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Ethan Russell

27 Mar

Post image for II. THE SINGER SONGWRITER AND THE AGE OF THE “LP.”

If you don’t know the story of Ethan Russell, it is an extraordinary one. The kind of thing that only seemed to happen in the 60s – good luck met an extraordinary eye for detail and the rest, as they say, is history. Looking once more at his collection of photographs (yes, this will be deemed to be Art one day) , the sheer volume of iconographic shots is staggering. It is hard to believe one man was able to bear witness to so many classic moments from rock’s annuls.  And now, he’s creating a fine art monograph of his life’s work. If you love the Stones, the Who, the Beatles, good music, etc. Go check it out and support (there’s something in it for you too)! I hope to soon be enjoying a drink with Keith and Jack and Coors in my man-cave!

 

 

Image Copyright Ethan Russell.

Sometimes…..

15 Jun

Say what you will about Liam vs. Noel, twitter battles, old farts making music, lad rock, past glories, past primes, leather jackets on 51 year olds, a woman playing scissors in a band, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

Say what you will. I don’t care.

Because sometimes a good song is just a good song. And sometimes the blues means more than life and it breaks your heart. And sometimes, nearly every time, Noel Gallagher writes amazing b-sides. And sometimes amazing fans of music whose first language is Spanish memorize a random brand new song in English and sing it back to the Chief, and goosebumps ensue, because the world is awesome and the power of music is awesome.

 

Timmy T’s Top 10 of 2017

3 Feb

Better late than never, our resident critic serves up his usual brilliant top 10 list, with plenty of extras for y’all!

 

 

Top 10 Albums

Ke$ha – Rainbow

Best Song: “Bastards”

  • From the get-go, you’re asking yourself, “Is this Ke$ha”? And, then you go, “This is freaking really good.” It’s crazy the range she delivers on this and the versatility. An album I think I will like for many years to come. Also, her use of the Dap Kings’ horns on the “Woman” track is a nod to another great artist (also on this list), and just shows she’s delivered a huge payload by going outside of her (probable) comfort zone. Well done, Ke$ha. Well done, indeed.

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

Best Song: “Rut”

  • Man, oh man. When The Killers are ready to do something cerebrally cutting edge, you get some wildly different stuff. Good thing for them, it’s pretty darn great.

Ryan Adams – Prisoner

Best Song: “Shiver and Shake”

  • Okay, so I admit, he makes a lot of my lists. But, when you do great stuff, you have some great stuff. The guy can write as many great songs as if he’s producing Halloween (pun partially intended, for those who know his catalog ;)) candy in a candy factory.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Best Song: “Pain”

  • Have to allow iTunes’ description of the album to stand here, which refers to War on Drugs as a combo reproduction of Dylan, Springsteen and Petty. After losing Petty, it’s pretty tough to avoid allowing this album to take a hold of you. It’s some trippy and psychedelic stuff in a rock n’ roll throwback kind of way.

HAIM – Something To Tell You

Best Song: “Want You Back”

  • Wilson Phillips. Reincarnated. And more than two songs that are good.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul of a Woman

Best Song: “Come and Be a Winner”

  • They keep getting better, and better, and better. Every time I’m listening to them, I feel like I’m caught in a time warp with the best Motown musicians there ever were. But, their albums were produced like, yesterday!

Randy Newman – Dark Matter

Best Song: “Brothers”

  • If the soundtrack to Toy Story went a little darker, you’d get this. So, it’s a bit of a disconnect from both what and how you may be used to hearing Randy Newman sing, but he really delivers. It’s easy listening with some heavy topics.

Jack Johnson – All the Light Above It Too

Best Song: “My Mind Is For Sale”

  • So far, not one bad album. And counting. Formulaic? Perhaps. But when you’re the new and improved James Taylor, why try anything different? One of the few cases in music where I would recommend, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So many artists try to do something different, and the next best thing they’ve ever done. And, they don’t. So, we’ve got Jack being Jack here, and it’s just all kinds of fine with me.

Queens of the Stone Age – Villains

Best Song: Fortress

  • Geez! Pretty blown away by this album. It would not be for everyone, and it even pushes me outside of my easy listening comfort zone quite a bit, but it’s heavy on a new kind of rock, that I think will preserve the possibility that rock n’ roll is here to stay, and will eventually, be back someday in a big, big way!

Diana Krall – Turn Up the Quiet

Best Song:  “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)”

  • A truly great Canadian jazz treasure. There’s hardly ever an album I don’t like. And, this is just another one of those you can play from start-to-finish when you need to tune out, but turn up and relax.

