Resistance Mixtape – Anti-Fascist Anthems


I’ve been meaning to make this a regular feature, and this is a good time to collect some songs written in opposition to fascists, white supremacists, and right-wing extremists of all stripes.  It seems that folk and punk are the favored genres of anti-fascism, but if you know a good ripping tune from some other genre to add to the fight, let me know in the comments.

Woody Guthrie – “All You Fascists Bound to Lose”

Peggy Seeger – “Song of Choice”

Fishbone – “Subliminal Fascism”

Anti Flag – “This Machine Kills Fascists”

MDC – “Born to Die”

Aus-Rotten – “Fuck Nazi Sympathy”

Sonic Youth – “Youth Against Fascism”

Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name”

Album of the Week: Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes


Artists:  Fleet Foxes
Album: Crack-Up
Release Date: 16 June 2017
Favorite Tracks: “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” and “Fool’s Errand”
Thoughts:  After a six-year absence, Seattle’s Fleet Foxes return with this brilliant collection of new tunes.  The gorgeous harmonies expected from Fleet Foxes are still here.  There’s also a lot of experimentation in crafting the songs, many of which are suites of songs that shift dramatically in tone, but not only enough to be disarming not to to annoy.  The lyrics are dense and full of allusions, so much so that songwriter Robin Pecknold annotated the songs on Genius, but  I find myself content letting the music wash over me.  Crack-Up may not be everyone, but I find it the lovely end product of pushing folk rock to its limits.

Rating: ****

Song of the Week: “Get Up” by The Blow


This weeks track comes from the Olympia, Washington electro-pop duo The Blow.  “Get Up” is a spoken word rap over a simple synthesizer beat that brings 80s flashbacks and also reminds me of the dance punk band !!!.  The songwriter Khaela Maricich describes the song as being about “the feeling of my whole spirit being crushed by extreme capitalism.”  The Blow’s new album Brand New Abyss is due for release in September.

Resistance Mixtape – Independence Day


Over the past few months I’ve been collecting songs for what I call the Resistance Mixtape.

Music can soothe and inspire.  Songs can tell stories and instruct. And most importantly music brings people together.

Here are some songs for the Resistance Mixtape for Independence Day.

Let’s begin with Paul Robeson, singing about “The House I Live In.”

Woody Guthrie’s famous response to “God Bless America” noted that even in a land where people wait in line at the relief office and signs say “No Trespassing” that the reality is that “This Land is Your Land.”

Prince & the Revolution similarly question the premise of “America the Beautiful” and whether or not the grace of God trickles down to our children.

Kim Weston sings a stirring version of the song known as “The Black National Anthem.”

Finally, the love we have for our own nation need does not mean we hate or demean other nations as we learn in the hymn “This is My Song” written by Lloyd Stone.

What other songs would you add to the mixtape?

Song of the Week: “Hot to Trot” by Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas


 

Ok, this blog has grown moribund and I find it impossible to keep myself organized enough to create a monthly “What I’m Listening To Now” post.  So I’m bringing back “Song of the Week.”  Especially since I heard this great new song on the radio (yes, the radio!) by Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas.  The band is from Detroit, Hernandez sings in English & Spanish, and this track at least reminds a bit of the early B-52s.  Enjoy some hot music for this hot Independence Day weekend!

 

Book Review: Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen


Author: Bob Boilen
TitleYour song changed my life : from Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, thirty-five beloved artists on their journey and the music that inspired it
Narrator: Bob Boilen
Publication Info: New York, NY : William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2016]
Summary/Review:

Bob Boilen of NPR’s All Songs Considered interviews about three dozen musical artists, focusing on the music that influences those artists.  The subjects are quiet varied in representing different areas of popular music from Jimmy Page to St. Vincent to Smokey Robinson to Iain Mackaye to Phillip Glass to Lucinda Williams.  Some of the influences are what you’d expect, but then they’re surprises like Trey Anastassio of Phish citing Leonard Bernstein or Jenny Lewis drawing on hip-hop.  Some of the best interviews are with artists I otherwise knew nothing about such as Hozier and Fantastic Negrito.  A significant part of this book is also about Boilen’s own experience as a kid first hearing the Beatles, working in a record store, and starting a band.  He frequently relates the artists’ experience back to his own and indirectly to the reader’s as we all have our own experiences of being exposed to music.  This is a good book for music fans, and even if you don’t read it cover to cover, it’s worth checking out some of the interviews.
Recommended booksTalking to girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield, How the Beatles destroyed rock ‘n’ roll by Elijah Wald, and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
Rating: ***

