The Internet just continues to amaze me – I was listening to The White Album in the car this morning, and I couldn’t help but be amazed at the intensity of Paul’s vocal on Helter Skelter. Just on spec, I wondered if the individual vocal tracks were available on YouTube…
Hurray Internet! Check out the isolated vocal track of Paul in incredible voice.
I bet your brain can’t resist filling in the music, either…
Raphael Saadiq’s latest studio album Stone Rollin’, his fourth, is glitzy soul and well-dressed glamour, slyly sneaking by and taking your woman when you aren’t looking. Rocking the ‘60s soul sound of Motown, with a full-band sound, big horns, and great backing female vocalists, Saadiq blends classic R&B, blues and soul into a very slick package. And “slick” is the word…the sound of smoky backrooms, and sultry dancers whose hips move to the beat…Play this album and you can just see the backup singers dancing in unison.
Grammy winner Saadiq carefully wields his talents as a musician and producer and provides catchy and soulful arrangements and an overall sound and production that shines brightly throughout. A top-flight producer who got his start with the multi-platinum selling band Tony! Toni! Toné!, Saadiq has produced songs from the likes of Joss Stone, D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, and John Legend. Melding his R&B and blues influences with ’50s and ’60s rock and roll styles, this album rocks a little more than most of his prior work. “This album was inspired by great artists like Howlin’ Wolf,” said Saadiq before the album was released. “Stone Rollin’ has a harder, [more] bluesy sound than my last album.”
Saadiq has a sweet soulful voice with an edge to it, and, wearing his influences on his sleeve, Stone Rollin’ mixes a jammin’ R&B sound with ‘70s keyboards, big-balls funk, and ’50s/‘60s blues-rock vocals. Though Saadiq plays a lot of the instruments himself, he brought in some well-known musicians as contributors, including Robert Randolph on steel guitar from Robert Randolph and the Family Band, keyboardist Larry Dunn from Earth, Wind & Fire, bassist Larry Graham from Sly and the Family Stone (and Prince), and several Motown session musicians (Paul Riser and Wah Wah Watson).
“Heart Attack” rocks with staccato guitar riffs, rockin’ beats, heavy echo, and Saadiq howling into the microphone, “Do you know how it feels, when the pain feels like it can kill.” Saadiq’s ode to R&B itself, “Radio,” drops right out 1955, with a nod to the early days of rock and roll, and begs you to turn up the volume. “Just Don’t” is my favorite from the album, with sweet and sad vocals from Yukimi Nagano, ‘70s moog keyboards, a lush symphonic sound with violins, viola, horns and a harp, and a beautiful instrumental bit at the end. “The Answer,” which looked to be a nine-minute album closer, is actually two songs, with a break in-between, and a “hidden” track (“The Perfect Storm”), featuring Larry Graham, to close out the album.
If you like, soul, funk, R&B and music that is reminiscent of the biggest Motown hits of the ‘60s, you’ll like Stone Rollin’, as Saadiq pulls from the past, but still manages to creates his own unique sound.
Musichord Rating: 9/10
Listen to the title track, “Stone Rollin’”.
You want to talk about classic? Now, this is classic. In 1971, Eric Clapton appeared on The Johnny Cash Show as a member of Derek and the Dominos, along with legendary guitarist/singer Carl Perkins. Johnny Cash’s show ran from 1969-1971 and he had an amazing amount of musical talent visit over that short, yet fertile, time period. Derek and the Dominos performed “It’s Too Late” (a Chuck Willis cover) from Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, and Carl Perkins, Eric Clapton and Johnny Cash all played and sang together on “Matchbox,” which was one of several Perkins songs covered by The Beatles. Perkins, who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes,” is one of the great rockabilly performers of all time, and a huge star in the ‘50s and ‘60s whose career continued through the ‘90s. Perkins was also a part of the little-known Million Dollar Quartet along with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. This is a great moment in rock and roll history, with an iconic, yet short-lived band performing and three of the greatest singer/songwriters in the history of rock and roll showing their stuff.
Check out Derek and the Dominos’ blues-soaked “It’s Too Late,” and then see three legends playing together back in 1971.
(In case you’re wondering, Duane Allman played on a number of songs on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, but he was never a full member of Derek and The Dominos, as he wanted to maintain a loyalty to the Allman Brothers, so unfortunately he did not appear for this performance.)
