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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”

 

 

Fleet Foxes: The Return

8 Mar

It has been far too long since we’ve had a chance to get lost in the epic, fragile, magic that is the Fleet Foxes. Lead singer Robin Pecknold took a hiatus from the band in 2011 to go back to school, (its unconfirmed, but probably to get a major in Wizardry and a minor in the Art of DragonSmything) but has finally returned from his sojourn. There is no purer voice in folk-rock than Pecknold. Start here and here for a refresher.  The sound of his song on their new track is a welcome respite to these Ides of March. Bring on the Third of May! (New album in June too)

Yes Virginia, There is a Good Christmas Playlist!

16 Dec

Image15New and Improved and Back By Popular Demand!!!

The snow is falling and Christmas season has begun! A few years ago, a similarly obsessed audiophile friend and I wanted to create a Christmas album that could be enjoyed by the young and old, of both sexes. After some spirited debate about what to include and exclude, and the merits of one version of a classic over another, the resulting playlist was a true collaborative effort, which, in the humble opinion of thy narrator, came pretty close to the mark.  The burnt CD has been on high demand since its very limited release to family and friends many years ago…..but now in the spirit of the season i think its only fair our greater UnSung audience gets a chance to listen. Below is the original excerpt from the disc:

The Christmas season is here all over again. In the spirit of giving and receiving, chestnuts and holly, hot totties and misteltoe, and ice and snow, a miracle brighter than the star of Bethelhem shines radiantly upon you – the gift of music. Two giant music labels (founded by two wise men) have come together to release a collection of Christmas songs that will be sure to leave you feeling more festive than the jolly fat man himself. From Sexsmith to Sinatra, the Boss to the Bing, this playlist is the soundtrack to our Christmases past, present and future. It is truly our Christmas wish that you sit down with those nearest and dearest, pour yourself a ‘lil rum and nog, close your eyes, and soak in the musical good tidings of comfort and joy” 

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Happy holidays!

Listen to the playlist here on Spotify!

 

Listen: Cohen’s Sisters of Mercy: one driving, one slow and sweet

8 Dec

Two great Canadian tributes to a Canadian master. “Yes you, who must leave everything you cannot control. It begins with your family, but soon comes ’round to your soul.”

Title: A busy day in the Videosphere, or The Right and Wrong Way to use guitars.

22 Sep

It’s one of those days where i discover a few new songs., which is sadly an occurrence that doesn’t happen often enough these days. I’m trying to come to terms with the new Kings of Leon single “Walls” and whatever the hell soft-rock middle-aged receding hairline one chord homeless man’s Beautiful War falling asleep waiting for something to happen that never does they are trying  to pull, and balancing that against the sheer clarity and honesty of Jack White’s emotional performance on Fallon last night:

 

And if that ain’t enough, Dawes is getting funky wit it (jury still out on whether they can survive in this newfound realm) :

 

And a friend just put the name of a band to a song that’s been prowling around my brain like a caged tiger on coca cola for weeks. Don’t you love when that happens? Gawd i miss guitars. Holy F has this got teenage urgency!

 

Goosebumps

19 Jul

Sometimes humanity is alright.

“My axe is on the bandstand”

28 Apr

A master and father figure to the Unsung still has his groove. No one can blend everyday conversation into larger themes like ol’ Rhymin’ Simon. Thanks to Tyler Alaric for the discovery.


Also if you missed this one from his last album, it covers a related theme. We all wait in line sometimes. 

Listen (!) Your Weekend Journey Mini-Playlist

11 Mar

Just a couple of gems i have recently discovered and that you need to hear for the weekend:

For the first Friday drink:

“You Belong To Me” – Ryan Adams

Say what you will about this Canadian icon, but he’s still rockin’ it long after the summer of ’69 and this is fun little ditty that will start you on the party trail in 2o seconds flat.

 

When the buzz kicks in:

“Hymn for the Weekend” – Coldplay

Coldplay talkin’ about being drunk and high? That is cause for celebration. Soon to be inescapable.

 

For driving in the Saturday morning sun:

“Can you Come Over?” – Shooter Jennings

Taken from the new Dave Cobb compilation album ‘Southern Family’ which has a bunch of country music stars singing about home. But all we care about is Shooter, son of Waylon, brother of Sturgill.

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/469693102/469813682

 

For that Saturday night dance:

“Smooth Sailin'” – Leon Bridges

So you’re in a jazz club and there is a hot Chiquita across the bar. Finish your old fashioned and go talk to her already.