Best Songs Not in the Top 10 Albums:

U2 – “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way

  • Can’t say a lot of great things about the album, but a great song is a great song, album aside.

U2 – “You’re the Best Thing About Me” (Acoustic Version)

  • Very important you get the acoustic version. I accidentally purchased this first, before the album and thought, “I should have gotten the deluxe version; it’s probably on it.” Then, I realized, U2 isn’t smart enough these days to put the better version of this track on its album, even as a bonus track, and even if it could have elevated the album. That’s just the way they are these days.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “If We Were Vampires

  • An excellent melancholy track.

Chris Stapleton – “Second One to Know

  • Wow! Great alt-country-rock tune! Kid Rock is jealous and Ryan Adams is trying to remake it into something depressing. Just kidding (maybe?).

Jens Lekman – “What’s That Perfume That You Wear?

  • Just a fun steel drummin’ kind of time!

Lorde – “Green Light

  • A great track, a great album. She’s got infinite potential & just starting out! Had to acknowledge it somehow!

Foo Fighters – “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)

  • I always prefer the Foo on the quieter & more contemplative side, which is hard to come by on most albums.

Kid Rock – “Raining Whiskey

  • The Kid at his alt-country-rockin’ best!

Chris Stapleton – “Without Your Love

  • Total opposite sound from “Second One to Know”. A Garth Brooks “Thunder Rolls” type of feel.

Arcade Fire – “Creature Comfort

  • Not sure if I like the lyrics more or the rhythm more, but it all works in a weird sort of sounding way. Didn’t like the album, but love this track.

Honourable Mention (Album & Song):

Kelela – Take Me Apart

Best Song: “LMK”

  • A guilty R&B-poppy pleasure. What else can I say? Will give Beyonce and Rhianna a run for their money pretty right quick.
That’s all folks! Thanks for listening!

 

Chris Stapleton: The Duets

29 Jan

Here at the Unsung, we’ve always had a soft spot for outlaw country. If Johnny, Waylon and Willie are patron saints, then Sturgill and Stapleton must be the new prophets. This blistering rendition of ‘Midnight Train to Memphis’ from this SNL this past Saturday just scorches.

And maybe the only thing better than that double team of southern whoop-ass is Stapleton’s burgeoning bromance with popgod Justin Timberlake. This goes back awhile, to their now absolute classic live collaboration ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ back in 2015:

By Justin’s own admission, he has a soft spot for the Stapletons (and who can blame him, everything Chris touches turns to country gold) and now that JT has decided to embrace  his own Nashville by way of Montana rustic roots *ahem* on new album Man of the Woods, we can enjoy this spine tingler:

Sounds like we have 3 new Highwaymen ready to form a new posse….

The Unsung: Latest and Greatest

26 Jan

Hey Unsungers (yes, congratulations, you are now a noun, a Collective, a Hive, a Movement, a Way of Life):

Long time no speak. I’ve been busy just like i’m sure you have been. Life moves like a jet these days, past your field of view and gone. I’m now a father and enjoying everything that comes with it. In those fleeting moments, when i get a chance to think about music, i think about songs that evoke memories of youth, when life was free and easy.  Or I think about what songs my son should hear in his early days (admittedly this is an overthink, but if all the good willing western parents of the world can arrange for their newborns to fill their bellys with organic sugar free purees, shouldn’t they conspire to have the best of music for their souls? More on that in another post). Songs are always gateways to feelings for me – the happy, the sad, the nostalgic, the introspective. More than ever, i seek out songs to take me to a certain place when i have a minute to escape.

So we keep on moving forward. There are still soundtracks to our lives, songs that still grab hold. Here are my favorites at the moment and a few thoughts, all captured in a Latest and Greatest© playlist on spotify 

Michael Kiwanuka “Love and Hate” and “May This Be Love” The more I listen to Michael, the more i believe he is the true talent of our age. His album is so….deep. Get into him, please. 

Bahamas “Way With Words” A way with words is so important. A welcome return to the chillest man in rock. 

House of Pain “Top O’ the Morning to Ya” Retro throwback. My cousin Konrad and i use to roll around the mean streets of Calgary listening to white boy rap on our way to the courts to hoop it up. Yeah it doesn’t work with the rest of this playlist but…..Go Celtics.

