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.

My Paper Heart

When The All-American Rejects debuted their self-titled album in 2002 it was right at the time when I became interested in current pop music. Prior to that, I mostly listened to the music of my older siblings ranging from bands such as Depeche Mode to Cyndi Lauper to R.E.M. to They Might Be Giants to Harry Connick Jr. and … you get the idea (in large families there can be a quite diverse collection). But with the turn of the century came a change in the methods I was exposed to music. I started listening more from mainstream sources than I ever had before, heard about songs and bands from my friends at school, and started to look for what I liked. Turns out I liked most things, but the point here is when this faction of alt-rock/pop punk music aimed directly at teenagers hit the radio waves, I was all for it.

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That album was a game changer for me, and I remember it was one of the ones I always kept a CD copy of in my car once I got my license. I still know all the words to every track, and I am not at all ashamed to admit that.

Of course even 3 years later in 2005 when The All-American Rejects sophomore album was released (ironically it coincided with my own sophomore year of high school) I had hit another one of those  “I don’t like what’s popular” phases I was so fond of as a teenager and I found the hits from that album annoying and maybe a little trite. Some part of me believed that as I grew and matured they stayed the same, making the same music aimed at the same demographic. In essence, I grew out of it.

Now, however, I can listen a little more objectively. I maintain that the first album was the best one; infectious and fun, tracks such as “Swing, Swing” “My Paper Heart” and “Time Stands Still” made it a stand out record and really sent The All-American Rejects to the front of the line. Creative instrumentation and dynamic arranging are key features for the sound on that album, and I will never tire of it. I am under the impression many of those songs used electronic drum tracks, but I can’t seem to find a source for that information. That’s what it sounds like at any rate.

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As for the rest of their albums. The hit singles such as “Gives You Hell” and “Dirty Little Secret” are good tracks, exactly the kind of radio hit I expect. They were overplayed on the radio so my reflex is to skip those songs, but on the rare occasion I do listen to them I like them. For some other tracks you might not know, they had a song on one fo the Transformers movie soundtracks called “Real World” that was pretty good, and I enjoyed “Drown Next To Me” and “Bleed Into Your Mind – Demo” from the Kids In The Street” album.

I think one of the reasons it doesn’t resonate as much with me now as it did at first is the lead singers voice. It’s just a little bit nasally, perhaps even whiny, and it grates on me after a while. But that is a personal preference of mine. I also feel like the dynamic arrangements I loved from the first album didn’t show up on subsequent albums nearly as much

All together, they are a pretty good band and have made some notable pop-rock/pop punk music over the last 15 years. And yes, it has been that long. Kudos to you, All-American Rejects, and may you inspire emoting teenagers everywhere for years to come.

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