 

For the Sunday hangover:

“Just Like A Woman” – Jeff Buckley

Recently uncovered/cover album of demos from Jeff Buckley called ‘You and I’. This is just a staggeringly beautiful cover of Dylan, perfect for that quiet moment of introspection.

 

For the weekend chore session:

“I Can Help” – Billy Swan

Something about this rhythm lends itself to getting some serious putterin’ done.

 

Happy Weekend!

A Response to Timmy T’s Top 10 of 2015

13 Feb

(Editor’s note – read up on Timmy T’s Top 10 of 2015 below. But we couldn’t let him have all the fun, so we had to respond with our favorites too.)

 

Image result for sturgill simpson sugar daddy

 

Thoughts, conclusions, proclamations and rebuttals:

  • Tim is spot on with Ryan Adams. Long after he is gone, he will be regarded as the troubadour of our generation. The quality and output are unparalleled. If his catalog seems a bit daunting, i don’t blame you – but either Tim or I are happy to provide gateway songs whether you need whiskey-sippers or torch-lighters.
  • Leon Bridges should be on the list, but there is no better song of his than “Coming Home”. It sounds like it could have been written in 1963, unlike the rest of the album, which is trying to sound like it was written in 1963.
  • Also thought that Mumford got a bad rap for trying to be U2 this time around – but i suppose that heavy is the backlash when you first come to the party with a banjo and moustache wax.
  • Where is Glen Hansard on this list? The Van Morrision acolyte with probably the best song of the year with “Winning Streak”
  • Cameron Crowe let me down with Aloha, but at least he picked the Cold War Kids “First”
The Top 10 songs i purchased on ITUNES in 2015 that were from 2015 and not on Tim’s list:
  1. “Winning Streak” by Glen Hansard – just buy it, you fathers of boys and girls, you brothers of men. Trust me, you’ll have a moment at some point. Maybe when your kid bumps their head. Or succeeds at something for the first time. Or when someone you care after said thank-you.
  2. “Dearly Departed” by Shakey Graves – all the ingredients to a good song. Clever lyrics, catchy, girl and boy harmony. Add a crunchy and rollicking beat and you have a winner.
  3. “All Your Favorite Bands” by Dawes  – a grower that somehow has become one of my favorite songs. It’s a little cliche but hey i’m a soul music softie
  4. “Turn Your Love” Half Moon Run – the Strokes meet Bedouin Soundclash. In a good way.
  5. “Let It Happen” by Tame Impala – John Lennon’s younger brother is into techno. Inescapable groove.
  6. “On A Dime” by Joel Plaskett – fond memories of a life on the east coast, but you prairie boys will relate if you like girls, gin and street hockey
  7. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Libertines  – the brit pop heroes are back and they are older and slightly wiser
  8. “Depreston” by Courtney Barnett – the smartest lyricist i have heard in a long time. And she sounds kinda grunge which is coolio.
  9. “Devil’s Time” by Reuben and the Dark. CanCon meets Joshua Tree.
  10. “Sedona” by Houndmouth – don’t know what to make of these guys yet, but they have at least 4 promising songs.
The Top 7 songs i purchased from ITUNES in 2015 that i should have bought some time ago because they are just awesome:
  1. “Hourglass” by Catfish and the Bottlemen. The next British candidate for World Dominance (there’s one for every year isn’t there,Tim?)
  2. “Rich Girl” by Hall and Oates – its a bitch girl.
  3. “Missing Heart” by Dwight Yoakem – a country ballad i like, who knew?
  4. “Jamaica Farewell” by Harry Belafonte – you’ll hear it the next time you drink with me on a porch, i can guarantee you that.
  5. “Hungry for your Love” by Van Morrison – another lost classic.
  6. “Stuck on the puzzle” Alex Turner (from Arctic Monkeys) softer side
  7. “I Make The Dough, You Get the Glory” Kathleen Edwards – major props for rhyming marty mcsorley in a song.
3 Songs for the bright new future in 2016 (aka what i am listening to right now):
  1. “Tennessee Whiskey” by Christ Stapleton – a straight rip off of Etta James “I’d rather go blind”, but he makes the grade because it sounds nothing like the original song and its just so. damn. smooth.
  2. “Sugar Daddy” Sturgill Simpson – the future, grounded the past. Like always. Great kick in at the end too.
  3. “Everglow” or “Fun” by Coldplay – they can still write a ballad even if they never had heavy album like i wanted them to.
Good night, good luck, and i hope all your favorite bands stay together.

