Friday, January 6, 2017

The 2016 Bakers Dozen

Ok, so I blew one of my 2016 resolutions last year---to keep an active, monthly music blog…Nice idea, but just didn’t keep up. Not going to make the same declaration, but since I’m almost done with a new recording, which should be out out in the next month or so, I figure I’ll jump start this process again.

So now that 2016 is gone, I can publish my “Best of” list. I usually wait until the first week in January just in case someone drops a great, phenomenal record the night of Dec. 31, before midnight. Nothing caught my ear, since New Year’s Eve, so here goes. Usual drill, I’ll give you my absolute favorite, and then in no particular order a loose approximate top musical dozen IMHO for 2016. This was a good year-lots of great stuff-my fave:

Peter Wolf-“A Cure For Loneliness” - Just a real simple, rootsy album, with great feel, and great songs. Everyone of this guy’s solo discs have been strong, and this one is no exception. I’ve always been a fan of the Geils band, even in its ultra commercial success mode, and part of that admiration was the relentless commitment and energy that Wolf brought to the mix. You hear that on the this record-this guy is singing from the heart, he’s laughing, he’s got the blues, and he can toss out a full blown rocker. I caught him at the Bowery Ballroom this past February. Best concert I saw all year. Hands down. Maybe someday I can make a record this good-but I doubt it.

Other records I couldn’t stop playing this year:

Sturgill Simpson- “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” - Yea I know it’s nominated for album of the year. but even the Grammys get it right once in a while. This album is like a beautiful painting. Aching tunes, rich musical texture, and stellar musicianship. And a great Nirvana cover.

Yarn- “This is the Year”- From Tennessee, then Brooklyn, then back down south, if you have a chance to catch Yarn live, do it. They’ve been kicking around for a while, and have a number of records out. This is the first one I’ve picked up, and I love it. Low key, great country flavored tunes-just bar room solid. These guys tell great stories and make them real easy to listen to. One of my favorite songs of the year- “Sweet Dolly”- the band’s ode to Ms. Parton. Just an honest, innocent remembrance of falling in love with her when she appeared on the Tonight Show. How can you go wrong when a tune makes you smile?

Cymbals Eat Guitars- “Pretty Years”- All I really know about this band is that they allegedly come from Staten Island, and this is their fourth release. This is no country album. A fair share of distortion, guitars and overdriven production across all the tracks, but good tunes. There’s something in this mix that reminds me of the Clash….not sure if its in the guitars or the Strummer/Simonon/Jones flavored vocals. “Wish” is my favorite song of the year-play it loud.

Alejandro Escovedo -“Burn Something Beautiful” -Escovedo is just a badass. Simple tunes, telling stories, with guitars. His past few records have been stellar, and this one doesn’t miss. Lot’s of NYC tribute references here- somebody spent some time on the lower east side at one point, but he also writes a killer love tune. AE gut-punches you on the opening track with massive guitar chords- but somehow, like with so many of his other albums, he puts across songs with both energy and sensitivity that is sustained tune after tune. If there’s one singer-songwriter who can plug in and roll a little louder than the rest, its this guy.

Bombino-“Azel"- This guitarist from Niger is amazing. I can’t remember anyone taking on a Stratocaster in such a unique style since the first Dire Straits album. But Bombino is no Knopfler wanna be. Totally in command of the grove, the melody and passion, he and the band just push it from the get go, and even if you can’t understand the lyrics, it just doesn’t matter. Afraid “world music” is too granola for you? This ain’t finger cymbals, pan flutes and twangy sticks. Read this guy’s bio on Wikipedia and you’ll learn where this music comes from. This is a guy who has risked his life to play music and you hear it in the album. Check the live archive at for a live recording of this guy. Then buy this record.

Kyle Craft-“Dolls of Highland” - The first time I heard this guy I immediate bought the disc. Still trying to figure it all out. There’s a well orchestrated recklessness that jumps out of this dude. It’s  like Meatloaf meets T-Rex meets the Kinks, without the distortion. Unique vocals, unique writing, almost theatrical in a way, and maybe too over the top for some people, but I liked it. “Berlin” is a great tune about a stripper…..Another KEXP live performance worth watching...

Anderson.Paak-“Malibu”—The best thing I’ve heard out of the hiphop world since The Roots released “How I Got Over”. Anytime a hip hop artist throws it down with a real drum kit, that is worth a listen. And this isn’t just rap- it oozes serious funk, soul and r&b and real lyrics. Kinda gives me hope for the genre.

William Bell- “This is Where I Live” Seventy-seven year old singer with a voice like soul butter bourbon. Can make you cry. Why mess with a good thing? This guy is a treasure, did it back in the 60’s, and is still doing it…-

Eli Paperboy Reed- “My Way Home”- Reverend Eli sets up church in a garage. Raw energy. Great tunes. Sounds like it was recorded in 1966. Grit and soul saving rock n’ roll. Best reverb I’ve heard in years. Lock up your daughters, pass the hat…this ain’t yo’ mamma’s preacher.