What I’m Listening to Now – April 2017


Song of the Month

“Cherry Blossom” by ALA.NI

Podcasts of the Month

Best of the Left Progressives Fight on Multiple Fronts

I hear too much infighting about the best way to conduct the resistance, so it’s good to hear this podcast the multiple fronts on which progressives are fighting for our country and our future.

Sound OpinionsMavis Staples

An insightful interview with the musical legend.

The Memory PalaceTemple

I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Turns out that the temple is not as old as I thought nor has it been in the Met for as long as I’d imagined either.  The stories of why it was built and how it ended up in New York are equally fascinating.

Ben Frankin’s World Paul Revere’s Ride Through History

Four scholars explore the history of Paul Revere and why we remember him today.

99% InvisibleSounds Natural

Viewers of nature documentaries expect that everything in the film comes directly from nature, but having microphones in the right place to capture sounds is so difficult and dangerous that most animal sounds are produced by foley artists.

StarTalk Radio – Baseball: Physics at the Plate

A baseball player, physicists, and comedians join together to discuss baseball at SXSW.  Good things happen

Planet MoneyGeorgetown, Lousiana

The story of a Louisiana town where many of the residents are descendants of 272 slaves sold to fund Georgetown University.

Albums of the Month

Artist: Charly Bliss
Album: Guppy
Release Date: April 21, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Glitter,” “Black Hole,” and “Ruby”

Thoughts: The Brooklyn power pop quartet bring back a mid-90s sound reminiscent of  Letters to Cleo and Velocity Girl.  Eva Hendricks sings a bit nasally over fuzzed-out guitars and drums with lyrics that aren’t anywhere as sweet as they’re sung.  It’s a great throwback but having lived through it all the first time around, I’d prefer something new.
Rating: ***


Artist: Future Islands
Album: The Far Field
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Beauty of the Road,” “Cave,” and “Shadows”

Thoughts: I was not familiar with the Baltimore-based synthpop outfit, but the reviews of the album were good so I thought I’d give it a shot.  The sound is very 80s, reminiscent of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, but Samuel Herring’s vocals overlaying the synths are more growly than romantic.  Once again, I’m feeling that I’ve heard this all before. The highlight is the duet with Debbie Harry on “Shadows.”
Rating: **1/2


Artist: Alexandra Savior
Album: Belladonna of Sadness
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Thoughts: This debut from the Portland, OR singer-songwriter features moody crooning over 60’s style jazz-pop.  It’s a little bit reminiscent of Fiona Apple, not to mention umpteen singers from the swinging sixties.  There’s too much polish on this album and the raw talent Savior has is unable to shine through.
Rating: **


Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Whiteout Conditions
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “High Ticket Attractions”

Thoughts: I’m a long-time fan of The New Pornographers and I’m disappointed by their latest release.  There’s nothing new about it as the reliance on synthesizers seems to just water down their traditional sound rather then expand into new territories.  The emotion and variety of previous albums.  Perhaps the absence of Dan Bejar contributes to the lack of balance and feeling of incompleteness.
Rating: **


ArtistGorillaz
Album: Humans
Release Date: April 28, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ascension” (feat. Vince Staples),”Momentz” (feat. De La Soul), “Let Me Out” (feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T), and “We Got the Power” (feat. Jenny Beth)

Thoughts: The band of animated characters is joined by an army of guest artists on this hip-hop, indie pop, electronic dance party album.  It’s all over the place and delightfully strange but there’s a little something for everyone.
Rating: ***1/2

That’s April!  If there’s something I should listen to in May, let me know in the comments.

What I’m Listening to Now – March 2017


It’s more than halfway through April so it’s about time I get this post up for March.

