Do I Wanna Know?

I don’t exactly recall the first time I heard Arctic Monkeys, but they have such a recognizable sound I can always identify their music when I hear it. While they can be categorized as indie rock or garage rock, they have a very distinct British punk influence and a just altogether dark sound that is not often found in popular groups.

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Don’t they look like they could have opened a show for The Clash or Buzzcocks back in Britain’s punk rock heyday?

If you’ve been following my blog, you are probably aware I’m a big fan of music videos, and honestly, that’s what stuck out to me about this band in the first place. The main imagery of their music video for the track “Do I Wanna Know” is distinctively an animated sound wave pulsing to the beat of the song, only to transform into a hypnotic and very strange animation centering around a black and white sound wave. It… gets a little weird at the end. However, that returning image is also incorporated into the album cover for AM as seen here:

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I wouldn’t say that one is my favorite video by them, but it is memorable, and it is an amazing song as well as a surprising earworm. That guitar riff in infectious.

My favorite video is the one I will post under this paragraph, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” It has a minute and a half intro, playing a part of “Do I Wanna Know” before it gets into the actual song. It’s a slightly unusual video, and instead of trying to explain it I’ll just let you watch it. Note the Parental Advisory warning, please.

Those are two well-known hits by Arctic Monkeys, both of which are from their most recent album, AM. As far as I can tell, that is the album that really took off in the U.S. though they had been popular in their home country of England before then.

Arctic Monkeys have that iconic British punk sound influencing most of their stuff while still adding a flair all their own and pulling little influences from other contemporary artists. All together, they really make it work for them. While they haven’t produced another album since AM in 2013, they are reportedly back from a two-year hiatus and are working on another studio album in L.A. I certainly will keep an eye out for it, and I hope they make more music with their distinct style while also breathing some new life into it.

Other songs I recommend: “Arabella” “R U Mine” and “I Wanna Be Yours” all from their AM album (my favorite, obviously), and “Love Is A Laserquest” and “She’s Thunderstorms” from the album Suck It and See, and “Fluorescent Adolescent” from Favorite Worst Nightmare.

If you like classic punk rock or garage rock, you should definitely give Arctic Monkeys a try.

Thanks for reading!

St. James Infirmary

So a couple of weeks ago I was searching Spotify for a good version of “St. James Infirmary”, a fun blues song I was introduced to a few years ago. I have heard a few versions of this song by artists such as Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but I was immediately impressed by Allen Toussaint’s version when I stumbled across it. The simple instrumentation combined with the minor key and well-placed subtlety made it a very nice arrangement.

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The only problem here is I had never heard of Allen Toussaint and I knew nothing about him. The solution? Listen to all of his music! And I gotta tell you, he has a lot of it; this guy was making and producing music from the ’50’s up until his death in 2015.

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Not all of his music is jazz. In fact, he has done quite a bit of R&B, Soul, Funk, and Blues. Apparently he has been an extremely influential figure to New Orleans R&B and composed a number of well-known songs such as “Fortune Teller” “Ride Your Pony” “Southern Nights” (this one was featured in the recent movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and the frequently covered “Working In The Coal Mine” He also helped produce hundreds of fantastic songs such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John (one of my favorites for road trips) and the famous “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.

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I am so glad I know all of this now! This guy has been a major player in 60’s and 70’s funk and R&B music, I can hardly believe I didn’t know him.

Of course, this does not mean I love everything he’s done. There was one particular album I listened to called Mr. Mardi Gras – I Love A Carnival Ball that was truly hard for me to sit through. Almost painful, really. I can’t even tell you exactly what I didn’t like about it, but I think it was probably a combination of musical style and instrumentation. It just sounded cheap to me, and I was glad when it was over.

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We all know I am a sucker for jazz and all of its varied forms. Jazz is at least a little bit present in or was an inspiration for many of today’s genres anyway, and I enjoy those for what they are, but there is still something special to me about listening to a small combo band playing bluesy or jazzy tunes like I would expect to find in some smoky underground bar downtown in a big city in the 50’s. Thus, the albums I enjoyed most on this journey were the ones that reflected style.

So if you are looking for a relaxing jazz album to listen to, check one of these out: The Bright Mississippi and American Tunes. There are some great tracks on those two albums such as “Singin The Blues” “Delores’ Boyfriend” “Viper’s Drag” and “Long, Long Journey”

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If you prefer to stick with R&B and Funk, check out the albums Southern Nights (really good) and Sweet Touch Of Love. As far as recommended tracks, I would have to go with “Last Train” “Victim Of The Darkness” “Sweet Touch Of Love” and “Southern Nights”

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I may have found Allen Toussaint for his jazz albums, but every time I listen to his Soul, R&B, and Funk I love it just a little bit more. He was truly a gifted composer, and I am so glad I got the chance to explore his music like this. After everything I have learned I am almost ashamed I didn’t know who he was, but then I suppose that’s kind of the point of this project, isn’t it?

