Thanks to Phil for pointing this out to me – otherwise Black Friday would have passed uneventfully for me – but apart from online savings, Black Friday brought not only shopping madness, but also the release of Blakroc.
And, holy hell, the thing is shit hot.
Blakroc is, at its core, a collaboration between American blues-rock music duo, The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney), and 11 credible names in the hiphop game. And it’s exactly the kind of album I needed to hear as 2009 wraps up. Check out more on the official page here, but basically the concept behind the album is:
“11 artists who collaborated with the Black Keys. 11 days in the studio. 11 tracks”
And that “11 artists” is a lineup that quite frankly has me swooning. Not only are there big names, such as Raekwon, sadly-departed Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and RZA… but also lesser-hyped artists like Pharoahe Monch, NOE, Billy Danze and Nicole Wray. And, the very, very best part for me… Mos Def. The dude just exudes cool, and as soon as I knew he was involved in the project, I was hooked. I mean, seriously… watch the below video of Mos Def and Jim James performing on track “Ain’t Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)”, and tell me it’s not one of the hottest tracks you’ve heard this year…
One of the most interesting aspects of BlakRoc is the fact that the recording process has been documented on film. You can watch all the “webisodes” here, and I would recommend that you do if the album sounds even slightly like your cup of tea. The glimpse into the creative process behind this album is nothing less than inspiring. In particular, the below one with Billy Danze is heartwarming. The dude simply cannot contain himself and his enthusiasm…
Unfortunately, not all the tracks live up to the hype though. There are some notable low points, and I’m nowhere near calling this the “release of 2009”; but the process behind the album itself is so awesomely organic, I’m rooting for it to do well, hoping that it may inspire others to return to a purely creative recording process, such as this one. As Billy Danze says in the above video, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Making a record, create that shit”. And that’s exactly how this record feels… not manufactured, but created with heart.
Seriously, I haven’t been this inspired by an album in… well, I can’t remember how long. Stream some of the tunes here, and, after doing so, buy this shit. Now.
I was sent a link to this trailer today (hi Mark!), and I must say that “It Might Get Loud“, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim – yes, the “Inconvenient Truth” Davis Guggenheim – looks like it could be very, very cool. The premise?
A documentary on the electric guitar, from the point of view of three rock legends.Filmed through the eyes of three virtuosos from three different generations, audiences get up close and personal, discovering how a furniture upholsterer from Detroit, a studio musician and painter from London and a seventeen year old Dublin schoolboy, each used the electric guitar to develop their unique sound and rise to the pantheon of superstar. Rare discussions are provoked as we travel with Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White to influential locations of their pasts.
Yep, you read that right. The three guitarists representing the three generations? Jimmy freakin’ Page, Jack White and The Edge. Take a look at the trailer below…
Ignoring for one second just how damn cool that trailer looks, this documentary is primed to generate no amount of controversy with its choice of guitarists. I mean, I’m sure no one could argue with the choice of Page… but The Edge, deservedly or not, is sure to be a point of discussion. So why not start one here? Sound off in the comments, who would you choose for your three guitarists?
Shannon Hoon with Blind Melon at Woodstock ’94.
After a 12 year hiatus following Shannon’s death, Blind Melon are back.
Blind Melon, possibly one of the most influential bands in my life, are back, and releasing a new album at the end of this month. And I’m not sure how I’m feeling about this…
Shannon Hoon, the original lead singer for Blind Melon, changed my life in ways that few others have. I know that’s a typically melodramatic statement from a music blogger, but it’s true. Shannon, along with Bradley J Nowell played a major part in my formative years. (Aside: Yes, I’m letting my age show here). Shannon’s distinctive voice, and the sheer honesty in his lyrics touched something deep within me, and I was irrevocably changed. The sad spiral to his death was tragic, but inevitable… I don’t think any of Blind Melon’s fans were surprised when Shannon overdosed in October of 1995; but that doesn’t mean it was any less devastating. It was like watching someone slipping away, just out of your reach. Try as you might, you could only brush their fingertips, but never quite grab their outreached hand.
“I know we can’t all stay here forever
So I want to write my words on the face of today
And they’ll paint it”
– Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon’s “Change”
Blind Melon with new lead singer, Travis Warren
Fast-forward 12 years, to 2007. The reformed Blind Melon have picked up a cocky new singer, Texan Travis Warren, and are back in studio. Generally, things are kept pretty quiet, except for this video explaining how they came together, and how things in the studio are going…
The song at the end of that video, “Sometimes”, was only heard in part… but it was enough to intrigue me. It sounded like classic Melon… a wandering, grooving tune, with the gentle static and warm snaps of recording tubes.
Finally, fast-forward to the now, 2008. Now, Blind Melon have released more tunes on their Myspace page in preparation for their new album’s (entitled “For My Friends“) release, on 22 April… their first new release since 1995. And I’m not sure how I feel about it. There’s no denying that Travis is a great vocalist, and he seems able to harmonise with the rest of the band in a way that Shannon always seemed to have trouble doing… purely because of his unique voice. And the songs themselves definitely show promise… though they’re a bit more “safe” than anything I would have pictured old Blind Melon being involved with… far too mainstream radio. But they’re good, nonetheless. Apart from the seemingly pointless track, “Last Laugh”, the rest had me in their palms.