Podcasts of the Month

99% InvisibleChurch, Sanctuary part 1

Sanctuary churches have been in the news.  Here is how it works in practice.

BackStoryTaking it to the Streets

A history of mass protests in the United States.

Best of the LeftLiving in an empire of lies (Propaganda)

Stepping back from the headline news and taking a deep dive into the history of propaganda in the United States.

To the Best of Our Knowledge – Every Time You Troll Me, A Scientist Gets Her Due

Emily Temple-Wood decided the best way to get back at misogynist trolls on the internet is to write a new entry about a woman scientists on Wikipedia every time they attack.

RadiolabShots Fired, part 1

An investigation into police shootings of innocent or unarmed individuals and the networks of the families and friends left behind.

Fresh Air – An ‘Intimate Portrait’ Of Dorothy Day, The Catholic Activist With A Bohemian Past

An interview with Kate Hennessy, author of a new biography of her grandmother, Dorothy Day.

Song of the Month

Frank Turner adds another song to the rapidly growing Resistance Mixtape, “The Sand in the Gears.”

Albums of the Month


Artist: The Feelies
Album: In Between
Release Date: 24 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “When to Go,” “Stay the Course” and “Turn Back Time”
Rating: ***

The Feelies are a band that seems to have always been around, but this is only their 6th album in 40+ years.  They managed to both influence R.E.M. and be beneficiaries of R.E.M.’s popularity in the 1980s.  The jangle pop of this album is reminiscent of the 80s, not in the 80s Nostalgia Industry way but in the type of music you’d hear your older sibling’s cool best friend listening to in the car in the 80s.  The songs appear laid back, but grow in lyrical and emotional intensity.


Artist: The Shins
AlbumHeartworms
Release Date: 10 March 2017
Favorite Tracks: “So Now What” and “Cherry Hearts”
Rating: ***

The Shins return with their typical high harmonies and wall of sound arrangements.  This album appears to do some genre hopping – ska to EDM to psychedelia – but all within The Shins’ framework.  Definitely a good return to form after a long 5-year hiatus.


ArtistPeter Mulvey
Album: Are You Listening
Release Date: 25 March 2017
Favorite Tracks: “D.I.A.,” “Are You Listening,” “Just Before the War,” “The Details,” and “Oh, The Rain”
Rating: ****

Peter Mulvey is who I’d want to be as a singer-songwriter. On this new album produced by Ani DiFranco, Mulvey’s bass voice resonates and his profound lyrics are full of thought and emotion.  Definitely an album you’ll want to check out.

Concert Review: A Tribe Called Red


Artist: A Tribe Called Red
Opener: YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV BOSTON
Venue: The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
Date: 18 March 2017

It’s been a long time since I posted a concert review because it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a concert.  But I couldn’t miss A Tribe Called Red, one of my favorite musical acts to emerge in recent years.  The three DJs based in Ottawa, Ontario mix electronic music with First Nations’ chants and drums in a style called Electric Pow Wow.  Their music is danceable but lyrically is politically and socially charged with messages from contemporary native communities.

The opening act featured YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV Boston who spun an eclectic mix of dance tracks that got people moving on the floor.  The two DJs worked together at a small soundboard often crossing one another’s hands in a surprisingly intimate manner.  CLLCTV is definitely something I’ll be checking out in the future.

DJ NDN,  Bear Witness, and 2oolman took the stage around 10 pm with a simple set-up on one long table.  Projected behind them were repeating clips of movies, cartoons, and perhaps performances on tv variety shows depicting clichéd and stereotypical Native American images in a way of reappropriation of the “Hollywood Indian.” Unlike A Tribe Called Red albums where the musical tracks are distinct pieces, in the live performance they ran as one long and highly infectious dance mix.  Periodically a pair of dancers would come on stage, received enthusiastically by the audience, performing a mix of native dances and breakdancing. Their clothing similarly mixed traditional native dress with African-American hip hop styles.

 

The set seemed to be over soon after it begun, but checking the time I realized that nearly two hours had passed.  I long wished to travel to Ottawa to experience the Electronic Pow Wow, but I’m glad that for one night it came closer to home.  It was definitely a performance worth seeing.