The Vaccines “I Can’t Quit” I loved the first Vaccines album, ‘What Did You Expect From the Vaccines’. It was the perfect mix of the Strokes, stories about models, British classicism, and west coast cool. They have largely sucked since then, but this song seems like a return to form…

Ryan Adams “Where Will You Run” – A b-side to the excellent Prisoner. Here at Unsung, we’ve been long time fans of Ryan and he can do no wrong. Especially when he is doing his best Nirvana meets 80s power pop. When he starts yelping at 2:12, i believe in rock again.

Greta Van Fleet – “Black Smoke Rising” and “Highway Tune” shameless Led Zep guitar noodling and aping? Robert Plant howling? An album cover with allusions to mythical dark forest fires that summon the fellowship in your soul? Check, check and Triple Check. Should you care when it’s such a good rip-off? No. Let’s hope they don’t meet the same fate as Wolfmother.

The Sheepdogs “Nobody” The current Flagbearers of Canadian Classic Rock. Long live our shaggy friends. New album out now….this is an album track which i can picture drinking patio pilsners to. 

“Stardust” by Willie Nelson and Harry Connick, Jr. This song is my current earworm. I was a huge Harry Connick fan in the early 90s – i thought he was going to be the second coming of Frank Sinatra, with actual songwriting and instrumentation chops. Then he went and starred in a bad romcom with Sandra Bullock. But before the corruption, he recorded a cover album on his 25th birthday. Just him, a piano, a dark studio, and some of his favorite musicians. His version of Stardust, especially the piano at 3:50, haunts me. In my humble opinion, it is simply the saddest and the most soothing melody, a song about a song about love. And then we have Willie’s version, from the excellent 1978 album of the same name. It resurrected his career and offers a completely different interpretation, warm and fuzzy like only Willie can be. I mean, just check out the album backcover:

Kudos to my record store and whisky drinking sidekick Shaun for encouraging that vinyl purchase. I haven’t regretted one moment of listening to it with a bourbon in hand.

So, all in all, that’s the beauty of Stardust. An absolute classic, almost 100 years old.

The Weavers “Wimoweh” you should immediately recognize this rhythm if you are Lion King fan, a king of the Jungle, or a past guest at my wedding 🙂  The story behind this song is fascinating. This version, by Pete Seeger and the Weavers from the 50s, is considered the evolutionary bridge between the magnificent original, and the big hit The Tokens had in the 60s. (And the version my wife perfected live and in concert, in full marital bliss, in 2015)

Happy Weekend!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/differentcloud/playlist/3EMB63YH6IS8bZLr3FR9vs

Michael Kiwanuka

21 Apr

The  (Man in the) Band:  Michael Kiwanuka

What’s the story? Back in 2012, I went to go see Alabama Shakes at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. They were the hyped band of the moment: retro-roots soul-rockers set apart from rest of the crowd, largely due to their lead singer – Brittany Howard, a powerful charisma of Joplin inspired wailing and magnetism. She also was (and is) a black woman fronting a band of white dudes playing guitars, something not often seen and heard. Less heralded, but also on the bill that night, was a young black man named Michael Kiwanuka. I was startled to see him outside the front door of the Ballroom grabbing a smoke while I waited in line to get inside.  No one recognized him; he stood alone and looked very much out of place, and indeed a million miles from his home in the UK. But I remember that he looked so vulnerable and….lonely. So unlike the feeling he exuded in his music – that of a comfortable weekend midday in the sun. Songs like Bones and Home Again are as omnipresent in your local hipster-fied coffee shop as they are in your mother’s gentrified interior design store; most would recognize them or hum along, but I’m guessing doilies to donuts, they couldn’t pick Kiwanuka out of line up. So why do i mention the colour of his skin? The singer himself has struggled with his identity and his audience, and it wasn’t until the 2016 follow up to his brilliant debut album that we got a real sense of the slow burning dissatisfaction inside. Just listen to Black Man In A White World:

Goddamn. When was the last time you heard something with such a relentless groove that actually said something so relevant and resounding? For crying out loud, I’m a white man in a white world and i will never begin to understand, feel, appreciate, sympathize, emphasize the context, but it makes me wish i could. A song like this is triple threat: a declaration, a protest, and a statement of fact. It is brave and vulnerable all at once.

Perhaps out of ignorance or discomfiture, I initially overlooked the album Love & Hate, expecting and perhaps hoping for more of the same softness and soul as his previous work. It wasn’t until I started watching the twisted Big Little Lies (HBO couple drama at its most blatant) that its opening track, Cold Little Heart, another Kiwanuka composition, wove its way into me. Produced by Danger Mouse, the songs on Love & Hate expand the singer’s range and style to become cinematic. Now we get to experience the dark and light, and now i know we’re all be the better for it.

