Every list of John Cale’s achievements begins by cementing Cale’s role as a founding member of the Velvet Underground. At the onset of the group, Cale’s avant-garde and contemporary classical credentials lent a grounding circuit to the proceedings, with songwriting credits second only to Lou Reed. The spark in a song like “Venus in Furs” was summoned forth via his viola flourishes, or by his piano playing in “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Cale has continued to be a ceaseless experimenter, ever curious, always listening, and dead set on playing his own version of what’s next. The method has yielded a storied collection of recordings, with some unforgettable songs, including “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” an anxiety twitch of a tune that sounds good no matter who sings it. Read the rest of this entry »
Tim Kinsella helms Joan of Arc, LeRoy Bach was with Wilco at their creative peak, Angel Olsen is on the cusp of indie stardom, but Marvin Tate? Who is Marvin Tate? The man responsible for writing each of these thirteen songs is the least known of the otherwise reputable quartet. Somewhere in the cracks between his race-exploring appearance on “This American Life,” his freakness embrace on Def Poetry, and his semi-regular outings as bandleader of early Funkadelic infused D-Settlement, Marvin Tate is too many things to distill. To be sure, he’s a Chicagoan, just like everyone else on this release, save Olsen who has fled the city to foster a career in the ascendant. Apart from Tate’s stated résumé, his work has yet to break the art world open, but such is the fate of the self-proclaimed poet. Where Tate disregards rhyming in verse, he favors the brutality of truth, which sits well with Kinsella. Read the rest of this entry »
Julie Meckler’s voice is soft and pleasant, and it floats over her acoustic guitar with the familiar, idyllic buoyancy of a rowboat. Left in the wake of her playing are strains of precious and patient melodies, alternating throughout her debut long-player “Queenshead,” most affectedly on the a capella tune “The Cigarettes Song.” The spontaneous results of a throwaway moment—”we were smoking cigarettes in the snow in Chicago”—have a raw majesty missing from the rest of the album, which by way of contrast seems too carefully composed. The listener faces a dilemma: this could be any other release by any other up-and-coming singer/songwriter stuck in the cafe tropes that garner paying gigs. Fortunately, Meckler has an ear for detail that bats those banal qualities away. Field recordings of ambient noise—the traffic in Chicago, the sound of whirling wind—these attributes create a density and purpose that continually ground the carefree melodies, something especially impressive given the inclusion of a bonafide reggae tune in “Bitch.” Read the rest of this entry »
Per Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, some are too old to rock ‘n’ roll, but too young to die. At seventy-one, Paul McCartney seems to defy the odds by relentlessly touring and consistently releasing new music. On his aptly titled “New,” he briefly looks into the past but has his eyes firmly locked on the future by working with young producers like Giles Martin (son of George Martin) and Mark Ronson, who all collaborated to give McCartney a more contemporary sound.
The disc opens with “Save Us,” a track reminiscent of Queen guitarist Brian May’s solo work via its multi-tracked vocals and layered guitars. The title track (also the lead single) has a retro seventies feel thanks to its prominent use of synthesizers, its vocal structure, and its general mood. The song has an immediately captivating groove, especially the harmonies at the end of each verse. Read the rest of this entry »
Tijuana-born Julieta Venegas is a multi-faceted singer-songwriter who is equally comfortable belting out acoustic-based, folksy tunes alongside more pop-oriented songs, as evidenced by her 2012 release “Los Momentos,” which she is promoting with an extended tour of the United States. “Los Momentos“ showcases a more mature side of Venegas, who took a short break from performing following the birth of her daughter Simona three years ago. Her songs have a greater depth, and she has come to embrace traditional instruments with greater frequency. The title track has a touch of jazz, and the black-and-white promo video for the tune has a retro fifties feel that showcases her accompanied by a grand piano. Read the rest of this entry »
When the slightest degrees separate the coffeehouse hack from the gifted songstress, it’s no easy task being a woman armed with an acoustic guitar. Often too subtle for fame, and therefore too obscure to be relevant, singer-songwriters walk a tense tightrope between credibility and, well, dullsville. They are unheralded, they are unappreciated, they are the unloved stepchildren of the music world. For the fortunate few who manage to conjure their craft at precisely the right moment and for precisely the right audience, the gamble can pay off dividends. In this circumstance, the mode of expression has an effect few other ensembles can manage. There’s something mystically personal about the experience for the listener, as though the tunes were carefully handcrafted to the refined specifications of each individual. Take for instance Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” which will be covered in its entirety by Chicagoan Eiren Caffall as part of The Whistler’s “Playing Favorites” series. Read the rest of this entry »
“La Voce Toa” is among the best songs of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s, and it happens to be the sole English-language tune on their 2012 album “Pizzica Indiavolata.” The vocal belongs to Piers Faccini, an English singer-songwriter who is currently touring the United States in support of “Between Dogs and Wolves,” his second release via San Francisco-based indie label Six Degrees.
Faccini’s style is a mix of folk, blues and acoustic rock with a heavy African influence and a dab of jam-band feel. But don’t expect him to get lost in endless guitar riffs during his performances. In fact, when playing Stateside he travels lightly, accompanied only by his own guitar and a percussionist, which allows fans to focus on his voice. His heartfelt delivery has a laid-back feel, and his reflexive lyrics set him apart from today’s shoegazing singer-songwriters. Read the rest of this entry »
When contemporary critics call art “outsider,” it is meant to refer to an artist who has learned outside of the reach of institutionalized instruction. Outsider artists tend to be self-taught, those who learn by doing, often marginalized for their lack of refinement. With luck, the rawness of the outsider artist becomes a tremendous asset, able to sharpen the focus of the expression by privileging the power of the message over the style of its messenger. To the listener, the insight is registered as a singular voice, a signature style. The challenge for artists of this ilk is to avoid becoming so outsider as to feel alien. Willis Earl Beal, for instance, was born in Chicago, but it doesn’t feel like he’s from anywhere at all. He’s signed to Britain’s XL Recordings, the same label that put out the latest Radiohead album. They released the final Gil Scott-Heron LP as well, a much better point of comparison for Beal’s work, whose sophomore effort “Nobody knows.” [sic] is a marked departure from the bedroom recordings and loose-leaf drawings that defined his initial approach. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve never readily accepted the music of Justin Vernon. Undeniably well-crafted as it is, irresistible and viscerally affective as his voice is, something’s missing. Or maybe there’s too much of something, perhaps too much of the saccharine. Or perhaps Vernon’s sincerity goes unchecked on his independent projects (Kanye West contextualized the singer’s talents masterfully on each of his last two longforms), and I’m just unable to sign off on what’s ultimately a glitch-painted form of plain old “Americana,” which occasionally performs infectious and fascinating dances between each of its instrumental layers. I could go on. I could probably compliment Vernon’s sonic engineering all day. He’s a textural master, he’s a king of the melodic gut-punch. He could probably make me cry for weeks and weeks if he took up residency with a guitar in my family room. Read the rest of this entry »
Those who expected this compilation to feature the likes of Marisa Monte, Gal Costa or even newer names like Bebel Gilberto or Cibelle will be disappointed at first—this release contains none of their songs. Instead, we are presented with few names ever heard Stateside save for Luisa Maita or Mart’nalia, who have regularly toured in the US. The disc opens with Italy-based Nossa Alma Canta’s “Bossanova,” a tune that remembers the Brazilian movement that swept the world with the help of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. The tune name recalls many familiar hits like “Wave,” “Desafinado” while playing snippets of familiar tunes via instrumental interludes. Read the rest of this entry »