July 2010




Sounds like: Brooklyn lo-fi, drum machines in a damp basement. Despite having all the earmarks of trendiness, it's not obnoxious. Just a really relaxing and pretty song. From the album Small Black EP.

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Andy Mulkerin of Pittsburgh's City Paper

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Andy (plus a bonus song):

Samantha Crain - Lions
A 23 year old singer from Oklahoma who is making some waves in the indie-folk world. Andy says: "I wrote a short bit about Samantha Crain when she played at South Park last year; her 2009 release, Songs In the Night, was haunting, beautiful and folky. "Lions" comes from her new release, You (Understood), and has more of a rock feel, which -- perhaps suprisingly -- befits her. I listen to it again and again, and keep picking up on subtle rewards within."

Meeting of Important People - The Jesus Song
WYEP's local act of the year for 2009. From their new EP 'Quit Music'. Andy says: "This is a local band I've been a fan of since I encountered their first release early last year -- I had a great time interviewing Josh about their new record a couple weeks back, and I was particularly interested in this song. As he explains it, it's not sincere nor ironic; it's just a character song, an exercise in expression."

Love of Everything - Tin Can Phone
Project of Bobby Burg of the indie group Joan of Arc. It began in 1999 before Bobby was a part of JoA. Andy says: "This is the lead track from a recent collection of songs from the Joan of Arc-related project. Kind of lo-fi, a little bit amateurish, definitely naive and sweet, it fits well with the JoA vibe. Perhaps a slightly nostalgic pick on my part."

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"Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promises" from their new disc I and Love and You. Totally reminds me of Rt 28 in Pittsburgh. What do you think?

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un2xYzvAqhw

There has been a boat load of new releases coming out recently that have hit all the right summer notes for me. Among them is the San Francisco band Sonny & The Sunsets who will be releasing a gem of a album entitled Tomorrow Is Alright on Aug. 31 through Fat Possum Records.

I thought I would share a standout track with you all called "Too Young To Burn". Its a nice nostalgia filled tune that should be finding its way onto many a summer roadtrip playlists. Its not a "Official Video" but at least it allows you to enjoy the song.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg0UsO5SFb8&feature=avmsc2

Sometimes when you hear a song, it casts a spell on you that can only be broken by continuously listening to it for days on end. “Becoming a Jackal” by Villagers still has me in its whimsical grip, and I suspect the only way that the spell can be broken is if I pass it along to the collective consciousness.

Actually, after listening to the Irish band’s debut LP — also titled Becoming a Jackal, out now on Domino Records — I fear the spell won’t go away until the rest of you fall in love with the entire album, just as I have. But for starters, have a look-see at the above video. I must warn you, though — it may conjure emotion.

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The Flaming Lips
Station Square Amphitheater
Tuesday, July 20, 2010.

You have certain expectations when going to a Flaming Lips show.

You expect the wacky costumed fans (spacemen and women, priests with devil horns, plenty of butterfly wings); you expect the epileptic light show; you might even see it coming when Lips frontman Wayne Coyne enters a plastic bubble and stumbles around on the hands, heads and shoulders of the fans cramped in the first rows, in a sort of germophobic crowd surf.

But before the show even starts, Coyne is on stage, urging the crowd to listen to the train that passes less than fifty feet from the Station Square Amphitheater’s stage. It sounds like its coming from the speakers.

And it is, because the Lips put microphones near the tracks.

“Whenever the train goes by, we’ll turn it up and listen,” says Coyne. “I think it sounds amazing.”

When the show begins, no matter your expectations, it’s pretty overwhelming. The perpetually raining confetti, the strobe lights and disco balls, the giant video screen with the hallucinogenic naked dancers; they’re all the expected highlights from the Lips’ resume and it all works.

What’s unexpected is how good they sound, not because they’re in their 28th year as a group, but because their studio sound is so dynamic that a smooth translation to live-performance would seem impossible.

The Lips’ 2009 record, Embryonic, has an incredibly distinct production style. It’s artfully messy, its loud, its fuzzy. It sounds like each instrument is nudging another with its elbows, pushing and squeezing to the foreground resulting in that busy overpopulated sound.

The first single, “Silver Trembling Hands,” sounds like the soundtrack to an intergalactic Indy 500. Its a fast paced race between drums and bass, with Coyne’s lyrics and guitar sporadically piled on top, leading to slow and pretty chords in the song’s chorus (“...when she’s high...”).

It’s the second song they play and it clarifies how they can sound so good live. The production style on Embryonic sounds like an inexperienced sound mixer doing his first show, mindlessly turning knobs and micromanaging the mix. The record's sound has the humility of a live show.

Embryonic isn’t the Lips’ best record and it may be because that production style is so relentless. It has a very distinct mood, and its hard to be in that mood for 70 minutes.

But tonight, the Lips keep it various, playing strong renditions of “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “The Morning of the Magicians” and ending with “Do You Realize?”