But I’m just not sure I want anything more released under the Blind Melon name. I know that that’s a completely selfish and short-sighted feeling. I know that Blind Melon should carry on… hell, Shannon’s family are well behind it. I know that things can’t stay the same way forever. And I know things change. But I’m selfish. And seeing Blind Melon perform again just brings up this incredible sadness in me. I’m not saying it always will, and I’m really going to try to get behind this new incarnation of the band… but, even though it’s unfair, these guys are going to have to work a hell of a lot harder than any new band to bring me on-side. They have to contend with Shannon’s ghost and their history, and that’s going to be one tall order.
The more these tracks spin on my player though… the more I think they might just be up to it…
What are your thoughts? Any Blind Melon fans in my readers out there?
Those who have read this blog for a while might have noticed subtle hints of my slightobsession with the band, “The Damnwells“. And when lead singer Alex Dezen dropped a new song on their myspace page, it became clear to me that yet another post was needed. But before we get to the new tune (yes, it’s down at the bottom, along with some others), some background.
It’s hard to describe how much the music of The Damnwells excites me. It’s much like the first time I heard Dispatch, or Ryan Adams, or Ben Harper… and that’s no small compliment from me. There’s a strong alt.country vibe to their stuff (not surprising, considering drummer Steven Terry was a member of the oh-so-missed Whiskeytown), but it also hearkens back – for me, at least – to the times of the Gin Blossoms. And there’s just something about Alex Dezen’s voice and lyrics; it’s like he knows where you’re coming from, and meets up with you on the journey.
The Damnwells (2006) Photo by Heather Conley
I’ve previously pointed you towards the “Golden Days” trailer, but I’m including it here again. It’s a documentary that chronicles the band’s rise to the brink of stardom, and then how it was all taken away from them… after all, The Damnwells have played with The Fray many times, but while The Fray have been catapaulted into the public eye, The Damnwells still remain largely unknown (in terms of mainstream acceptance, anyway). As the film release says:
“In 2001, a photo assistant named Alex Dezen asked a couple friends to record a few songs with him. Shortly thereafter they would form the Brooklyn based rock band THE DAMNWELLS. Two years later they had toured the country, opened for rock legends, and had a song featured in a major motion picture. By 2004, they had signed a major record deal with EPIC Records (Sony/BMG).
In March of 2005, THE DAMNWELLS went into the studio to record their first professional album. For six months, THE DAMNWELLS immersed themselves in preproduction, recording, and mixing. But as months passed, their release date was moved further and further away. In January of 2006, lead singer Alex Dezen received a call they never expected. The band was being released from their contract and the fate of the album was unknown. For the moment, it would sit on a shelf at EPIC Records and collect dust.”
Watch the trailer, and tell me it doesn’t excite you.
Word from Chris (Suchorsky, the film’s director), is that the DVD should be made available in the US by Spring. And I’m freaking out. Up until now, I’ve only seen segments of the film, but not the whole thing.
More reason to freak out, is that Alex has written on the band’s blog that they should back in studio to record a follow up to the 2006 release, “Air Stereo“, in February. As he’s said:
“Really, when you consider all the pressure and nonsense—both existential and metaphoric—we always had to deal with every time we went into the studio, this will be the first Damnwells record we will ever be able to just make. ‘No pressure,’ Paul, our A&R guy at Rounder says. ‘Make the record you want to make.’ What a crazy idea! Not like we were ever making anyone else’s records, but there was always compromise.
Where art and commerce meet, there has to be. Your mixed-medium, six foot canvas doesn’t fit in the six by three inch display case at Wal-Mart, and no amount of dieting or exercise is ever gonna fit your square peg in that round hole. Compromise is a part of life—at least the kind that includes a roof over your head and food on the table. So now that we’re supposed to make this record, the one we want to make, without the pressure and nonsense, I think I may be feeling a little Stockholm syndrome coming on. How the hell am I supposed to do that?
Guess we’ll find out.”
The guy just has this amazing way with words, and if there was one person I could sit down and have a beer with, Alex Dezen would definitely be one of my frontrunners.
Anyway, on to the tunes below.
Alex Dezen before forming The Damnwells (2000) Photo by Heather Conley
The first track is the new release on their myspace page, entitled “Down With The Ship“. Dezen has this talent of crafting these incredibly powerful songs, accompanied simply by his acoustic guitar and pure heart (as anyone who has heard his “Live Performance at the Hotel Cafe 10/14/07” can attest to. It’s floating around the net, so take a look for it. If you’re really struggling, drop me a line, as I have the whole show in a zip file).
This song is no different. The guy’s voice absolutely wrecks me.
The Damnwells on tour (2006) Photo by Heather Conley
I’ve included some of their other singles below, simply because you should be listening to this. The first is a cracker of a tune (and the first of theirs I heard actually), from their 2003 release, “Bastards of the Beat“, called “Kiss Catastrophe“. It’s undeniably catchy. Try not to get into it. I dare ya.
The next track is their tune, “I Am A Leaver“. This is off their last album, “Air Stereo”, and is probably the song that has garnered The Damnwells the most mainstream attention. Again… if you don’t find yourself singing along with the chorus, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
The final track is the theme song for the “Golden Days” trailer, Golden Days. It’s a comforting tune, with wonderful backing vocals and lyrics like: “I can’t hear much but the melody coming from you / Baby please don’t rush, keep the tempo slow and blue, let me hear the words you say / Let’s go and get tangled in chains of golden days.”