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Archive for July, 2005

Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams)
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
1980, 1980

Can you tell I have a thing for albums with a year as the title? It takes some bravery to pick a year as a title. You are pretty much saying “it’s ok if my music isn’t timeless.” I guess if you come up with some declarative point-in-time statement it would seem more urgent than the distant trade-off which is the guarantee of sounding dated as time goes on (pun unavoidable).

The Temptations made 1990 in 1973; they tried to delay in the inevitable, but their take on what 1990 was going to be like was… inevitably off the mark (in so far as it mostly sounds just like 1973). This crew made 1980 in 1980. I don’t know which is more brave. Their take on 1980, growing apathy and lack of leaders was spot on but 1980 didn’t turn out to be a major turning point of any kind. If they made 1968 or 1970, it might have been a different story.

The truth is (that I talk a lot of smack and) that both albums are still relevant and sound great. The subject of this song has stayed current throughout the 25 years since this album came out. Now, you might wonder, “what does Harlem’s favorite son know about the Rio Grande and illegal Mexican immigration?” and…well, ok, I can’t answer that question but he takes a personal enough approach that the universality of the struggle comes right through.

What I love about this song musically is that it captures a certain live band vibe that I remember from when I used to play in bands. It doesn’t have that “we’ve play this 100 times and let’s get it ‘right’ for the record” feel or the over-zealous “first time before an audience” feel. It’s more like the first or second time you play the song all the way through after everyone really gets their parts down. No one is trying too hard and everyone is sitting back in the groove thinking, “damn this sounds good.”

(These are from either side of the inner album sleeve).

Don’t you miss the times when shots like this were actually cool?

>> songs are available for two weeks [4.7 MB]

Can We Pretend
Bill Withers
+’Justments, 1974

I’ve hesitated to put this song up for a while because it’s so…peaceful, but this week seems like the right week for some reason. This is one of my favorite Bill Wither’s songs, and I’m sure that, in part, it’s due to it not being included on any compilations or greatest hits, that I know of.

+’Justments is B.W.’s 4th album. He breezed onto the scene in 1971 with Just As I Am at the tender age of 32 (what? you mean I could still become famous?). It featured “Ain’t No Sunshine” (the first thing out of my mouth when asked “what is the best song ever?”) and “Grandma’s Hands.”

He, followed in 1972 with Still Bill which featured “Who Is He (and What Is He To You)?”, “Use Me” and “Lean On Me,” all next to each other on Side 1. I would be pretty happy if the artistic output of my entire life had those three songs as the highpoints. For B.W., it was just the first side of his second album. This album also features “Kissing My Love,” a bluesy-funk track that I play out a lot, which opens with an oft-sampled drum pattern (see “In The Jungle” by the Jungle Brothers and three others that I could name – which means there are about 15 others that I can’t).

1973 followed with “Live At Carnegie Hall.” I’m usually not into live albums but this is something to behold. In addition to great live band chemistry, different takes on songs, and the best story about his grandmother ever, there are a couple of stellar songs that aren’t on other albums, including a song about a Vietnam Veteran that he met, called “I Can’t Write Left-Handed.”

+’Justments was B.W.’s 4th and final album for Sussex Records. Overall, it’s not on par with the previous three but there are some high points including “The Same Love that Made Me Laugh” which is included on the expanded 1994 Columbia/Legacy Greatest Hits and “Can We Pretend.” I won’t say too much about the actual song, I honestly don’t know how to sum it up. But, I did want to mention that the guitar “commentary,” as I like to call it, is played by Jose Feliciano. I just read that they did a song together in 1973 called “Compartments” on one of Jose’s albums – that’s the newest addition to my shopping list!

Still Bill and Live at Carnegie Hall are available on CD and if you haven’t heard them, I strongly encourage you to put your $$ down. Especially as Bill is still around (or “still bill”), in fact, he was recently inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. Here’s a picture of Ralph MacDonald, Isaac Hayes, B.W., and David Porter (L to R) at the Induction Ceremony (courtesy of The Crusade).