A side note, this is the first time I attended a concert at The Sinclair.  It’s an intimate venue, but while small it didn’t feel crushingly crowded despite a sizeable crowd.  There’s a large standing room only space on the floor in front of the stage with a smaller mezzanine with balconies on the sides.  Looking at the list of upcoming performances it looks like The Sinclair has taken over the dearly departed T.T. the Bear’s role of offering famed but not superstar performers from a diversity of genres a place to play in Cambridge.

What I’m Listening to Now – February 2017


Better late than never, here is the report of what I was listening to in February, a short month punctuated by a delightful vacation where I mostly listened to the laughter of my children.

Podcasts of the Month

Fresh AirThe History of US Intervention

A discussion of the United States involvement with the rest of the world from isolationism to the world’s police to the more sinister activities of imperialism and corporate hegemony.

Jacobin RadioWe Can Do Better

What is capitalism, what role does it play in our lives, and is it really the best we can do?

To The Best of Our KnowledgeA Borderless World

Borders and immigration are a key issue of our times.  These stories illustrate how the idea of borders is becoming an outdated one.

BackStoryWorld Apart

The divide between urban and rural populations is one of the major causes of political disagreement in the US today, and one that goes back throughout the history of the United States.

This American LifeIt’s Working Out Very Nicely

Stories of the confusion and struggle that arose in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Twenty Thousand HertzAudio Descriptions

Movies have a track of audio description intended to help the visually impaired and this podcast describes the art of narration and how audio descriptions can benefit all viewers.

Decode DCHow cops can legally take your car, home, or cash

The chilling law of civil asset forfeiture that allows police to take property from suspects even if they’re not convicted or even charged with crimes.

Have You Heard?You’re Fired

All about why school turnarounds – a theory of fixing low-performing schools by firing the teachers and staff that has widespread, bipartisan support – is an idea that doesn’t work, and what actually does.

Song of the Month

Chicago singer-songwriter Zeshan Bagewadi (aka Zeshan B) provides a powerful interpretation of the 1970 protest anthem “Cryin’ in the Streets” by  George Perkins that ties together generations of protest for justice and equality in the United States.  Learn more about the song The World interview.

 

Albums of the Month

Artist: Tinariwen
Album: Elwan
Release Date: 10 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Sastanàqqàm,” Ténéré Tàqqàl,” “Assàwt,” and “Nànnuflày”
Thoughts: The Northern Africa Desert Blues band from Mali’s most recent release includes guest appearances by indie artists like Kurt Vile, but the band itself is the stand out performer of this collection of melodic, resonant, and politically-charged tunes.
Rating: ***1/2


 

Artist: Clap! Clap!
Album: A Thousand Skies
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ar-Raqis” and “Elephant Seranade”
Thoughts: Clap! Clap! is a project of Italian producer Cristiano Crisci, who creates instrumental dance tracks relying heavily on indigenous percussion.  An earlier Clap! Clap! recording, Tayi Bebba,  made my 2014 favorite albums list.  While not as strong as its predecessor, A Thousand Skies is equally enjoyable as festive ambient music for a party or for getting through a gray day at work
Rating: ***1/2


Artist: Visible Cloaks
AlbumReassemblage
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Bloodstream”, “Place,” “Valve (Revisited)”
Thoughts: Somewhere between Phillip Glass, a church organist, and a lullaby lies this lovely collection of ambient tunes.
Rating: ***


Artist: Molly Burch
AlbumPlease Be Mine
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Fool”
Thoughts: A collection of retro, country-tinged tracks sung sweetly by a barroom singer.  It’s pretty and well-produced, and while there’s nothing wrong with Burch’s album it’s nothing we  haven’t heard before from Patsy Cline and singers produced by Phil Spector among others, so it’s just a tad bit dull.
Rating: **


 

2016 Year in Review: Favorite Songs


Once again, it’s time to look back on the music of 2016 with my favorite songs of the year.

