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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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.

All I Really Want

 

When you hear the name Alanis Morissette, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most, it is probably “angry rocker chick music” or possibly “90’s alt-rock angst.” Both are true to some extent. Let’s be honest, if you hadn’t heard her stuff before and then someone played “You Oughta Know” it would sound pretty angst ridden and angry rocker chick. Here’s the music video if you’re interested:

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995 when I was 6 years old. Most of my exposure to Alanis came about a little later on when I finally reached an age demographic that can appreciate the music she produces. I can’t remember the first time I heard her music, but it was likely on the radio when I was a kid. It was background music for a large portion of my life and I didn’t give it much thought other than, “hey that’s a good song.”

This project has been great for me in a lot of ways, but I am especially glad I looked a little closer at Alanis Morissette.

In my opinion her most critically acclaimed album, Jagged Little Pill, is her best album. If you haven’t heard the acoustic version of that album she released in 2005 (tenth anniversary of the original release) you should check it out, it is a great return to that album and has phenomenal versions of the tracks you know and love.

You can’t go wrong with songs like “You Oughta Know” “Hand In My Pocket” “Ironic” or “Head Over Feet”, but you’ve heard all those songs hundreds of times on the radio. The other ones on that album that I now love would have to be “Right Through You,” “All I Really Want” (both are even better on the acoustic album), “Mary Jane,” and “I’m Not The Doctor.” Those are some really fantastic songs and hit home her aptitude as a lyricist.

Here’s the acoustic version of “All I Really Want” for your enjoyment:

Everyone knows Jagged Little Pill, and that’s great. The album you should really check out aside from that is Under The Rug Swept. This was the first album where she was the sole writer and producer, and I have to say I was impressed. It is chalk full of the same awesome Alanis Morissette sound on some all new tracks.

I am especially fond of “Hands Clean” and “21 Things I Want In A Lover” but really the whole album is good. There’s also a really nice yet very simple bass line going on in “So Unsexy” and we all know I love a good bass line. 

Speaking of bass lines, go listen to the bass line in “You Oughta Know” which was actually played by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Similarly, Dave Navarro took on the guitar line for the recording of that track. 

 A lot of artists have the curse of having all their music sounding the same, and with such a unique voice it would have been easy for her to fall into the same rut. I am glad she tried out some new things on some of her other albums, though personally I don’t think it worked all that well for her on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, yet she managed to stay true to her original style on Under The Rug Swept while still keeping it interesting.

All in all, Alanis Morissette is a great song writer. I really got into her stuff during this and was pretty blown away by how much I really liked it. I feel like some of it can really stand the test of time and is relate-able to a lot of people in various circumstances, and not just jilted women in their 20’s. I really recommend you listen to some of the songs I mentioned in this post, especially if you haven’t heard it before.

That’s all for now, keep an eye out for my next post which will be a double whammy and cover two separate artists.

P.S. Who on earth knew that she’s done some acting?! I certainly didn’t, and I have never seen any of the things she’s been in. Admittedly, it’s not a huge acting career, but it’s there. Random.

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Hang Loose

Alabama Shakes hit the scene with a bang in 2012 with their album Boys & Girls.

The first time I heard them, I was very impressed. I follow the YouTube channel for Seattle public radio station KEXP, and they posted a great live session of Alabama Shakes. Here’s a link if you want to check it out:

They have a raw bluesy sound that’s not heard in today’s music very much. The track “Hold On” is likely my favorite, and has a lot of fun stuff going on in it. A few other tracks on that album are likewise fun to listen to, such as “Hang Loose” “Rise To the Sun” and “I Ain’t the Same.” I especially like the guitar in “Hang Loose” and the chill swing beats and organ background in “Rise To the Sun.” I received a vinyl copy of the album as a gift a while ago and it sounds great in that format, their style is well suited to the sounds of a vinyl record.

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They released a second album in 2015 which I am less familiar with, aside from the single that gets radio play, “Don’t Want To Fight.” It is a great song, though hearing it too frequently can get a little repetitive for my taste, so I save it for an occasional listen and enjoy it all the more for that.

When I listened to the whole album for this project, I was immediately taken in by the title track “Sound & Color.” They made great use of background details on that track, including some xylophone to give it just the right vibe and strings to build it up in a rich way while maintaining the almost ethereal (for them) effect of the song.  It’s actually quite nice to listen to that song and immediately follow up with track #2, “Don’t Want To Fight”

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The rest of the album, while pretty good, didn’t hold my attention too much. That was likely due to inattention on my part while listening, so I’ll have to go back and listen again sometime.

All in all, I like them. Not my favorite band (though I’m not sure I could say that I have a favorite anyway), but fun to listen to. If given the opportunity to see them live, I would maybe take it depending on ticket price.

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Changing

And it starts sometime around midnight.

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The Airborne Toxic Event is a fantastic band. Truly, they are awesome to listen to. I am so very glad for this project, or I may have been stuck only ever listening to their radio hits. I am sure most of you know the song “Sometime Around Midnight”, which is really an amazing song and deserves all the radio play it gets. Honestly, I love how that song just keeps on building throughout the whole thing, starting with the strings and working it’s way to add 2 guitar lines, drums which just get more and more awesome, bass, etc, etc. It also tells a very visual story that follows the build up, and I do have a bit of a soft spot for narrative songs. Bonus points for this one being told in second person perspective.

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You may also know a couple of their other songs which have come out since, such as “All I Ever Wanted”, and “Changing” Their first big hit came from their debut self-titled album, the latter two from their sophomore release All At Once. 

Like I mentioned before, I am very glad this project spurred me on to listen to their stuff more in depth. It’s all awesome. They have a great sound in general, but more than that they aren’t afraid to change things up. Quite a few of their songs are your typical guitar-drums-bass-maybe keys. But they also have a habit of including string quartets for a more orchestral sound. This is evident in the beginning of “Sometime Around Midnight” but more so in “All I Ever Wanted”and some of the deeper cuts.

In fact, they did an entire live album featuring The Calder Quartet that was quite good. I don’t always like listening to live albums, but this one was pretty good.

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Similarly, I don’t typically listen to album or track commentaries, but I did for their album Such Hot Blood and it was actually kind of nice to get a little more insight into the creative process and meaning behind some of their songs. I don’t think I’ll listen to the commentary again, but I liked it anyway.

One more thing I liked: along with their most recent album Dope Machines they also released another album the following day, Sons of God and Whiskey. While Dope Machines stays true to their typical sound (if a little more synthesized) Sons of God and Whiskey is an acoustic album, with some really fantastic tracks. I am especially a fan of “Poor Isaac” and “A Certain Type Of Girl”

Go listen to The Airborne Toxic Event. Aside from having a great band name, they have a great sound that crosses over genre lines and they have pretty good lyrics.

That’s all for now, peace out!

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