Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Music : March 9, 2010 - March 16, 2010

Gorillaz "Plastic Beach"
When it comes to cartoon characters collaborating with stars, Gorillaz are the game to beat. "Plastic Beach," their third studio full-length, finds Damon Albarn's pals Murdoc, Noodle, et al, joined by a stellar supporting cast: Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, De La Soul, Mark E. Smith of the Fall, Bobby Womack, and Chicago's mighty nine-piece Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The title cut alone gives a huge reunion with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon banding together for the first time since the Clash. The new album is solid and intriguingly entertaining.

Broken Bells " The High Road"
In 2004, at the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) met James Mercer of the Shins. The two expressed mutual admiration, and kept in touch. Six years later, that friendship comes to fruition with their self-titled full-length collaboration as Broken Bells. Now don't go thinking this is a Mercer solo album featuring a cool producer, or Gnarls Barkley with a different singer; Broken Bells displays a unique, loopy, polychromatic character all its own, melding savvy songwriting with psychedelia, indie rock, beats, and orchestral flourishes.

Gary Allan  "Get Off on the Pain."
 With hits like "Man to Man"  and "Nothing on But the Radio", this country star has enjoyed gold or platinum certified sales for six of his previous seven studio albums, and seems likely to continue that success with his eighth. The 10-song set includes cinematic heartbreaker "Today" (released as a single last year), as well as five selections co-written by the rough-hewn, tattooed California native, who also co-produced the album with Mark Wright and Greg Droman. The title tune, about siding with underdogs and long shots, delivered with conviction aplenty, sounds catchy enough to cross over with top-40 listeners while still pleasing country diehards.

Ludacris "Battle of the Sexes"
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. The southern rapper from Atlanta is no stranger to conflicts between boys and girls. Originally intended as a collaborative pairing with Shawnna (the co-vocalist on his 2003 No. 1 smash "Stand Up"), but subsequently morphed into the all-star "Battle of the Sexes" after she changed labels and was dropped from the project. In the guys corner you'll find Pitbull, Flo Rida, Gucci Mane, Trey Songz, Plies and Ne-Yo ("Tell Me a Secret"), while the ladies are represented by Ciara, Eve, Trina, Monica, fast-rising Young Money star Nicki Minaj, and Lil' Kim (who pops up on "Hey Ho"). With producers including the Neptunes and Swizz Beatz, this is one fight we were looking forward to.

New Music : March 2, 2010 - March 8, 2010

Peter Gabriel "Scratch My Back"
If you only release a new album once every eight to 10 years, you better deliver the goods when you do and the former Genesis singer usually makes the final outcome worth the wait. This is certainly true as Gabriel takes an increasingly tiresome practice, the covers album, and not only puts a fresh twist on the gimmick (all the artists featured are recording Gabriel covers for a companion album, "I'll Scratch Yours"), but also delivers readings so considered that they do what the best covers should: illuminate the material in wholly new ways. Replacing standard rock arrangements with somber orchestration helps, but Gabriel's meticulous singing is the pièce de résistance. The Cajun lilt of Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" is replaced by a piano and a few strings, and the glacial pace on the David Bowie "Heroes" shows off all the texture and nuance in Gabriel's voice. Also includes great performances of songs from Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and the Magnetic Field. The album is intense, but invigorating nevertheless.

Soundtrack "Alice in Wonderland"
Johnny Depp's turn as the Mad Hatter is the biggest draw for Disney's new adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland." If only he had been involved in compiling "Almost Alice," an album of songs inspired by the film. Surely he would have come up with something cooler than this motley of mall-friendly alt-rock and emo: Owl City,  All-American Rejects, Plain White T's, Tokio Hotel. Nevertheless, the roundup tells of who the album creators were going after. A few glimmers of mischief surface, notably Franz Ferdinand's "The Lobster Quadrille", a woozy "Very Good Advice" by Robert Smith of the Cure, and the poppish tune brought upon Avril Lavigne on "Alice".  

Jamie Cullum "The Pursuit,"
Boyish Brit jazz renegade Jamie Cullum shook things up, working with a different producer and new musicians (members of Beck's band, the horn section from MJ's "Thriller"). "Getting out of your comfort zone is such a cliché for your third or fourth album," he says. "But, you know, it really worked." No argument here. Cullum's fifth full-length sounds more consistent than some of his other willfully eclectic outings. Includes the reading of pop-star Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music" which underscores what a fantastic pianist Cullum is, while the original "I'm All Over It" proves deceptively catchy in a '70s soft rock way. Cullum, if you don'e know is best enjoyed live; his North American tour begins March 4 at the Town Hall in New York.