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Success!

Super Rad!

The Aquabats! started as a joke band, and honestly, I really respect that. They set out to have fun more than anything else and I think that is what made them stand out so well. Their particular gimmick worked out really well for them in my opinion.

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I didn’t know much about The Aquabats! until just this past summer when I was exposed to more of their music and then had the opportunity to see them in concert. They are very fun to see live as a staple of their performances is the theatricality in their live shows. Each band member has their own super-hero identity as well as matching costumes. Villains and choreographed fights, as well as videos, are included in the performance and ultimately they are all good showmen. Their songs are fun and silly, their performance entertaining, and their attitude infectious. Altogether, you can’t really go wrong with a band like The Aquabats!

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As for their musical style, The Aquabats! definitely started out as a ska band with all the elements of the genre such as a walking bass line, off-beat rhythms, big horn sections, and driving guitar. Some other well-known ska bands to emerge from the 80’s and 90’s include The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Sublime. This wave of the genre could probably more accurately be termed as Ska Punk as it includes many Punk elements. If you like Punk at all, I suggest you give Ska a try.

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As The Aquabats! continued in their career their music evolved to include influences of New Wave, Rock, and Synthpop as well as Ska and Punk. If you listen to some of their earlier music such as “Super Rad!” or “Idiot Box!” which are both on their 1997 album The Fury of The Aquabats! you immediately hear exactly what Ska sounds like. However, if you listen to some of their later music such as “Shark Fighter!” “Hey Homies!” and “All My Money!” from the 2011 album High-Five Soup! it has an obviously more new wave and synthpop influenced sound. It seems like they traded out the horns for synth. I wouldn’t say I prefer one style over the other, they are all obviously the same band in lyrics and arrangement and are fun songs to listen to.

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The Aquabats! had a TV show for 3 seasons called The Aquabats! Super Show! I haven’t watched any of it so I can’t give you any more info on it, but from what I can tell it is full of stories about the band as superheroes, uses a mix of live action and animation, and is fairly pointless.

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If you want a good example of how ridiculous (in a good way) this band is, here’s the video for “Super Rad!” Also here is a link for “Shark Fighter!” Listen to both and notice the difference in the instrumentation between the older and newer style.

The Aquabats! are kind of ridiculous. Their lyrics are not serious in the least, their musical style is upbeat and fairly fanciful, and they wear matching spandex and domino masks. Seriously. They are a freaking awesome band. How many musicians write songs about shool pizza day or giving out hugs? These lyrics are fun, lighthearted, and singable, and you may have noticed their habit of overusing exclamation points.

All I can really say about The Aquabats! is that they are extremely fun. If you want to listen to some of their music, I recommend the following tracks: “Super Rad!” “Red Sweater!” “Pizza Day!” “Pool Party!” “Hey Homies!” and “The Legend Is True!” There are many other really good songs by this band, but those might be my favorite

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Give it a shot, I really think you’ll enjoy it! They are super rad after all!

Águas de Março

Oh, how I have been looking forward to this post!

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As an avid music listener and an amateur musician I have opinions on many aspects of music, and the one we will discuss now is rhythm. Drum beats have a vast variety across the many genres. From driving and steady quarter note rhythms found in many rock and pop songs, to tripping little triplets in jazz, to alternate beats accenting reggae, to heavy half-time dubstep, rhythm is a huge indicator of not only the genre of a song but mood and emotion.

I have personally always enjoyed the subtle and intricate rhythms found in Bossa Nova music. Here is some sheet music of such rhythm for those of you that can read it.

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Bossa Nova emerged in the 50’s and 60’s from Brazil and is possibly the most well-known genre to have emerged from that country. It’s a very smooth sounding music, with gentle melodies and subtle instrumentation which typically consists of an acoustic guitar and drums with perhaps a few other instruments thrown in such as organ, piano, saxophone, flute, etc. It is in fact a jazz subgenre, and is a kind of combination of jazz and samba, making for a relaxed romantic music.

