Album Review: The Kid by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith


Album: The Kid
ArtistKaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “A Kid” and “In the World, But Not of the World”
Thoughts: An experimental synthesizer album with music that moves from danceable to the cinematic.  There are a lot of hints and references to outside works but there’s also a feeling that it’s not going anywhere.  This album may require a few more listens, but as of now I’m not completely sold
Rating: ***

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Song of the Week: “Almost Like Praying” by Lin-Manuel Miranda


“Almost Like Praying” is a benefit song by composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda to raise funds for relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.  The title of the song is a lyric from “Maria” a song in the musical West Side Story about the female lead character from Puerto Rico.  In addition to the recognition that the name Maria will never be seen the same in Puerto Rico after this disaster, the song lists the name of every town in Puerto Rico.  A team of all-star singers perform the song to a reggaeton beat.  Visit the Almost Like Praying website to get the song and/or make a donation to the Hispanic Federation. Learn more about the song in this interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

 

Resistance Mixtape: Indigenous Peoples’ Day


Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day so the mixtape celebrates the native people of North America and their continuing struggle against discrimination and elimination by European colonizers.

Buffy Sainte-Marie:: “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone”

Indigo Girls :: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”

A Tribe Called Red x Prolific The Rapper :: “Black Snakes (Remix)”

Peter Gabriel :: “San Jacinto” the culture clash between Native America and present-day America

Neil Young :: “Cortez the Killer”

 

Grant-Lee Phillips :: “Buffalo Hearts”

Robbie Robertson :: “Showdown at Big Sky”

 

I’m sure there are some knowledgeable people who can add to this mixtape with some terrific music, especially by Native American artists.  If so, post them in the comments.

Album Review: Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington


Album:Harmony of Difference
ArtistKamasi Washington
Release Date: September 29, 2017
Thoughts:

I don’t listen much to jazz, especially contemporary jazz, but a streaming music account means there’s no excuse to not try new things.  The new EP by the hot saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington brings together 6 pieces in about 30 minutes of running time.  There’s a lot of retro feeling to this music, with nods to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” 60’s Brazilian bossanova, and 70s funk fusion.  The EP culminates with the 15-minute piece “Truth” which brings back and mixes together themes from the other five pieces.  Washington’s music has a sound that would be suited to scoring films although it’s also a bit too “smooth jazz” for my taste.
Rating: **1/2

Album Review: The Wild by Kris Delmhorst


AlbumThe Wild
Artist: Kris Delmhorst
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: I’ve been following Delmhort’s career for years (decades, actually!) and while she’s no stranger to the ballad, her albums usually have a fair share of raucous, upbeat tunes as well.  The Wild finds her in a more contemplative mood as every track slow, emphasizing her voice and introspective lyrics, with a touch of a country twang.  It may not be up there with my favorite Delmhorst recordings, but it’s still pretty darn good.
Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Cost of Living by Downtown Boys


AlbumCost of Living
Artist: Downtown Boys
Release Date: August 11, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “A Wall,” “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), “Lips that Bite” and “Clara Rancia.”

Thoughts: The Providence-based, bilingual punk band is back with an energetic new album filled with hard riffs and pointed lyrics.  I particularly like it when the horns kick in.  This is the music for our fraught political times, filled with anger but leavened with hope.
Rating: ****

Album Review: Prophets of Rage


AlbumProphets of Rage
Artist: Prophets of Rage
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Unfuck the World”
Thoughts: Back in the 80s, Public Enemy’s Chuck D said “rap is CNN for black people,” reflecting on the urgency of rap music to spread the word through the community.  The idea of message spreading is central to the new album from Prophets of Rage, the rock rap supergroup Chuck D formed with Rage Against the Machine’s Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, and Brad Wilk, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and DJ Lord of Public Enemy. And yet message seems to be all they’ve got, while the nearly 30-year-old It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back still stands up musically.  At it’s best, Prophets of Rage reminds me of great collaborations of rap and hard rock like Public Enemy with Anthrax or Rage Against the Machine at their best, but unfortunately most of the album reminds me of the dreck that was late-90s rap-metal, and not worthy of the talent involved in its creation.
Rating: **

Album Review: The Underside of Power by Algiers


AlbumThe Underside of Power
Artist: Algiers
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Walk Like a Panther,”  “Cry of the Martyrs,” “The Underside of Power,”  “Death March,” and “Cleveland”
Thoughts:

This may be the most important album of 2017, and one that will certainly be on my year end best of ’17 list.  The politically-charged lyrics of the Atlanta-based band offer hope in times of chaos and despair.  Algiers sound is remarkable as it is indescribable, kind of a mix of gospel, with psychedelic soul (such as late-60s Temptations or Funkadelic at their most political), and punk rock all echoed in a wall of sound.  This is definitely an album you should put on your list to check out.
Rating: ****1/2

 