Playing one of the few stadium shows in Baltimore, MD in recent years, U2 and Florence + Machine lit up M&T Bank Stadium (home to the Baltimore Ravens) recently. Despite not having the record sales they did in the ‘80s and ‘90s (and despite some recent PR troubles regarding supposed “tax evasion”), U2 remains one of the most iconic and enduring bands of the last thirty years. U2 is a band that is much greater than the sum of their parts, a fact they seem well aware of as shown by the relative lack of solo material from any individual band members, though they have all worked on plenty of outside projects over the years. There have been no Sting-type antics from Bono, whether he could be successful doing his own solo albums or not, he has never wanted to leave U2 behind. They’re more than a band as well; they’re a small business empire, and they continue to be one of the few bands to still tour stadium-style, as the economics just aren’t there anymore for most bands.
Florence + the Machine, a British group led by Florence Welch, opened up for U2 on this leg of their tour. The “Machine,” refers to Isabella “Machine” Summers, a long-time collaborator with Welch, who plays keyboards on tour, along with a group of session musicians. Welch, with her bright flaming red hair, wore a red, flowing, gauzy gown with red tights beneath, displaying the fashion sense that she described as “Lady of Charlotte meets Ophelia…mixed with scary gothic bat lady.” Lungs, released almost two years ago now, provided two worldwide hits, “The Dog Days Are Over,” and “You’ve Got The Love,” both of which had the crowd singing along immediately. The album provides most of the Florence + Machine setlist as it is still their only release, though their second album is expected out sometime in mid/late 2011. Welch’s vocal talents are unbelievable and stood up better than I expected in a stadium setting, and in fact sounded much better than her set at the smaller stage at Bonnaroo.
U2 has gone all out with an over-the-top stage production for this tour, utilizing a four-legged “Claw,” a huge, custom-made stage set, with a massive moving screen built around the outside of the set up. It pretty much has to be seen to be understood. Outside the main stage is a platform that encircles their stage like a city beltway with bridges that move around to allow the band to go out and play on the outer ring. This also leaves an inner ring for people to pay even more for their tickets, thus helping to financially support the bridge and Claw and high-tech screens in a vicious-circle type of economics. Even U2 drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. was able to strap on a bongo drum and beat it to part of an “I’ll Go Crazy/Discotheque” medley as he walked around the cheering crowd.
The day of the show was one of the hottest days of the month in downtown Baltimore. We had to park almost two miles away to get a parking space and find a place to eat four hours before the concert. 80,000 people showed up for the sold out show, more than would usually arrive at M&T Bank Stadium, as 9,000 seats were added for the concert. Some Baltimore fans arrived at noon or earlier and waited in line to get the best spots by the stage. The Baltimore heat did get to the crowd, in the low ‘90s (°F) earlier in the day and with more people in the stadium than a sold-out Baltimore Ravens game, it was a tight fit by the time U2 hit the stage. The heat and alcohol had started to get to some people, as there were several near fights, and one drunk teenager wandering in the crowd around us just trying to start fights. I do have to say that I saw more aggressive crowd behavior at this one U2 show in Baltimore than I saw in four days and four nights at Bonnaroo, where the heat and humidity was even worse.
Starting off with four songs in a row from Achtung Baby (“Even Better Than the Real Thing,” “The Fly,” “Mysterious Ways,” and “Until The End of The World”), Bono mentioned the time period (1990-1991) when they were working on that album and noted that the friction from the bandmates sure sparked “a hell of an album.” It sure did, and though that was all the krautrock-influenced music they would play from that album, “One,” their biggest hit from Achtung Baby, and one of their biggest hits ever, showed up during the first encore. The Edge tore it up on guitar throughout, but really roared on “The Fly.” “Pride In The Name of Love,” “I Will Follow,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” classics from their early days, did make an appearance, though “New Year’s Day” did not. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” still has a quiet power when Bono sings it, as does “Where The Streets Have No Name,” songs from The Joshua Tree (Remastered) that helped make U2 the icons they still are today. The Zooropa album showed well with “Faraway, So Close” and “Zooropa” appearing in the setlist and “Beautiful Day,” and “Elevation,” more recent tracks, had the entire stadium dancing and singing along. Bono also showed his activist side with messages of humanitarianism, mentioning Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel Peace Prize-winning Burmese opposition politician) and former South African President Nelson Mandela before “Walk On,” saying, “Tonight we sing for them.”
U2’s live music can easily stand on its own, but U2 have gotten a little dependent on letting the “Claw” help them entertain audiences, using multiple stages and bridges, high-tech light and video shows, and what is said to be the largest video screen ever used for a band tour. As it was written up in the British newspapers, there was some consternation over the setlist when U2 finally played Glastonbury recently, as they were going to have to make the setlist and the show stand on its own, playing on the festival stage without the Claw, and that was a bit like, well, giving up their security blanket. It’s hard to imagine a band with a jukebox full of stadium hits the size of U2’s having to worry over their setlist. It seems like that sucker should write itself. Not so, possibly as this was their long-awaited debut at Glastonbury (U2 were scheduled for last year, but pulled out due to Bono’s back surgery) and especially as they want to mix in some of their more recent songs, songs which were not the worldwide hits heard around the world in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Overall, the Baltimore show was fabulous and the setlist was a great mix of old and new, and maybe a little heavier on the old, which kept the happy crowd singing along to a slew of great songs that are iconic to multiple generations. Thirty years in and U2 has perfected their stage show and, as long as their hearts are still in it, I would be hard pressed to imagine them ever putting on a bad show. U2 winds up their 360° tour July 30th in Moncton, Canada.