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But enough of me expounding the virtues of Bossa Nova, let’s talk about the artist of the day. Antônio Carlos Jobim, also known as Tom Jobim, was a Brazillian composer and musician and one of the more prominent factors in the emergence of Bossa Nova along with artists such as João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, and Stan Getz. As a jazz subgenre, and also true to its time period, these songs were often performed by multiple artists. As such, many of the songs I love by Tom Jobim have also been recorded by other Bossa Nova artists.

The songs composed and arranged by Tom Jobim are beautiful and relaxing, the kind of thing you would expect to hear in an upscale restaurant or at some fancy garden party, but I like to listen to it when I’m relaxing. Its a great way to let stress leave you and take life as it comes.

Even if you don’t think you have ever heard a Bossa Nova song before, I can almost guarantee you have at least in passing heard the song “Garota de Ipanema” or “The Girl From Ipanema” This song seems to be the most popular elevator/waiting room song in Hollywood, and I can think of a few movies off the top of my head that have used it. Indeed, Bossa Nova seems to be the quitessential elevator music.

For example, this scene in The Emperors New Groove. It’s hard to hear, but it is there in most of the scene.

Or in The Blues Brothers for this elevator scene.

Or how about this scene from Scrubs.

It really is just about everywhere. In fact, one of my older sisters once made a mixed CD with nothing but different versions of that very song on it, all of them very good. It’s an excellent song. Since I included all those clips above, I figure I might as well include the whole song, so here’s my favorite version:

But let’s not stray too far from the original point of this post. Bossa Nova is in my opinion, as you no doubt have figured out, a fantastic genre of music. I love the way Portuguese sounds when sung in this way (enough that I decided to start learning the language myself so I could sing it). Truly beautiful.

If I were to make a Bossa Nova basics playlist for you to listen to, it would likely include the following tracks: “The Girl From Ipanema” “Corcovado” “Wave” One Note Samba” “Agua De Beber” and of course my long time favorite, “Águas de Março” These are all amazing songs, but if you only listened to one of these songs, I recommend that last one. Here’s another video link for you. I especially enjoy hearing the smile in their voices at the end.

Well, you’ve probably had enough of the video links, so I think I’ll end this here. If you end up loving Boss Nova just as I do, happy listening! If not, well at least you tried something new, right?

So long, and thanks for the beautiful music, Tom!

Wreck Of The Day

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Anna Nalick is most well known for her first single “Breathe (2 AM)” and indeed, that was the only song I really knew by her until recently. It’s a great song, well written both lyrically and melodically, and I will always enjoy when it comes on. As I began to delve into more of Anna Nalick’s music, I thought of how this typically goes one of two ways: either the single I was aware of initially is nothing like the rest of their music and that is why it stood out, or it is exactly like everything else they’ve ever written and sadly it all sounds the same.

In this case, we lean towards the latter option, but I was pleasantly surprised to find I rather liked the rest of her music. There was a big influx of female singer/songwriter artists in the 2000’s however, so her music isn’t as unique or singular as I would like. She does distinctly fall into that category along with artists such as Michelle Branch, Vannessa Carlton, Missy Higgins, or A Fine Frenzy.

If I were to suggest just one song for you to listen to aside from “Breathe (2 AM)” I would suggest “Wreck Of The Day” It’s pretty mellow, but that is the style I tend to drift towards. Here’s an acoustic video if you’re interested:

Overall, I feel like she is a talented lyricist. So if you decide to listen to her music, pay attention to the lyrics, that’s where she shines. I feel this is especially true for “Breathe (2 AM)”.

Keep an eye out for my next post on Bossa Nova!

Obsession

Just a quick post for you today.

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When I started playing Animotion what I found was a sound that is the epitome of 80’s music. They don’t have a ton of music on Spotify, but I feel there was plenty to get an understanding of their sound. As a majority of pop music in the 80’s, this features heavily on the synth. In fact, if I were to describe synthpop or New Wave, this is a prime example for me to use.

Animotion had exactly one big hit, and I would say it is their best song. If you are not familiar with the song “Obsession” here is a video link for you to check it out. The video is almost even more stereotypically 80’s than the song, you really ought to watch it.

It’s got some nice elements to it, the synth is driving, and the guitar riffs fit really well into it. If you like it, maybe check out their song “I Want You” or if you enjoy lyrical humor in the same way I do, listen to “Bad Review”

All in all, This is the music I would expect to hear if I turned on an 80’s based internet radio station, so if that’s your thing, check it out.