Timmy T’s Top 10 of 2015

13 Feb

(Editor’s note-  Another great year, another finely curated list from the excellent aficionado Timmy T. Although Unsung may have some strings to pick with the list…) 

Image result for leon bridges coming home

Here we go (not in a particular order):

  1. The Wind & The WaveCovers One
    • Best Song: “Ignition (Remix)”
    • Why It’s On The List: If you’re going to cover a song, do it right, and more often than not, do it acoustic. This band has other good stuff, so it’s not like they only have covers to rely on. But, this work of art is both extraordinary and also nostalgic.
  2. Ryan Adams1989
    • Best Song: “Wildest Dreams”
    • Why It’s On The List: See above. It was quite amusing to see the comments from Swift fans insulting a “no name” artist for covering her work and trying to “get famous” from it. Adams takes Swift’s work and does it with style and grace and compliments. Hopefully, this inspired at least one or two Swift fans to explore a bit beyond Bubblegum Pop.
  3. Mumford & SonsWilder Mind
    • Best Song: “Just Smoke”  *tied with*  “Believe”
    • Why It’s On The List: A solid album from start to finish with nary a musical issue to be found. More mainstream? Perhaps. Less valid? Definitely not. I defy you from trying to sing along with “Believe” and not enjoy it.
  4. Ron Hawkins & The Do Good AssassinsGarden Songs
    • Best Song: “Peace & Quiet”
    • Why It’s On The List: Folksy awesomeness with Costello-like enthusiasm.
  5. Sharon Jones & The Dap-KingsIt’s a Holiday Soul Party
    • Best Song: “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”
    • Why It’s On The List: Sharon has been clawing away at the TT Top 10 for a few years now, but hasn’t made the cut until now. I still hear naysayers of Christmas music suggest it is a tired and annoying genre. I highly recommend this album for anyone who does not have ready-access, or as a suitable follow-up on a playlist, to the Unsung/Timagination classic, “Yes, Virginia. There is a Good Christmas Album.”
  6. The Barr BrothersAlta Falls (EP)
    • Best Song: “Never Been a Captain”
    • Why It’s On The List: Just give it a listen. It’s short and sweet and “Never Been a Captain” may just bring a tear to your eye. Pair with a Barley Wine.
  7. Leon BridgesComing Home
    • Best Song: “Better Man”
    • Why It’s On The List: I will admit to you that I only happened upon this as a recommendation from iTunes to me. But, it did not disappoint. Their review/summary is spot-on. He captures the soul of an era that has long since gone.
  8. Ryan AdamsLive at Carnegie Hall
    • Best Song: “The Rescue Blues”
    • Why It’s On The List: Whhhhaaaaa!!??? Two Ryan Adams albums!? Yes, two Ryan Adams albums! If you just can’t bring yourself to listen to this whole fantastic live chronology, despite you finding favour with him from 1989, you will be able to find a trimmed-down 10-song version of this album. However you choose to discover it, at least be strongly encouraged to do so. Side note: too bad he wasn’t this good live when he was in Edmonton 😦
  9. Florence & The MachineHow Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
    • Best Song: “Various Storms & Saints”
    • Why It’s On The List: Hasn’t been a female vocal lead in rock n’ roll this powerful since Janis Joplin. And there’s some vocal abilities reminiscent of Joplin’s range to boot. I look forward to the upcoming documentary on Florence from the makers of “Making a Murderer”.
  10. Buddy Guy Born To Play Guitar
    • Best Song: “Whiskey, Beer & Wine”
    • Why It’s On The List: Well look, whether you like the Blues or not, this guy is a master. Second only perhaps to the late great B.B. King who recently passed on (and for whom Buddy & Van Morrison offer up a moving tribute song on this album). It’s just simply a great blues record that echoes traditional blues, some rip-roaring riffs and some cutting edge guitar work.
Honourable Mentions:
  • Bob Schneider – King Kong Vol. 2 – “Han Solo” – Rock
    • Just crazy good to listen to, and so timely.
  • Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – “S.O.B.” and “I Need Never Get Old” – Rock
  • The Strumbellas – “Spirits” – Rock
  • Cold War Kids – Hold My Home – “First” (technically 2014, but a huge hit in 2015 & 2015 saw the release of the Deluxe version) – Rock
  • Jamie xx – In Colour – “Stranger In A Room”, “Loud Places” and “i Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” – Electronic
  • Jeff Coffin – The Inside Of The Outside – Jazz
  • Gilad Hekselman – Homes – Jazz
  • Rihanna and Kanye West and Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds” – Pop
  • Whiz Khalifa – “See You Again” (feat. Charlie Puth) – Pop
    • Well, because – I mean honestly, who didn’t shed a single tear at the Paul Walker send-off at the end of the epic Furious 7?
  • Mark Ronson – “Uptown Funk” (feat. Bruno Mars)
See you all next year!!