while Ray Charles was definitely in the house on “Day Dreams.” Another stand-out track, “Go To Hell,” opens with a big organ and tympani straight out of the ‘70s. And in a delightful twist the song is about someone trying to avoid the eternal fires, not send an enemy there. Hidden near the end, “Good Man” is the best album. Taura Stinson sings a hooky chorus that would work well on a hip hop track a la Mary J. Blige. Instead, Saadiq keeps it old school and paints a story of a blue collar man doing everything and still falling short, especially in love. The lush orchestration and horns add another layer of drama to the story. Stone Rollin’ is a stone classic that fans of the revival sound coming from Daptone and Colemine should definitely check out. Everyone else should hear it as well.

Bunny Wailer – Blackheart Man (1976) The third Wailers-related album to come out in 1976. Although all albums touch on each of these areas, the shorthand is that Bob Marley’s Rastaman Vibration is the political album, Peter Tosh’s Legalize It the playful one. Blackheart Man is definitely the most spiritual of the three releases. The title song opens the album and warns against going near the devil and how Jah will one day defeat the Blackheart Man. The album ends with a lengthy – and excellent – version of the classic gospel song “This Train.” Between these bookends, Wailer addresses reparations on “Dreamland,” draws a vivid portrait of poverty and imprisonment in “Fighting Against Conviction” and offers another warning about the end times on “Amagideon.” Blackheart Man is easily lesser-known of the three releases I’ve discussed over the past three days, but it is every bit the equal of the other two. It is a must-own for all reggae fans.

Review: Girl Talk

(Above: A fan video for one of Girl Talk’s sonic creations.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Just because Gregg Gillis doesn’t play a musical instrument, doesn’t mean he can’t make you dance. For 80 minutes on Friday night, Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, had a packed Crossroads getting down in a downpour.

That set time may not look very long, but it was both exhausting and generous. Girl Talk specializes in creating ultimate mash-ups of literally hundreds of songs from nearly every genre and artists ranging from Boston, ODB, Radiohead, Simon and Garfunkel, Ben Folds and UGK. The shorter list would be the one encompassing all the artists Gills didn’t play. Suffice it to say, if it was a pop or club hit in the last 40 years, it was fair game for inclusion.

Girl Talk’s performance is more than matching beats per minute, however. He is the master of extracting the peak moment of a given song, pairing it with the pinnacle from another disparate track and creating a new climax higher than either cut could achieve alone.

The high-energy set was paced to jump from one high point to another, but a couple moments stand out. During Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” he teased out the verses, delaying the explosive chorus. When it finally hit a shockwave went through the crowd, amping the atmosphere even higher. He repeated the same trick drawing out the intro of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today,” before the glorious guitar riff detonated across the venue.

There’s a reason why most DJs are hidden in a booth at the back of a club: there’s usually not much visually going on. Gillis, though, took a cue from the Flaming Lips, flanked by a cast of dancing fans onstage and two assistants who were constantly streaming rolls of toilet paper and confetti into the crowd. They got an assist from Mother Nature, who provided an impressive lightning show in the sky above as the rain continued to pour throughout the night.

Although there was a video screen and basic light show, the most animated element of the night by far was Gillis himself. Taking the stage in a hoodie, it wasn’t long until he was shirtless and sweating profusely. His legs were never still, hopping back and forth between laptops on nearly every beat. Combine that with bouts of jumping on (and off) the table, arm waving and exuberant shout-outs and Gillis gave himself a heck of a cardio workout. The result was a performance far more entertaining than the typical person-behing-laptop/turntable.

Most of the set centered on recent hits, but Gillis mixed in two old tracks for the finale. The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” was virtually unaltered, save a hip hop beat underneath. The same trick that worked at the skating rink was just as effective on a larger scale with adults. The evening ended with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which crawled at a snail’s pace compared to the rest of the night’s fare. Of course by then the message had already been received.