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Nice Work If You Can Get It

Anyone who knows me well knows I have a deep and unending love of jazz music, and I have since I was a kid. So it comes as no surprise that the next artist on my list is a group that was a huge hit in the swing and boogie-woogie era, the Andrews Sisters. I’m pretty sure anyone who was around during the peak of their career understands what a sensation they were. They are likely most famous for their work during WWII, recording a number of hits and singing to troops on a USO tour.  They also sang on many very popular radio shows as well as in a number of movies.

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The Andrews Sisters started singing together as children and continued for years, together for most of it. They have fantastic harmonies, as is common for close relatives, and the arrangements they sang were popular across the country. You might be familiar with such hits as “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand)” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” but they had many more hits than that.

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Here is a list of tunes I recommend you check out if you have any interest: “Show Me The Way To Go Home” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” “Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama)” “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar” and of course the three I listed above. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is a personal favorite of mine. 

Honestly, that’s just scratching the surface. If you ever listen to music from that era you’ve probably heard at least of few of their songs before. If you like tight harmonies, you’ll love them. If you like swing beats, jazz orchestras, and anything related to that, you’ll love them. They set the standard for a specific type of song that has brought about countless other acts doing the same thing. So many artists, from then to now, have taken inspiration from the Andrews Sisters and the type of music they produced.

Here’s a pic from a Christina Agulera video where she draws directly from their legacy, going so far as to have 3 women (a redhead a brunette and a blonde, just like the Andrews Sisters) singing together in uniform. Compare it to the pic of the Andrews Sisters below it.

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The Andrews Sisters are a fantastic group. I am so glad to have them in my music library, not only is it great music, it’s a part of our countries history. They are iconic, and I will always enjoy their music. I love a good three part harmony.

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Love Is A Losing Game

So many people have written about Amy Winehouse that I have been really hesitant to get into this post. After all, her story is one that is frequently told: a highly revered singer and writer suffered and ultimately met her demise from things that frequently come with sudden fame: alcohol and drug addiction.

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I figure that’s not what this blog is about. This is about music. If you want to know about the tragedy of Amy Winehouse, check out one of the many articles/movies/etc. that have been made about her life. I watched the one called Amy and it was fairly informative.

One thing I did learn from the documentary that I want to share, however, is what influenced her. Amy Winehouse was a jazz singer, though her music is not what people typically think of as jazz. She said that she was influenced by the typical jazz singers you can think of, Tony Bennet, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and the like, but she also listened and sang to a lot of instrumental jazz. One name she mentioned that stuck out to me was Thelonious Monk, and as soon as she said that my reaction was “Of course!” Go listen to some Monk and then listen to some Amy, and you’ll hear it. A great talent, and an excellent source of inspiration.

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Amy’s first Album was a big hit in the UK where she is from. It really got her career going, and it’s not hard to understand why. That first album is full of raw talent. For me, I really enjoyed “Stronger Than Me” though most of the great of the album blended together quite a bit. Her talent is obvious throughout the album, and for that, I am suitably impressed.

Her sophomore release is what brought her fame to the US, as well as where I heard of her the first time. Back To Black is an amazing, yet heartbreaking, album. Like I said, I won’t get into her sordid life (though I will say a number of those songs are autobiographical), but purely on a musical consideration, it is a fantastic album. Amy’s vocals and writing were truly on point for this album, the songs have been extremely well arranged and produced, and it shows. It won multiple awards at the Grammy’s and has left a lasting legacy, inspiring dozens of artists.

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Back To Black had 5 singles, and most people have heard of at least three: “Back To Black” “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” All three of those are great songs; powerful and haunting, they leave a lasting impression. As far as tracks you may not have heard, I recommend “Love Is A Losing Game” “Tears Dry On Their Own” and “He Can Only Hold Her”

Here’s a video of “Tears Dry On Their Own” for your listening pleasure

As for other tracks, there are a few tracks released on a deluxe version of Frank and what I believe is a posthumous compilation album as well as a few other bits and pieces here and there. Tracks I recommend: “Body and Soul” – a duet with Tony Bennet, “Valerie” which is actually a Mark Ronson song she was featured on, the Sam Cooke classic “Cupid”, and a truly fantastic version of “Someone To Watch Over Me” All of those are great, and a couple of them showcase her jazz influences very well.

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Amy Winehouse was a truly gifted artist. She may not have had a long career, but I feel that her music will continue to influence musicians around the world for years to come.

Rest in peace Amy.

Choice Kingdom

I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this band. I have been looking forward to this post for a while.