>> songs are available for two weeks [5.2 MB]

here are a few pictures from last week:

this is patio. i took this picture from the sidewalk (the bar is closer to the back). you can see how close my dj setup is to the street. every week, several sets of people walk by, hear a song i’m playing, stop, look in, deliberate, and then come in and get a drink. i think it has to be one of the few places that can happen.

one week, around 1:00am or so, just as I mixed into “I Got a Story To Tell” by Biggie, two high school-aged black guys halted as they they passed in front of the bar to air-drum the rim-shot part for the first 30 seconds. I just smiled and nodded to the beat until the bar where biggie says “kodak insta-ma-tac” and the drum pattern changes, at which point i joined them. I got two big smiles and they kept moving.

- – - – - – - -

this is moe’s on saturday night. you can’t really tell that people are dancing but this was during “That’s The Way Love Is” by Ten City which went over really well in between “Gypsy Woman” by Crystal Waters and “I’ll House You” by the Jungle Brothers.

i heart nyc

i got off the train at west 4th street last week and low and behold, Kurtis Blow was performing 50 feet away from me on the basketball court. where else is that going to happen? i mean really? this picture was after he finished and was being interviewed.

You Are What I’m All About
The New Birth
Birth Day, 1972

There is SO much music that hasn’t been re-released on cd. That said, there is a surprising amount that has been.

The first soul record I ever bought was a (stellar) New Birth album, so when I came across this one for $1, a few years ago, I was quick to snatch it up. It didn’t disappoint and turned out to have a few classic samples including this track, which was used for Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Players Anthem.” I quickly recorded it to MP3 and walked around the city for a few weeks, reveling in the crackly vinyl sound, looking at other people listening to iPods thinking, “you’re not listening to what i’m listening to!” (it’s the simple (petty) pleasures, right?)

Well, at my last temp job, I noticed a CD on my friend Constance’s desk that had a re-sized image of the crazy album cover from the first New Birth album that I bought. I picked it up: The New Birth – Golden Classics. Track 8 = You Are What I’m All About.

Of the 650 or so tracks that I’ve recorded from vinyl, I’ve found about 125 of them on CD at some later point in time.

It takes me…say, 9 minutes to record a 4 minute (average) song between plugging my mixer into my laptop, setting the recording level, recording the song, edited the ends, converting it to MP3 and filling in the info in the tag. 9 minutes x 125 songs = 18 hours and 45 minutes.

It’s a good thing I see it all as a means to the end of knowing great music, well at least most of the time…

>> songs are available for two weeks (digi) [5.4 MB]
>> songs are available for two weeks (vinyl) [5.3 MB]

Interlude
Leela James
A Change Is Gonna Come, 2005

I finally have an album’s worth of material from a voice that’s haunted me for a while. I was going to post some snippets but I actually got hooked on “Interlude” (interlude #2 of 4) which is a really a complete song that happens to be 1:40 long.

I can’t say enough about this woman’s voice. It’s country-fried and raspy at all the right times (like 0:52). What I really want to know is what her speaking voice sounds like. It would be weird if it was normal…but it would also be weird if it sounds like her singing voice.

I definitely recommend picking this album up. At first listen it seems to suffer from having a few too many cooks (producers) in the kitchen but even that doesn’t bother me much after a few listens because her voice shines on (almost!) all of the varied tracks. Kanye has two tracks and he actually refrained from using sped up vocals! Or maybe not; the liner notes don’t list production credits for the interludes and this one actually does have a sped up vocal sample, so you have to wonder if it’s him (or someone else trying to be current not realizing they’re way too late).

Vocal sample aside, the production on this track is really well done. Check the layers, as subtle organ riffs come (back) in at :49 followed by synth strings at 1:06 and my favorite, the “oh that’s not a loop?” moment when the guitar sighs two lazy bent high notes over the end of the (would be) chorus at 1:29. This is all in the background of what is most compelling about the song: its naked emotionality.

i’d love to be your wife
i’d love to spend my life with you
cause i love you babe

be glad to bear your child
that would make me so very proud
cause i love you baby, love you baby

ain’t nobody else for me
you’re my only, my only

so please, don’t waste no more time
and make me your wife

i want to be married
can we get married
we should be married
let’s get married

i want to be married
can we get married
we should be married
let’s get married today

Recommended listening hour: 1:00 a.m.

>> songs are available for two weeks [2.3 MB]

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