I’ve featured many of this songs in my Song of the Week posts this year.  If you see a link from a song title it will take you back to the Song of the Week post for that song, or other time I wrote about that band.

For previous year-end lists of previous years check out my lists for 2015,  201420132012,  2011,  2010  and  2009.

In alphabetical order, here are my ten favorite songs of the year:

Atomic Number” by case/lang/veirs

Brother, What Happened” by Muddy Magnolias

Big Bad Good” by My Bubba

“Freedom” by Beyoncé

“Mighty (feat. JFTH)” by Caravan Palace

“Quiet” by Erik Blood

To Have You Back” by Tourist

Wave of History” by Downtown Boys

Your Best American Girl” by Mitski

You Want it Darker” by Leonard Cohen

 

And here are five honorable mentions:

Augustine” by Blood Orange

Frankie Sinatra” by The Avalanches

Stranger Things” by Kyle Dixon, Michael Stein

“This Girl” by Kungs vs. Cookin’ on 3 Burners

Yeah, I’m Okay With My Shit Life” by Bethlehem Steel

What were your favorite songs of 2016?

 

2016 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


This is my second attempt at making an Albums of the Year least after my first try in 2014.  There aren’t any real surprises here as most of these albums are appearing on every other list, so I will have to seek out younger and more experimental musicians.  Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on five great albums from 2016.

Listed alphabetically by title, with links to my original reviews where possible.

David Bowie, Blackstar

Bowie’s final album, released days before his death, shows that he was an experimenter to the very last, incorporating jazz and electronic songs into richly textured songs about mortality.

Beyoncé, Lemonade

Confession: I never listened to anything by Beyoncé before this year.  But this album blew me away with it’s mix of genres and the blend of personal travails with the political aspirations of black women.  It seems appropriate that it comes 25 years after Nirvana’s Nevermind and The Beatle’s Revolver because each album created a new sound for its generation.

A Tribe Called Red, We Are the Halluci Nation

As the Water Protectors made their stand  against DAPL this year, it is appropriate that the Ottawa-based DJs of A Tribe Called Red released their most angry, political album yet.

The Avalanches, Wild Flowers

It wasn’t worth waiting 16 years, but it’s still a wild mix of sounds that feels like a back alley journey through American music.

Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker

Another farewell album recorded by an artist in his dying days that shows that the power of creativity can persist into old age.

For an entirely different list of albums I’ve never heard before (but really want to now), check out this list on the Speed of Things by my friend Erik.

What are your favorite albums of the year?

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Revels: An Acadian-Cajun Celebration of the Winter Solstice


 

It’s not Christmas until I’ve partaken of the Christmas Revels which I enjoyed at a Monday matinée with my family at Sanders Theater.  This is the 15th Christmas Revels production I’ve seen including one in Washington in 1995 and the rest in Cambridge from 2001-2006 and 2009 to present.  This years celebration of Acadian/Cajun music, culture, and history is among the best.  As an added bonus, the fire alarm went off near the end of intermission and we got to see everyone evacuate and the Cambridge Fire Department arrive.  My son hadn’t finished his hot chocolate so he was happy for the extended intermission.

Most Revels productions tell a story, but this one has a strong narrative of the French settlers of Acadie in Canada who make the land arable, how they become stuck in the middle of the wars between the French and British, and their exile and resettlement in Louisiana. Such a heavy history does not always fit into the joyousness of Revels, and the scenes of their villages being burned and the Acadians forced to pack up and leave are giving appropriate gravitas. It’s such a Revels tradition to have the “villagers” on stage smiling and warmly interacting, that when during a mournful song the entire cast looks absently into space with somber looks on their faces it is a powerful moment.