Keep reading:

Flaming Lips deserve Super Bowl halftime show

Chris Cornell – “Scream”

Review: Lupe Fiasco

Six Songs of Spring

(Above: “April In Paris” brought spring to many parts of the world whenever it was played. Few did it finer than the Count Basie Orchestra.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Spring arrived on the calendar several weeks ago, but Mother Nature didn’t get the memo until recently. The half dozen songs that follow don’t explicitly mention chirping birds, budding flowers, sun dresses and deck parties, but they certainly conjure the feeling.

“Starting a New Life” – Van Morrison

Van the Man throws off the shackles of winter in the jubilant first verse of this song:

“When I hear that robin sing,
Well I know it’s coming on spring,
Ooo-we, and we’re starting a new life.”

In a little more than two minutes, Morrison and his buoyant country/folk melody captures the romance of the season and the essence of why so many couples get married in the spring.

“Starting a New Life” was one of the first songs Morrison wrote after relocating from Woodstock, N.Y. to just north of San Francisco. Although the move wasn’t his idea, he was clearly relishing his new surroundings.

The last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, in 1948, Satchel Paige was in their rotation. He is pictured here during his time with the Kansas City Monarchs.

“Satchel Paige Said” – The Baseball Project

For many fans of the nation’s pastime, spring doesn’t arrive until Opening Day. Wind chill and even snow are mentally eliminated once the boys of summer line up along the base paths.

Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey of the Minus Five and Young Fresh Fellows teamed up in 2008 under the name “The Baseball Project” and cut 13 tributes to their favorite sport.

“Satchel Paige Said” sounds like an outtake from Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever.” McCaughey’s lyrics draw on elements of Paige’s biography and his famous advice: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

“Radio Head” – Talking Heads

Generation X is littered with great bands that take themselves too seriously. Perhaps the only common element shared by Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins is that neither band wants to provide its audience with the opportunity to laugh.

But the biggest and most serious of all Gen X bands is Radiohead. Which makes it even more delightful that they titled their first album after a Jerky Boys gag and named themselves after this supremely silly Talking Heads track.

But even if the English quintet had chosen another moniker, “Radio Head” would deserve a footnote in music history. David Byrne’s song about a man who can pick up radio transmissions with his noggin is set to a poppy zydeco rhythm that makes it the perfect song for that first spring car ride with the windows rolled all the way down and the stereo turned all the way up.

“Bowtie” – Outkast

Once the temperature swells, the unshapely layers of winter clothing are shed. And when the flimsy summer apparel is donned, it’s time to strut. Urban radio stations bank on this transition, building their warm-weather playlists around the singles designed maximize swagger.

The funky horns on this cut from Big Boi’s half of “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” will make any stroll seem like a parade. The hip hop equivalent of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” this track exudes more than enough confidence to turn a timid Romeo into a pimp daddy for one night.

“April, Come She Will” – Simon and Garfunkel

Ah, the fickle fancy of spring flings. On “April, Come She Will,” Paul Simon uses the changing seasons as a metaphor for a girl’s elusive affection following a brief affair. Thematically, the romantic longing of “April” was echoed on “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.” Both songs hover around the two minute mark. The economy of Simon’s lyrics and arrangements and the power of Art Garfunkel’s vocals make both songs potent vignettes.

Although it was written three years before the film, “April, Come She Will” is used to great effect in “The Graduate” as Benjamin Braddock chases the heart of Elaine Robinson.

If you haven't seen the original 1969 film of "The Producers," you are missing out.

“Springtime for Hitler” from “The Producers”

You don’t have to be an English major to see the metaphor in the title song from Bialystock and Bloom’s failed musical. As chorus girls parade around in beer stein bustiers, and pretzel tassels, the faux fuhrer solemnly intones: “Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Autumn for Poland and France.” Any remaining sensibilities are purged when storm troopers in a Busby Berkeley-style dance form a swirling swastika.

The coup de tat that saves the song from being an anti-Semitic nightmare comes from the fact that Mel Brooks, a Jew who fought the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, gleefully wrote all the lyrics to this brilliant satire. (That’s his overdubbed voice delivering the line “don’t be stupid, be a smarty/come and join the Nazi party.”)