Blake Shelton  "Hillbilly Bone"
This country star couldn't give a hoot about New York. In the opening lines of "Hillbilly Bone," he disses a Big Apple buddy who's never heard of Conway Twitty, which turns out to be one of the few flashes of originality in the hit song, a duet with Trace Adkins that sounds like an old Georgia Satellites cast-off. The Oklahoma native's new album is being billed as something dubbed a Six Pak, with only a half-dozen tracks (isn't that called an EP?) but carrying a lower price tag. Produced by Scott Hendricks, the album (excuse me, Six Pak) also features collabos in songwriting with Rhett Atkins, Craig Wiseman, and Shelton's girl, Miranda Lambert, and a song titled "Kiss My Country Ass."

Raheem DeVaughn
This Maryland-based R&B vocalist seems to have two topics on his mind on his third album. "The Love & War MasterPeace" is composed of "half socially conscious and half love" songs. On the former tip, DeVaughn invokes the spirit of Marvin Gaye circa "What's Going On" with lead single "Bulletproof" (featuring Ludacris). Nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, DeVaughn also enlists help from rapper Wale on "The Greatness," while Ne-Yo produced "I Don't Care," and the all-star closer "Nobody Wins a War" includes cameos from Jill Scott, Bilal, Ledisi, Citizen Cope, Chrisette Michele and, um, Chico DeBarge.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Music : February 23, 2010 - March 2, 2010

.Alkaline Trio "This Addiction"
Chosen for its sinister overtones, but it also underscores how damn catchy their music is because this Chicago-area emo threesome knows how to deliver the hooks. Their seventh album features several songs previewed on last summer's tour with Saves the Day, including "Dine, Dine My Darling" and the love-gone-wrong tale "Dead on the Floor." Other highlights include "Lead Poisoning," and "American Scream," inspired by the real-life tragic tale of a U.S. serviceman returning from a tour of duty overseas.

Joanna Newsom "Have One on Me"
A harpist who is one of those acts that folks are rarely indifferent toward. The idiosyncratic blend of folk, classical, and avant-garde forms on her albums "The Milk-Eyed Mender" (2004) and "Ys" (2006) either sent listeners into a delirious swoon or running for the nearest exit. Newsom's third full-length is her most ambitious yet. Spread across three discs, the 18 selections range from less than two minutes to more than 11. Devotees will have no trouble getting lost in the winding, medieval-sounding "Kingfisher" and the radiant idyll "'81", but overall, Newsom reins her in more irksome vocal tics, so neophytes are less likely to mistake her for a pixie living under a toadstool.

Quasi "American Gong"
This original duo group expanded into a trio. They added bassist Joanna Bolme (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks) joining multi-instrumentalist Sam Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss on the album. Mixed by Steve Fisk (Unwound, Sleater-Kinney), the eighth album from the Portland, Ore., combo marks a departure from the keyboard-oriented sounds of recent efforts, packing more of a guitar-centric, hard rock wallop. "Repulsion" kicks the album off strongly with abrupt dynamic shifts, while "Rockabilly Party" boasts a raunchy, Southern rock vibe; on the mellower tip, try the midtempo, piano-based "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler."

Was (Not Was) "Pick of the Litter 1980-2010"
If all you knew of them were from their insidious 1988 smash "Walk the Dinosaur," you might be surprised by the display of variety on this best-of set. With their freewheeling fusion of rock, funk, and head-scratching lyrics, this Motor City combo were pioneers of the "mutant disco" sound with the cut-and-paste "Wheel Me Out" and "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming" (featuring a notorious Ronald Reagan sample). Yet they proved equally adept at collaborating with Ozzy Osborne, Leonard Cohen, and Mel Tormé (all represented here), and bounced back after a long absence with 2008's "Boo!" . The album is one of those rare, thoughtful compilations that should resonate with casual fans and mouth-breathing diehards alike, sprinkling worthwhile rarities and album cuts amongst obvious singles like "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" and "Spy in the House of Love."