But lest you think it’s all sad, there was plenty of joyous celebration.  Here are some of my favorite moments:

  • the large tree on the set, central to the themes of rootedness in the story, but also used to project images relevant to the performance
  • the Revels also have unbelievably talented children in lead roles, and 12-year-old Lola May Williamson may be the best yet.  I even saw her take the time to lift the spirits of a younger child who couldn’t help yawning during the performance.
  • “Le Depart Du Canada (The Leaving of Canada)” feature the long march of villagers leaving Acadia, diagonally across the stage.  I’m pretty sure the cast circled around at least twice to make the line appear even longer.
  • “La Valse Cadienne de Noël” or the Cajun Christmas waltz
  • the part where we threw plush chickens around the audience
  • The Mummer’s Play featuring David Coffin as a caustic alligator
  • It would seem that the character of the doctor in a Cajun mummer’s play would be obvious, but I was totally taken by surprise by the appearance of “Dr. John” (played by Steve Barkhimer) and perhaps the greatest tonal shift in Revels history as he launched into a performance of “Right Place, Wrong Time” followed by the Dixie Cups singing “Iko Iko”
  • The all-women sword dance

The run of the 2016 Revels has ended but you can get yourself the album Valse de Noël and even audition for the 2017 Revels!

Related posts:

Music Discoveries: The Replacements


The Replacements are a band I started listening to in high school in the 1980s (highly apropos) coming off a time when I’d spent a couple of years listening almost exclusively to Classic Rock. The Replacements were a special band for me because not only was I listening to something current but the cool alternative kids weren’t listening to The Replacements either. Until I got to college where everyone knew The Replacements. And then the band broke up.

Anyhow, I’ve been reading the biography of the band, Trouble Boys by Bob Mehr (review forthcoming), and while I had four of the band’s last five albums, I wasn’t familiar with their early stuff.  I figured this was a good opportunity to do a Music Discovery.  So crack open a beer, crank up my best of The Replacements playlist on Tidal, and read on.
Album: Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
Release Date: 25 August 1981
Favorite Tracks: “Careless,” “I Bought a Headache,” “Don’t Ask Why,” and “I’m in Trouble”
Thoughts: This raw debut captures the energy of early 80s punk rock, with The Replacements already showing some of their pop sensibility.  18 songs seems like overkill for a band just starting out, but really there are no stinkers here.
Rating: ****


Album: Stink
Release Date: 24 June 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Kids Don’t Follow” and “Stuck in the Middle”
Thoughts: This EP or mini-LP (or really “Kids Don’t Follow” with 7 B-sides) is straight-up hardcore punk.  With tracks named “Fuck School,”  “White and Lazy,”  “Dope Smokin’ Moron,” and “God Damn Job,” it seems that The Replacements are a stereotype of white teen boys rebelling against suburban, middle class values.  But The Replacements are in on the joke, so that makes it work.  And songs like “Go” presage the musical and lyrical complexity of future works.
Rating: **1/2


Album: Hootenanny
Release Date: 29  April 1983
Favorite Tracks: “Color Me Impressed” and “Within Your Reach”
Thoughts: I want to say that this is the album where The Replacements found there sound as they moved away from hard punk to something that sounded more like a clearly identifiable Replacements sound, particularly on “Color Me Impressed.”  But then again, this album has a little bit of everything – rockabilly, blues rock, and folk particularly – while the drum loop on “Within Your Reach” gives it a contemporary New Wave sound and “Mr. Whirly” is a Beatles’ parody.  For an album with a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach, it is surprisingly cohesive.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Let It Be
Release Date: 2 October 1984
Favorite Tracks: “I Will Dare,” “Favorite Thing,” “Androgynous,” “Unsatisfied,” “Gary’s Got a Boner,” and “Answering Machine”
Thoughts: Finally up to an album I remember from my youth rather than hearing for the first time.  And is this not the perfect encapsulation of disaffected youth in the 1980s, from the pain and angst to the puerile humor?  It’s hard to come at an album that’s received such accolades from a fresh perspective, other than to say it deserves all of them.
Rating: *****


Album: Tim
Release Date: October 1985
Favorite Tracks: “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Bastards of Young,” and “Here Comes  a Regular”
Thoughts: This is another album I didn’t have when younger, although several of the tracks were familiar.  There’s definitely a shift in tone on this album as Westerberg’s singer/songwriter talents and pop sensibilities continue to develop, leading to more down-tempo songs and a mix of rockabilly and folk rock instead of the harder punk of previous albums.  It’s a good album but it’s still a big step down from Let It Be. This is also the last album for founding member and guitarist Bob Stinson who either had artistic differences with Westerberg, want to stick to only playing rockers, or was fired by the rest of the band because his substance abuse made him too unreliable for even The Replacements (probably aspects of both are true).
Rating: ***