U2 is: Bono – Vocals, Guitar; The Edge – Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards; Adam Clayton – Bass; Larry Mullen, Jr. – Drums
Check out Florence + Machine’s setlist here.
Check out U2’s setlist here.
Musichord Rating: 9/10
Canadian rockers Sloan have just released their tenth album, the excellent The Double Cross, and they played at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia recently. Twenty years into the game, and Sloan, the well traveled and very experienced rockers from Canada are on the American leg of their tour right now. Twenty years is a long time for a rock band to keep going; the hair grays, the fans get older, and there are always crises along the way (which Sloan certainly has had), and bands that can stick together that long and come out the other end still putting out great albums and playing great live shows is something to really be appreciated. Hot Kid opened up, a two-piece that were loud and thrashy, but working hard.
Jammin’ Java is an excellent Northern Virginia live venue, but it should be too small for Sloan by far with a capacity just under 200, and yet, the show wasn’t sold out. Noted for the fact that every member of the band is a part of the songwriting process and everyone sings – and sings well. Sloan, who started in 1991 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but calls Toronto home now, is one of Canada’s most enduring bands, but few people outside of Canada know their music. And, that’s a crying shame. Joining a too-long list of amazing Canadian bands that are popular in Canada, but relatively unknown in the U.S., Sloan unfortunately does not seem to get their due south of the border. (The Tragically Hip probably lead that list.) Sloan has released ten albums in the last 20 years, and they have been nominated for numerous Juno awards (winning one), though they have scarcely charted in the U.S., other than brief entries into the modern rock or heatseekers charts. There are a number of bands from Canada, like Sloan, that are really great, but not as well known outside their homeland: The Tragically Hip (check out Phantom Power if you haven’t heard the Hip and want to check them out), Stars, Broken Social Scene, The Dears, The Weakerthans, Sam Roberts Band, and Kathleen Edwards are just a few of the bands that have made progress, but not gotten their due outside Canada, at least in my opinion.
Sloan makes brilliant power-pop, tinged with an edge of punk; hardly any of their songs seems to go over four minutes, and plenty are shorter. The songs are easy to sing along to and are really catchy. With great hooks and choruses, usually at a pretty high speed, the band’s live show pulls you along until you’re singing along with songs you didn’t even know before and you’re sorry when they’re over. They share singing and even instrument duties, as they like to switch it up during the show. At one point, drummer Andrew Scott hopped up from his drum kit, grabbed the Gretsch and played guitar and sang, while Chris Murphy dropped the bass and took over on drums, and Jay Ferguson moved from guitar to bass, all without missing a beat. Patrick Pentland is the other original member, generally on lead guitar, and Sloan added Gregory Macdonald on keyboards five years ago, whose keys add a lot to the songs and sound.
They opened up the show with the first three opening tracks from The Double Cross, playing most of their latest album over the course of the show, and they played songs from One Chord to Another, (“Everything You’ve Done Wrong,’ “The Good in Everyone”), Between the Bridges (“The Marquee and the Moon,” “Losing California”), Never Hear the End of It (“Who Taught You to Live Like That”), Twice Removed, widely regarded as their seminal release, (“Coax Me”), Navy Blues (“Sinking Ships”), and the rarely heard on this tour “Ready For You” from Action Pact. “Ready For You” clocks in at around two minutes on the album. From sounding like ‘90s Fountains of Wayne to ‘70s Small Faces, there are ‘80s punk and ‘60s garage nugget influences throughout their music. Immediately moving from one song to the next for most of the show, it’s a really fun fusion of musical styles.
Sloan also did something you don’t see too often, which is to bring up a guest drummer for one song. Jay Coyle, working with the band on their tour, had his mother in attendance and Sloan gave him a chance to impress mom. And he did; Sloan wouldn’t have let him drum if they didn’t already know he had the chops. That was pretty cool to see.
Whatever the labels, Sloan, at its core, is just a great rock and roll band. One man I spoke to at the show, who was 61 years old, drove over five hours from North Carolina to see Sloan because, he said, “My son has every one of their albums.” When I asked him what he thought of the show afterwards, his reply was immediate, “Worth the drive!”
Musichord Rating: 8/10