Photo: Meg Bitton
“American Idol” might have brought us talent like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and then-unappreciated Jennifer Hudson, but there were many other promising artists who ended up vanishing even if they did well on the show. While some flamed out soon and wound up playing minor parts in off-Broadway shows, some used the exposure to create a niche audience and build a solid career once the cameras were turned off.
An example of this is Ohio-born Crystal Bowersox, who was runner-up during the show’s ninth season (defeated by Chicago’s Lee DeWyze) in 2010. Signed to Jive Records that year, she released “Farmer’s Daughter,” and despite positive reviews and reasonable sales, she was dropped after RCA disbanded her label. She has since signed with indie label Shanachie Records (which also includes Ruben Studdard—another “Idol” veteran—in its roster) and is in the works to put out her sophomore album “All That For This” under the production of Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin. Read the rest of this entry »
While musicians, labels and the media in America brand and rebrand music to fit some kind of niche audience, our brothers and sisters across the pond just go ahead and bring everything together to make the best music they can from the influences they hear.
One of the most recent examples of this is British singer-songwriter Charlie Winston, who has a penchant for blending funk, soul and the classical music he was initially trained in. If you are thinking “Here comes another Freddie Mercury,” that would not be a bad comparison, but Winston is not in any way associated with glam rock. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dave Cantor
“My first solo guitar performance was in my backyard when I lived in Philadelphia,” Steve Gunn says over the phone from his Brooklyn residence.
The journey from performing in a band to amassing enough confidence to get out in front of a crowd and express musical ideas can be an excruciatingly difficult maneuver. Inspiration helps, and for Gunn, it showed up in the form of departed guitarist Jack Rose.
“I only played a very short set,” Gunn says of that backyard gathering. “Jack played and a few other friends. That was my first attempt at doing it. Then I didn’t do it for years after that.”
A revival of interest in players like Leo Kottke and John Fahey bloomed during the middling-aughts, while Rose’s renown grew beyond Pelt, the band he’d founded while still in Philly. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Janette Beckman
Singer-songwriter Jose James has a lot of jazz in his sound thanks to the longtime influence he has had from the genre and also the experience with performing with giants like Wynton Marsalis, McCoy Tyner and others. When he first started out, he was more of a jazz vocalist with urban tendencies than anything else. As the years passed, however, he has finally found his sound, which can be described as a blend of hip-hop and R&B with strong jazz undertones.
This is evidenced by two songs from his fourth disc, “No Beginning No End” (Blue Note). “It’s All Over Your Body” opens mostly with drums and percussion, and a soft bass line joins in shortly before James’ almost whispered baritone comes in. The instrumentation is subtle (with some brass added for good measure) so the listener focuses on his voice and the message he wants to deliver, while the blues-inflected “Trouble” feels like a classic Motown-era track without sounding dated. James’ delivery is straightforward, honest and refreshingly Auto tune-free. (Ernest Barteldes)
January 30 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2501, 9pm. $15.
The British duo formed by keyboardist Andy Connell and Corinne Drewery had a string of hits during the late eighties and early nineties, including memorable tunes like “Am I The Same Girl” and “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool.” Twenty-five years later, they continue to tour and record regularly.
On “Private View+2,” they revisit their early hits and some mostly unknown songs. By listening to the album, you can see how they have evolved—they have embraced more jazz-influenced sounds that are probably owed to their past collaboration with musicians like Luis Jardim (percussion).
The album has more of an acoustic direction—“Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool,” for instance, is devoid of any electronic instruments. Connell inserts a snippet of the Doris Day classic “Once I Had a Secret Love” and Drewery sounds very comfortable in this more relaxed atmosphere. The cover of The Delfonics’ “La-La Means I Love You” is arranged around the acoustic bass, and has more of a light-jazz feel. Read the rest of this entry »
Who says busking on the New York City subway (or any mass transit platform where you can be heard) has no future? It was there that Queens-based Freelance Whales honed their skills playing folksy electronic music with unusual instruments (glockenspiel, banjos, xylophone) until they became indie-music darlings after the release of their debut “Weathervanes” back in 2009.
The band’s name comes from the band members’ perception that everyone in New York is a freelancer in one way or another (not sure if the folks down on Wall Street would agree with that). Their releases have been well received both by critics and fans, and some of their tunes have appeared in TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chuck” and “Skins.” Their music seems a bit minimalist—drums are played with brushes, and their arrangements are both creative and subtle, which allows vocalist (and main songwriter) Judah Dadone to comfortably convey his message without having to scream over the sound. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Rod Patrick Risbrook
This Guyana born, Chicago-based singer-songwriter is an artist of many facets. Though his music is heavily inspired by neo-soul, he also draws inspiration from the sounds from his native country and the Caribbean. For instance, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and the activist “The Gay Warrior” song have a reggae-like flavor, while “I Like That” could be described as an American soul tune with a Latin vibe.
His approach toward music focuses on the music first: “Usually I start with a track, and then I develop the melody and the words that belong to the song,” he explained in a telephone interview. “If it feels sad, happy, encouraging or like a love song, I feel like songs are alive. I think I’m more in tune with this stage of music—I’m listening more to what the music tells me instead of trying to force things.”
Nhojj is also very vocal in his activism on gay rights and bullying. He believes that acceptance toward alternative lifestyles (he is openly gay) is a slow process, but that is how things are sometimes. Read the rest of this entry »
So late in the year, the frequency of quality festivals tapers off. But setting off that autumnal awe is the tenth installment of Adventures in Modern Music, a joint venture between the Empty Bottle and The Wire, to bring together a sizable selection of out-sounds from different genres. One of the better-known acts to be fitted into this sprawling look at contemporary music is R. Stevie Moore, who’s been given credit for presaging the slew of home-recording projects clogging up the internet nowadays. His work’s something like Daniel Johnston’s in that there’re clearly some ghosts being worked out in each affectional composition. He performs Wednesday. To highlight Adventures’ desire to strip genre of meaning, Rob Mazurek’s São Paulo Underground takes a spot on stage during the same evening, raving up experiments that use jazzy frameworks birthed from south of the equator. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s almost impossible to properly comment on a music so mercurial that its performer can spread recordings over sundry tapes, records and digital pursuits without having followed a single path to its conclusion. M. Geddes Gengras, a multi-instrumentalist and electronics whiz from Los Angeles, is best understood through his relationship with the Not Not Fun crew and Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones. That latter figure and Gengras recently headed to Jamaica and recorded alongside a roots group, famous for its work a few decades back. It’s not the resultant music that should help define Gengras—although it was as engaging a clutch of tracks as any to be issued during the past year—but the spirit of invention that went into the project. Toying with synthesizers and whatever vintage Moog is sitting around only has a finite shelf-life. Gengras is able to coax emotive swooning sounds from his electronic companions, pushing past whatever the instrument’s pioneers could have intended. Read the rest of this entry »
Sun Araw/Photo: Fabian Villa
By Dave Cantor
Electronic experiments in the States and Jamaica’s vocal tradition may be one of the few remaining untapped combinations in the music world. Luckily, Cameron Stallones, who performs and records as Sun Araw, was already privy to the work of a North Carolinian who wouldn’t distinguish between acoustic folk traditions and 1950s minimal compositions. Unwittingly influenced by Henry Flynt’s recombination, Stallones generates at the crossroad of disparate sounds.
“Some of that stuff is the most relentlessly psychedelic music—like the violin strobe stuff,” Stallones says of Henry Flynt’s fiddle improvisations, which are set atop looped drones for 1981’s “You Are My Everlovin’.” Read the rest of this entry »