Sounds Like:  Shaft got his heart broken by Society and its Girl

The gateway songs: 

“I’ll Get Along”

“Waiting Around to Die”

“Cold Little Heart”

If You Like These Songs, Check Out:

Goldford “Ray of Sunshine”

Bill Withers “Use Me”

Leon Bridges ‘Coming Home’ album

Isaac Hayes “Walk On By”

 

 

Holy Holy

20 Nov

The  Band:  Holy Holy

What’s the story? This certainly is the year of Australasia. The current music coming out of there continues to sound fresh, urgent and immediate – it seems as if our island friends have taken all the genres that grew stale and old on the West Coast of the US and replanted them in a harmonious garden of 70s folk melodies and melancholy, intricate guitar codas, and epic lyrics that span the sky but still beat the heart. The band with the name that is Holy Holy has risen from the tide, led by songwriting team of Timothy Carroll and Oscar Dawson. The debut album ‘When Storms Would Come’ will be out this December. Catch the wave and you will be sitting on top of the world. 

Sounds Like:  A death cab for Aussies. Whatever that means. 

The gateway songs: 

“Sentimental and Monday”

“History”

 

Other songs:   

“You Cannot Call For Love Like A Dog”

“House of Cards”

“Impossible Like You” 

If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Boy & Bear “Southern Sun”

Crowded House “Weather With You”

The Phoenix Foundation “Buffalo”

U2 “Love Comes Tumbling”

Glen Hansard

14 Sep

The (Man) in the Band:  Glen Hansard

What’s the story? When I go mining into Van Morrison’s expansive catalog, I almost always unearth some new gem. That will happen when you are listening to a mystic Irish shaman with more than 30 albums to his credit – its easy to get overwhelmed by the depth of the canon. And so I have a fellow Irishman to thank for my latest Van discovery of “Hungry For Your Love” – one Glen Hansard, he of Swell Season and Oscar winning fame. Certainly not Unsung by the Irish, but still relatively unknown on these shores. He is a disciple of Morrison, and he has followed the teachings of the master well (check out this awesome story of the time they once met), but on his new album (potential awesomeness alert) “Didn’t He Ramble”, Hansard expands the ritual to channel celtic, folk and creole with a voice that sounds like a less wounded and yet more piercing sibling of Caleb Followill. The lead single ‘Winning Streak’ could have be written in 1972 by Dylan, Morrison and The Band – it is that good. 

Sounds Like:  Sipping a warm cup of Earl Grey while looking through the window at the rain hitting the water. 

The gateway songs: 

“Winning Streak”

“Low Rising”

Other songs:   

“Her Mercy”

 

The rest of “Didn’t He Ramble” – comes out on September 18th. Listen here now. 

 If you liked this, check out these bands/songs:

Van Morrison  (obviously) “Old Woodstock”


Kings of Leon “Beautiful War”

 

 

Paolo Nutini “Tricks of the Trade” 

 

 

 

Happy Fridays

22 May

The sun was shining and the (musically astute) love of my life started singing the chorus to this old nugget. It took us a few minutes to find out the song and the band and it made our morning. But wait there’s more – the original is a great old rambling classic by the Stones:

 

Some covers take things to a happier place. Straight from the dayz of Madchester come the Soupdragons!!! A brilliant band name and an even better video. Happy Fridays everyone!  

 

 

And if you want to keep your dance party going 90’s English style, check out these tracks:

 

 

Here come the Ladies of Oz!

25 Mar

March Madness! I recently stumbled across these two gals from Australia, oh so different but connected all the same.

Sarah Humphreys

This is Sheryl Crow channeling ‘You’re So Vain’ Carly Simon. The stanza starting at 1:26 is one of the most jarring and brutally honest set of lyrics I’ve heard in a long while. Brave, defiant, raw, and brilliant.

 

Courtney Barnett

Slacker grunge meets modern street poet. This is the saddest/wittiest song about houseshopping in existence (shall we say it has cornered that small market?) If you are a thirty something who has ever had the (dis)pleasure of looking for a home, you will relate.

 

And here she is channeling a little Nirvana by way of fellow countrymen the Vines:

 

Both of these musicians are independant, and making a go of things without major label support. Too talented to be Unsung!