Album: Pleased to Meet Me
Release Date: 1985 June 17
Favorite Tracks: “Alex Chilton,” “I Don’t Know,” and “Can’t Hardly Wait”
Thoughts: The band’s only album as a trio is also their major label debut and continues to show Westerberg’s skill as a crafter of pop/rock tunes, in some case even bringing in horn and string arrangements.  Despite the departure of Bob Stinson, this album seems to have a harder edge than Tim.  This album could’ve been an indication of how The Replacements could’ve matched their earlier punk ethic with a more accessible sound, but with the power of hindsight, we know it’s The Replacements’ last great album.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Don’t Tell a Soul
Release Date: 7 February 1989
Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Be You”
Thoughts: This was the first Replacements’ album I ever listened to, so it breaks my heart to admit that it doesn’t hold up as well as the rest of their work.  The production values are very high, but the band’s anarchic brilliance is lost in the process.  It’s clear that they were trying to distill The Replacements through the prism of the recent indie rock success of REM’s Document (which is probably why I liked it at the time) but erased The Replacements in the process.  “I’ll Be You” is still a brilliant song though.
Rating: **


Album: All Shook Down
Release Date: 25 September 1990
Favorite Tracks: “Sadly Beautiful” and “When It Began”
Thoughts: This album started as a Westerberg solo project and even though the record label insisted it be a Replacements’ recording, the rest of the band merely appears among many session musicians and guest artists.  Despite that, it is a brighter and more listenable album than it’s predecessor.  It’s a long way in less than a decade from Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash to be at a point where the majority of this album is acoustic, singer/songwriter pieces and the highlight is a track with a cello solo (“Sadly Beautiful”)
Rating: **1/2

While working on this post I found this interesting article by Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! listing her favorite songs by the Replacements.

Music Discoveries: Stevie Wonder, 1970-1982


When I was a kid, on an occasion when my mother took me shopping at Bradlee’s, I wandered into the electronics department and heard a stereo system blasting “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder. A young, slender African American man (I remember thinking he resembled Raj from “What’s Happening”) was dancing in front of the stereo, clapping his hands and shouting out “yeah” at intervals. And really what greater testament to the music of Stevie Wonder than to say it is the type of music that will make you dance, clap, and shout in Bradlee’s.

For this Music Discovery, I did not listen to every recording Stevie Wonder ever made, but focused on a dozen years or so during which he had his greatest artistic output and critical success. To warm up for this, I first listened to Wonder’s hit songs from the 1960s.

1 Fingertips Pts. 1 & 2
2 Hey Harmonica Man
3 Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
4 A Place In The Sun
5 I Was Made To Love Her
6 I’m Wondering
7 Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day
8 Alfie
9 For Once In My Life
10 I Don’t Know Why
11 Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday
12 My Cherie Amour

Of these songs, “Fingertips” never fails to wow me with its combination of raw talent and exuberance in performance. “My Cherie Amour” is kind of cheezy ballad but its always been a sentimental favorite of mine.

And now on to the 1970s.

AlbumSigned, Sealed & Delivered
Release Date: August 1970
Favorite Tracks: “Signed, Sealed & Delivered,” “Heaven Help Us All”,  & “Never Had a Dream Come True”
Thoughts: 20-year-old Stevie Wonder is beginning to make his own artistic choices and statements musically and lyrically while still in the standard Motown mold.  A consistent album with “Heaven Help Us All” offering gospel styles and socially conscious lyrics as the stand out track.
Rating: ***


AlbumWhere I’m Coming From
Release Date: April 1971
Favorite Tracks:”Do Yourself A Favor,” “If You Really Love Me,”  & “I Wanna Talk To You”
Thoughts: Wonder’s first fully-independent recording is compared to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On due to the focus on war and social issues but I’m also hearing similarities in musical experimentation to what Funkadelic was doing in the same period.  “Do Yourself A Favor” and “If You Really Love Me” are the standout tracks with “I Wanna Talk To You” and entertainingly weird dialogue between Wonder and a racist white person (also voiced by Wonder).  There’s a lot of inconsistency over the course of the album with ballads getting the “soft rock” treatment, and the finale “Sunshine in Their Eyes” gets an A-for-effort for experimentation but comes out sounding a bit of a mess.
Rating: ***