Nearly every song comes with a bonus ending, Coyne repeating the song’s lyrics after everyone’s done clapping, eventually leading the band back in for one extra lap through the chorus. It’s a lot of fun.

Coyne sounds as good as ever. He sounds exasperated and dry-throated and aging. Luckily, he sounds exasperated and dry-throated and aging even on their oldest records, so its an honest rendition.

This seems to be the running theme of the show: the Lips know you have expectations for their show, both in performance and flamboyance, and they know how to meet them (though with more F-bombs than expected).

After “She Don’t Use Jelly,” lead guitarist Stephen Drozd notices the passing train and the microphone is turned up. Coyne tells everyone to listen.

The train has a mesmerizing rhythm, with dinks and clinks and imperfections in the track peppered on top, spanning a familiar range of metal tones and industrial timbre booming through the speakers.

Or maybe it doesn't. But watching Coyne listen hypnotically to the passing forty-car caboose, it's hard to ignore the romance of hundreds of people at a concert pausing to listen to the Coke Express.

“I wish we sounded like a train,” says Coyne.

“I think we do, sometimes,” says Drozd.
___

(Photographs: Hugh Twyman)

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Mervis of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott (plus some bonus songs):

Sleigh Bells, "Kids" - Duo based in Brooklyn. Sound is heavy on the noise and heavy on the pop. This is their debut. Scott says: "You know when Ke$ha (I love her) asks the DJ to blow her speakers up? He’d be wise to put on the debut album from this Brooklyn duo that’s been described as a clash between the White Stripes and M.I.A. Distorted beats, siren synths and the lurching guitar riffs of Derek Miller (former Poison the Well) are all topped by the spastic sing-song melodies of former elementary school teacher Alexis Krauss."

The Walkmen, "Angela Surf City" - Indie band from NYC & Philly. They formed in 2000 and are on their sixth album which will be released on 9/14/10. Scott says: "The album isn’t coming out until September, but it should be leaking on the Internet before that. This is one of the wilder songs, opening with a surf-rock beat and riff and then bursting into a monstrous wave of sound. Check out how he cribs a Dylan line — "life goes on all around you" — with a wink and a nod."

Bear Cub, "Mexico" - Local band Bear Cub and their self-titled debut is making some waves on the Pittsburgh music scene. Scott says: "When you put out a call for an online band competition, you don’t always expect much. But Bear Cub, which I’d never heard of, submitted this song for the PG’s Pittsburgh Rocks competition and I loved it right away. Yeah, it sounds like Bright Eyes, but seeing the band live and hearing the rest of the album, I realized there was more to them than that. Keep an eye on Jesse Hall ’cause he’s got talent to burning"

Smashing Pumpkins, "A Song for a Son" - Revived Alt-rock band that is basically Billy Corgan. Scott says: "I haven’t always been the biggest Pumpkins fan and the band’s recent history has been nothing short of a trainwreck. But I dig this song from Billy Corgan, which is part of a 44-track album-in-progress available as a free download on the band’s website. This epic tune, with an old-fashioned shredding solo, sounds like it would fit between "Stairway to Heaven" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on that classic-rock station up the dial."

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Bear Cub Scott Mervis Sleigh Bells Smashing Pumpkins The 9:13 Buzz The Walkmen

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Marc Cohn

“Listening Booth:  1970”

July 20, 2010

Saguaro Road Records

Produced and Arranged by John Leventhal

Co-Produced by Rick DePofi

So.  I’ve been waiting (and hoping) for that one CD to review this year that would surely make it to the top of my best of list for 2010.  Over six months in to the new decade I finally heard that CD.  “Listening Booth: 1970” - Marc Cohn (Saguaro Road Records).

Marc Cohn has referred to this CD as his best.  I’m not willing to go quite that far (just yet), since, after all, it is a CD of covers.  Over the years, Cohn has proven to be a genuinely gifted songwriter.  On this CD he shares his soulful voice.

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Cohn felt the year 1970 was pivotal for him.  He would go to the local record store, choose some records and enter the Listening Booth to check them out before buying the music.  Thus the concept for this CD:  listening to, or in Cohn’s case, recording those songs that made an impact on him during his formidable years.

As a fan of singer-songwriters, I usually have low expectations of a covers CD.  After all, a singer-songwriter is supposed to sing and record songs that they actually write.  Hence the term singer-songwriter.  So when they sing songs written by other people, I tend to wonder what the motives are.  Fulfilling a contractual obligation to the record company?  Writer’s block?  I need not have worried when it came to Marc Cohn.  Actually, any new music from Cohn is a cause for celebration.  From his debut in 1991, he has only released 4 CD’s of original material over a 16+ year period.  Only four!  I consider each of those CD’s as a greatest hits collection.  Thus, something new from Cohn is a big deal in my book.