Resistance Mixtape: Immigrant Songs


We are a nation of immigrants, although some like to act like we’re not, but our musical heritage is rich in songs of the travails and contributions of immigrants.
“Thousands Are Sailing” by The Pogues tells the first person stories of generations of Irish arrivals on American shores.
“America” by Neil Diamond is a cheerful ode to the ideal that’s not always realized.
“Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” by Shad is a Canadian hip-hop exploration of the same theme.
“Paper Planes” by M.I.A documents the red tape and paperwork needed to cross borders today.
“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” by Cisco Houston reminds us that not everyone who makes it here is allowed to stay, and often human live are treated as disposable
“Esta Tierra Es Tuya” by Sones de Mexico Ensemble. But, all the same, “This Land is Your Land,” no matter what language you sing it in.
There are hundreds of songs I could share here, so please let me know some good ones I left out in the comments.
Previous mixtapes

Resistance Mixtape: Labor Songs


This is a week late, but every day is Labor Day as far as I’m concerned. So here are some songs celebrating the working people.

Bread and Roses” by Judy Collins

“Gonna Be An Engineer” by Peggy Seeger

“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes

“I Guess I Planted” by Billy Bragg & Wilco

“Joe Hill” by Paul Robeson

“More Than a Paycheck” by Sweet Honey in the Rock

“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton

“Talking Union” by The Almanac Singers

“Working Class Hero” by John Lennon

I’m trying to make this a more regular feature, but until that time, enjoy some earlier Resistance Mixtapes:

Podcasts of the Week: August 26-September 8


This (two) weeks in podcasts.

All Songs Considered: All Songs +1: The Weird World Of ‘Feature’ Credits

Ever wondered what has lead to the great increase in songs with a “feat.” artist in the title over the past couple of decades? Or why the featured artists appears in the song title rather than the performer? Or what the difference between “feat.” and “with” or even “x” and “vs” all means?  Apparently, it’s all about metadata.

HUB History: Perambulating the Bounds

Local law requires Boston City Councilors or their designees to walk the boundaries of the city every five years, a practice that was often a boozy ceremony in the past, but has been ignored since the 1980s.  If the city is looking for citizens to take up perambulating the bounds again, I put my foot forward.

99% Invisible: The Age of the Algorithm

How algorithms, purportedly designed to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements, have been used as a cover for discrimination and  marketed for purposes they’re not designed for.

Have You HeardEducation Can’t Fix Poverty. So Why Keep Insisting that It Can?

The history of the most misguided myth about education, that it will resolve poverty with no other interventions required, and how it has set up schools to fail.

Finally, there are two podcasts that actually replayed episodes made by another podcast this week:

Code Switch: An Advertising Revolution: “Black People Are Not Dark-Skinned White People”  originally from Planet Money

An interesting story of the first African-American advertisement executive who showed how supposed free market capitalists were losing out on money due to white supremacy.

99% Invisible: Notes on an Imagined Plaque originally from The Memory Place

Nate Dimeo’s thoughts on what should be placed on a plaque on a Memphis statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest to mark the reasons why the statue exists.

Podcasts of the Week (s) (August 12-25)


Once again, I’ve gone two weeks without posting the must-hear podcasts.  But lucky for you, podcasts are asynchronous so you can listen to them any time!

First, I want to promote a couple of podcasts I recently started listening to that I think are worth subscribing to:

  • Five Questions With Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso – This is the first podcast I’ve heard created by someone I know, an old friend from college.  As the title aptly applies, Betsy interviews everyday people, asking them not just five questions but also providing five facts and asking to list five items on topic.  The answers are always insightful and I seriously want to get to know and become friends with every single person interviewed in these podcasts.
  • Slate’s Hit Parade – This podcast is actually part of a larger anthology podcast called the Slate Culture Gabfest and appears once per month in that feed.  Host Chris Molanphy dedicates about an hour each episode to investigating where art and commerce intersect on the popular music charts by delving into the background of how certain songs become #1 hits.  So far the podcast has told the story of UB40’s “Red Red Wine,” the circumstances behind The Beatles occupying all of the top five spots in 1964, the Elton John & George Michael’s “imperial periods” when they ruled the charts, and how “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World” made big hits out of charity megasingles.  Every episode is detailed and absolutely fascinating.

And some other podcast episodes you should listen too:

  • Politically Re-Active with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu – this podcast remains a go to source for insights on our political climate, and the three most recent episodes deal with removing Confederate monuments, Charlottesville and the aftermath.
  • The GistThe Politics of Police Unions – I’m extremely supportive of labor organizations but equally troubled by how police unions have become vehicles for racism, right wing politics, and protecting the most violent and corrupt in their ranks.  The interview with former Boston cop Tom Nolan gives some background.
  • Hub History Canoes and Canoodling on the Charles – this Boston history podcast introduced to me the history of the late nineteenth century recreational canoe craze and how kids used it to perform scandalous behavior.

 

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!