AlbumMusic of My Mind
Release Date: March 1972
Favorite Tracks: “Love Having You Around,” “Happier than the Morning Sun,” and “Keep On Running”
Thoughts: Alternately funky and silky-smooth soulful, the first of the classic period albums displays Wonder’s versatile vocal abilities and experiments with keyboards.  For such a  notable album I was surprised that I wasn’t familiar with any of these tracks but there’s a remarkable consistency through the album.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumTalking Book
Release Date:  October 1972
Favorite Tracks: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Superstition,” “Big Brother,” and “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”
Thoughts: This album has a timeless quality, it sounds like it could’ve been released this year.  It must’ve been revelatory when people first heard it in 1972.  Wonder experiments with numerous keyboards, synthesizers, and drums, continuing as a one-man band on many tracks, but also has numerous guest artists including Jim Gilstrap, Lani Groves, David Sandborn, Deniece Williams, Ray Parker, Jr., and Jeff Beck.  Also, “Superstition” is one of the all-time great songs.  It never fails to amaze me.
Rating: ****


AlbumInnervisions
Release Date: August 1973
Favorite Tracks: “Living for the City,” “Higher Ground,” and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”
Thoughts: Overall a more jazzy disc with some funk overtones.  Not at as consistent as previous albums with some valleys and peaks, but when the peaks are “Living for the City” and “Higher Ground” they are some mighty fine peaks!  Also, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” is all too relevant for our times.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumFulfillingness’ First Finale
Release Date:  July 1974
Favorite Tracks:  “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,”  “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” and “They Won’t Go When I Go”
Thoughts: A somber and less-optimistic album, both musically and lyrically, compared with its predecessors.  A strong gospel influence runs through the album alongside funk, soul, and jazz improvisation.
Rating: ****

 

AlbumSongs in the Key of Life
Release Date:  September 1976
Favorite Tracks: “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” “Sir Duke,” “I Wish” and “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)”
Thoughts: A sprawling album of 21 tracks, many of them over 5 minutes long, that originally was released as a two LPs with a bonus  EP.  It’s reminiscent of the Beatles’ “white album” both in the exploration of musical styles and the thought that maybe this could be trimmed down to a solid single album, but which tracks would you cut?  Nevermind, splendor in the surplus of sound.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumHotter than July
Release Date: September 1980
Favorite Tracks: “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for it” and “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”
Thoughts:  After averaging more than 1 studio album per year from 1962 to 1976, Stevie Wonder took a long break after Songs in the Key of Life (itself a double album).  He recorded a soundtrack Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants” in 1979, and finally returned to a traditional studio album with this recording in 1980.  He shows of his musical versatility with the contemporary country sound of “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It” and the reggae homage to Bob Marley of “Master Blaster (Jammin’).”  All in all, a solid album with a mix of funk, disco, and jazz-inspired improvisation.
Rating: ***

To finish things up, I listened to  the compilation album Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I, which includes 16 of the great songs from the 1970s and four new tracks:    “Front Line”, “Ribbon in the Sky”, “That Girl”, and “Do I Do.” Of these “Front Line” is a great funk number telling a still relevant story about a man sent to war, disabled, and returns to the poverty and desperation of his family and neighborhood.  The middle two songs are forgetable ballads, but I do remember “Do I Do” getting a ton of airplay as a kid, albeit lacking the Dizzy Gillespie trumpet solo, and Stevie Wonder’s rap that turns into scatting on the fadeout.  They must’ve played a radio edit, which is a shame.

If you wish to enjoy all the favorite tracks cited above, I’ve put them together in a Tidal playlist. You can’t go to Bradlee’s anymore, but wherever you are you can crank up the music, dance, clap, and shout “yeah!”