Marc Cohn exemplifies the term “quality over quantity”.   So I should not have been so surprised that I would enjoy a CD of covers by Cohn.  There is not bad song in the bunch.  The list of writers include some of the most successful artists of all time:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Van Morrison, just to name a few.  Cohn shares vocals with India.Arie, Kristina Train, Aimee Mann and Jim Lauderdale.

If I must choose some favorite tracks: “Wild World” and “Maybe I’m Amazed”.  Despite my initial hesitation that “Make It With You” is only meant to be heard on AM Radio; Marc Cohn & India.Arie give it plenty of soul.  Cohn is at his best on the mid- to up-tempo songs.

Here is a track listing for “Listening Booth: 1970” with writer credits in (italics) and a sampling of some of the other artists who have recorded these songs:

Wild World (Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens) Jimmy Cliff, Jose Feliciano, Mr. Big, Maxi Priest

Look at Me (John Lennon) John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band

Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney) Petula Clark, Joe Cocker, Faces, Lena Horne, Nancy Sinatra

Make It with You (with India.Arie) (David Gates) Bread, Marc Anthony, Philip Bailey, Aretha Franklin. Teddy Pendergrass, Dusty Springfield, The Whispers, Andy Williams

The Letter (Wayne Carson Thompson) The Box Tops (1967), Joe Cocker (1970)

The Only Living Boy in New York (Paul Simon) Simon & Garfunkel, Everything But the Girl, David Mead

After Midnight (John J. Cale) Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale, Chet Atkins, Jerry Garcia, Sergio Mendes, Leon Russell, Steve Winwood

The Tears of a Clown (with Kristina Train) (Henry Crosby, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder) The Beat, Petula Clark, The English Beat, The Miracles

No Matter What (with Aimee Mann) (Pete Ham) Badfinger, Def Leppard, Jellyfish, The Knack

New Speedway Boogie (with Jim Lauderdale) (Jerry Garcia) Grateful Dead

Into the Mystic (Van Morrison) Paul Carrack, Ben E. King, Michael McDonald, Van Morrison,

Long As I Can See the Light (John Fogerty) Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker

A partial Marc Cohn Discography:

Marc Cohn

Release Date: February 12, 1991

Label: Atlantic / Wea

The Rainy Season

Release Date: May 25, 1993

Label: Atlantic / Wea

Burning The Daze

Release Date: March 17, 1998

Label: Atlantic / Wea

Marc Cohn Live 04/05

Release Date: 2005

Label: United Musicians

The Very Best Of Marc Cohn

Release Date: June 20, 2006

Label: Atlantic / Wea

Join The Parade

Release Date: October 9, 2007

Label: Decca

Join The Parade Live EP

Artist: Marc Cohn

Label: Miles Away Records

Release Date: 7/8/2008

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Every Wednesday at 9:13 am, one of Pittsburgh's finest music writers joins me (Cindy Howes) on the Morning Mix to play a couple favorite new songs and share some insight. Today we welcome Scott Tady of The Beaver County Times

In case you missed it here's what he played with commentary by Scott (plus some bonus songs):

Gaslight Anthem, "American Slang" - An American rock band from New Jersey that perfects Blue-collar rock in the tradition that began with Bruce Springsteen. Scott says: "'We're not into just kinda being like a little footnote,' Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon says in the press release for the Jersey rockers' new album. "We want to be The Ones, y'know?" They take a bold step in that direction with "American Slang," their third full-length effort that's loaded with anthemic melodies and raw-throated, Springsteen-ian singing. This title track is consistent with the band's hard-driving approach. If you dig the Hold Steady (or the early E Street Band) you're already a Gaslight Anthem fan."

Paul Weller, "Fast Car, Slow Traffic" - Former frontman for mod/punk band The Jam and also the soulful Style Council. This is his tenth solo album. Scott says: "A breezy summer-y tune, especially appropriate for traffic-snarled Pittsburgh. Weller, formerly of The Jam and Style Council, ditched the acoustic guitars and rocks out throughout this album, which in the liner notes he compares to "Diamond Dogs"-era David Bowie with a pinch of the Faces. A few reviewers have proclaimed this Weller's best album in 20 years."

The National, High Violet
- Originally from Cincinnati, OH, The National now based themselves in Brooklyn. Known for their flat-lined vocals surrounded by swelling rock music, this is their fifth LP. Scott says: "The Joy Division-ish vocals lure you in; the shimmering, smoldering sonics keep you coming back."

Dan Bern, Live in Los Angeles - An American songwriter often compared to Dylan, Phil Ochs and Woody Guthrie. Scott says: "The feisty, funny folk-rocker launches his live album with the 1998 masterpiece "Tiger Woods" -- which takes on a whole new relevance now. There are sweet songs, ("Love Makes All the Other Worlds Go Round," The Golden Voice of Vin Scully"), and surreal ones, ("Osama in Obamaland" and "The Fifth Beatle.") That latter tune includes hilarious and spot-on impersonations of Bob Dylan, Ringo
Starr, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young."

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