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alt-J released their first record in 2012 and I seriously regret that I didn’t become aware of them until about a year ago. The odd name comes from the band’s symbol, the greek letter for Delta: Δ, which can be typed with the keyboard shortcut of alt+J on a Mac computer. This symbol is an indicator of change or difference in scientific equations, which I think it is an apt description of the band.

It was once mentioned to me that no other band sounds like alt-J and I have to agree, they are very unique. This is most evident in the style of their vocals and the way they use common instrumentation that has been arranged in a different and strangely hypnotic way. The almost ethereal sounds on their tracks are really something else. The internet tells me their genres are Indie rock, Indie pop, Art rock, and Folktronica. All of that is accurate, and I had no idea how much I needed art rock and folktronica in my life until now.

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There are a few standout tracks on both of their albums, some of which you may have heard if you listen to alternative radio stations. The ones I can think of that you might know include “Breezeblocks” and “Left Hand Free” If you like intense and well-made music videos, you should check out this awesome video for “Breezeblocks”

I can be found listening to this music at any time, and while listening to individual tracks is fine and good, it really hits home when you listen to an entire album at once. Their albums as an entire piece are impressive and flow really well. I especially like their second album, This Is All Yours, which ends with a bonus track I consider to be my favorite, “Lovely Day.” It is just trippy enough that I tend to close my eyes to tune out of other sensory input to focus on the music just that little bit more.

On that note, I will say that some of their stuff that doesn’t get radio play is a bit more psychedelic than most popular music and many people will likely find it difficult to listen to. However, for me, it hits just right. The way they layer and build sounds together is truly brilliant. If you want a good example of that, check out the track “Intro” from This Is All Yours.

These guys are true artists. They know how and when to add, subtract, or intensify the textures they incorporate into their music. It’s subtle and almost seamless the way they weave together the many small strands of sound into a cohesive unit. Rarely do they include a sound that overpowers another without purpose. Similarly, the sounds they include in each track have a purpose and reason. There are many artists, good artists whom I love, who never quite achieve that level of cohesiveness whether it be due to long or loud solos or vocals that seem to command sole attention. Sometimes those things are exactly what you want, but I always find it fascinating when the instruments don’t immediately identify themselves to me and I have to think a little more about what exactly I am hearing.

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One thing that especially impressed me while I was perusing their music was the quality of their live tracks. I have heard many bands who sound fantastic on a recording but are less than stellar live. Based on the styles alt-J has, I would have expected them to have a difficult time recreating their music in a live setting. I must emphatically say this is not the case. Every song I heard from the live EP they released was fantastic; they stayed true to the songs as they are meant to be and still imbibed the feeling and necessary energy required for a live show. I would jump at the chance to go see them perform.

Overall I am so very pleased to have found alt-J, they are one of my absolute favorite bands to come out of this decade. They have a new album coming out in this summer, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what they come up with for it.

 

Good Things

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I’m sure most of you have heard the song “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. What you may also know is that the vocals on that song are provided by a man named Aloe Blacc, who also happens to have a great acoustic version of that song on his own album.

That is how I imagine most people have heard of Aloe Blacc, but you may have also heard his other single, “I Need A Dollar.” The first time I heard that song (courtesy of the local high school radio station) I could have sworn it was Bill Withers (of “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean On Me” fame) but the production quality sounded a little too modern and the vocals in the bridge didn’t sound enough like Bill for me to be entirely fooled. The song is definitely comparable to that unique 70’s soul feel. I would say anyone who enjoys classic R&B sounds will love this song. It features some nice horns in the back, a group vocal echo, and sharp hits on the piano chords. I request that you to give it a listen, here’s a video for your convenience:

But Aloe Blacc is more than a call back to old school R&B. He is a seriously talented musician, able to play all sorts of instruments including trumpet, piano, guitar, and cello.

He also has some great dance tracks on his first album from 2006, Shine Through. One of my favorites on that album was something a little different, a track called “Busking” which sounds exactly like (you guessed it) busking, complete with street sounds in the background as he sings about waiting for a bus. It tickled my fancy at least.

Aloe Blacc is a wonderful artist and a testament to his genres. My favorite of his albums is Good Things, which features some fantastic beats and bass, and classic arrangments. His newer album, Lift Your Spirit, has some great tracks as well, including the acoustic version of “Wake Me Up” and some other tracks such as “Chasing” that are really fun to listen to.

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As far as single releases go, he did one with Zedd that was a cover of “Candyman” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that I liked and a song called “Broke” that is fast and fun.

Overall I look forward to new releases from Aloe Blacc in the coming years and am pleased to have his music in my collection. He is a great artist to listen to; a smooth voice and smart songwriter.