Daniel Merriweather "Love &War"
Not yet a household name in the States, but he already has formidable allies in his corner. This Australian blue-eyed soul singer appeared on both of Mark Ronson's solo albums (that's Merriweather mashing up the Smiths with the Supremes on "Stop Me" from 2007's "Version"), and the superstar producer (Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen) returned the favor by overseeing the album which already entered the U.K. charts at No. 2. Merriweather's debut also features soul revival outfit the Dap-Kings and a cameo from rapper Wale on "Change." With a sound informed by greats like Stevie Wonder and Memphis' legendary Stax Records crew, Merriweather should fare well supporting Corinne Bailey Rae on her upcoming North American dates.

Monday, March 8, 2010

CONGRATULATIONS toThe Oscars' Big Winners!!

The Oscars was given a good head nod...not the greatest, but a few funny moments and surprises to keep people up as it went over schedule, but still ended by midnight. With a few surprises and some great fashion statements, it nevertheless was an Oscar show worth being in the history books. Did your predictions pair up to the actual winners? We had our own shock picks and a few surprises with our own predictions... here is a list of the winners:

1. Best Picture – The Hurt Locker
2. Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
3. Best Actor – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
4. Best Actress – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
5. Best Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
6. Best Supporting Actress – Mo’Nique “Precious”
7. Best Original Screenplay – Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
8. Best Adapted Screenplay – Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
9. Best Animated Feature – Up
10. Best Foreign Language Film – El Secreto do Sus Ojos (Argentina)
11. Best Documentary Feature – The Cove
12. Best Score – Up
13. Best Original Song – “The Weary Kind” (Crazy Heart) – Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett
14. Best Film Editing – The Hurt Locker
15. Best Cinematography – Avatar
16. Best Costume Design – The Young Victoria
17. Best Art Direction – Avatar
18. Best Makeup – Star Trek
19. Best Visual Effects – Avatar
20. Best Documentary (Short Subject) – Music by Prudence
21. Best Short Film (Animated) – Logorama
22. Best Short Film (Live Action) – The New Tenants
23. Best Sound Editing – The Hurt Locker
24. Best Sound Mixing – The Hurt Locker

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gang Starr - "Take It Personal"

The Hip Hop Influence of Gang Starr's GURU and DJ Premier

   In light of the recent health issues of Gang Star's legendary artist and producer, we wanted to delve into Guru's career and long-lasting impact on us, our followers and the music hungry hip-hop nation that he helped to feed back in the day.

   The influence of Guru and his partner, DJ Premier stretches throughout the hip-hop universe. They were defined by Guru's monotone flow - one of, if not, the most thought-provoking and conscious storytelling of the '90s and DJ Premier's unique innovations in sampling and beat production.

   Since their first successful album Step In The Arena was put out into the public in 1991, the rap and hip-hop world spit out some dynamic duos, groups, solo artists and producers  borrowed elements of their fundamental, eclectic and street sound. Mass arrays of cd's that carried their sound were stock piled out to the hip hop nation leading right up to the current mixtape culture. Some time back in '90's, acts such as Pete Rock & CL Smooth, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Brand Nubian and even Gil Scott Heron were coming out from similar sonic space with a defined and united message: jazz influenced, soulful beats and substantial lyrics with stories that went beyond party anthems and had an uplifting and enlightening purpose.

    The jazz-influenced, street-prophet style that Gang Starr helped build became the foundation for a whole generation of backpack rappers like Mos Def, Talib Kweli or even Prodigy throughout the '90s and into the '00s. Carrying the torch forward were artists like Common, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West.
    Guru's "truth meets craft" storytelling on tracks like "Soliloquy of Chaos" (from 1992's Daily Operation) can often be heard influencing verses crafted by Wu-tang's Raekwon and Ghostface. Their core theme to their lyrics is to help the listener visulaize everyhting from the gritty situations they were in to the emotions they were feeling at the time. And that formula gave an extreme advantage to all three artists' lyrical approach.

    The path to Jay Electronica and Just Blaze's recent track "Exhibit C" can be traced back to Gang Starr's sound. DJ Premier's sampling wizardry is most present in Just Blaze's body of work, and Jay Electronica's lyrical content is intellectual and visual (not unlike Guru's).
As Gang Starr continues to resonate throughout the hip-hop universe even with the untimely news, we embrace the fact that they were, they are and they forever will be present within the hip-hop culture and within the hearts of those who listened to them. The news of Guru's health ... we will "Take It Personal".