Okerville River-“Away”- Will Sheff is a sneaky guy. He kinda made us think this band was through with “The Silver Gymnasium”. Then this record dropped out of nowhere. This takes a listen or two to catch the nuance of this album- it comes across real quiet, but he is writing his ass off, and it just grows and grows on you. Remember when a song could make you throw your fist up in the air?- Sheff is kinda reminiscing about that, but he also delivers it. Hopefully not their last effort, but if this is it, its a great way to go out.

The Jayhawks-“Paging Mr. Proust”- I do like it better when Mark Olson is in the band, but Gary Louris manages to pull this off. “Quiet Corners & Empty Places” is pure Jayhawks ear-candy fair, totally worming its way into your head. There are catchy hooks across the whole recording-sometimes a bit Byrd-like, but you also hear a band playing rough around the edges a bit….sorta like Wilco occasionally does. But the songs are good, and I listened to this one enough this year to have it round out the list. It’s a little different than some of those really clean, slick Jayhawk classics, but it still does it for me.

That’s it. Naturally looking forward to the next year unfolding. And of course, the new Dirt Napper record should set a pretty high bar for everyone across the joint. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.- fm 1/5/17

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Some early behind the scenes recording of "Bass, Drums, Guitars, and Organs"-The next Dirt Napper album

This summer we started working on a follow-up to City Eastern Serenade, with the intention of getting it out sometime in the fall of '16. During the recording of the record, I thought I would put up a few shots of what goes on during the various sessions. This footage is from a tracking session with Tony Tino and Phil Cimino, two great players who have done a bunch of live gigs with me. Tony played on a number of tracks on the last album, and we thought recording the two of them together for a number of tunes would be fun. City Eastern Serenade took over a year to make, with various stops and starts, but this album is going to be a bit more spontaneous, and more "live" sounding-
We tracked through six tunes over the course of the day. Many of you may have seen the end of the day bourbon shot on Facebook.

Here are three clips from the session-

I don't really know how to write a proper chart. I just kind of lay out the tune and these guys figure it out.  I wouldn't really know how to write a chart for drums, Phil Cimino somehow manages to figure out what I was trying to say.....

In this next clip, Phil noted that I was only giving a "4-count" into each song- instead of the normal "8-count" he was used to. I told him I was trying to save time.

The last clip is a bit longer-we were recording a new tune called "Rafferty Train". For the album, I think I'm going to do two versions, one more full band, and one very stripped down and acoustic. These guys fell into such a nice groove on this one- it was amazing. Tony was especially pleased because he got to use his fretless bass, which doesn't get out much these days......wait till you hear the whole tune....

thanks to mattyboy for rolling the camera....
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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Probably the coolest farewell present ever..........

So last month I quit my gig at the NYPL- sometimes you just have to make some changes, but all that aside, it was a great excuse to head to the Ginger Man with my amazing staff and quaff a final beer together. At the bar they laid a serious bottle of Mexican cactus juice on me, and an official going away card built by Kang, one of my developers- Kang had been running some workshops with the staff on how to make pop-up stuff, and this is by far in my humble opinion, his greatest creation to date. Thanks dude! Adios.....y gracias.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Looking for new music? Screw Pandora, go to the library.....(at least if you are in Denver)...

So as you may or may not know, I have a strong connection to public libraries these days, and this came across my desk the other day.... Check out this project “Volume” by the Denver Public Library-

The library invites local musicians to submit their recordings/albums to a curated website that is sponsored by the institution, providing an accessible, excellent, locally driven collection of music. Indie music is more regional again, and having a local library step up and create a channel for independent music is actually pretty cool.

I’m not sure what the response has been, but from the site it looks like there is some really good activity. I love the fact that they don't censor, present a range of music, and have a solid selection process. Presenting under-served, less popular types of music in this arena has some great potential- especially since a huge part of the library experience involves browsing- Imagine a parent who wants to find some kids music, an accomplished jazz musician or even the aspiring singer songwriter with their first disc. The idea could be developed into a social media, community building project that can promote live music performances, connect people, and help create a new and different type of exposure for musicians. Just thought you might like to see this….shows how some libraries are becoming more of a community resource, and yet another way people are changing how music is distributed to audiences……..

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Bob Dylan said something about not looking back-

OK- Here goes- Not sure how many of you actually read this, but I’ve been doing this the past few years, and I hope you dig it….kind of a top 10 list, but it is pretty hard to keep it to 10, so we spill over a bit...and I usually don't point out things I didn't like, but there's a few notes of disappointment here.....but here it is, my look back at '15.

Comebacks that worked- Sleater/Kinney and Blur!
Comeback we didn’t need-Electric Light Orchestra
Best free album of the year-Star Wars- the album from Wilco…not the movie soundtrack. A really great album.

This year I leaned a bit more to the country side more than the rock n’ roll side, and by far, the two albums that got the most play through my earbuds were “Something More Than Free” by Jason Isbell and Second Hand Heart by Dwight Yoakam. Isbell’s album is just one great crafted song after another- the kind of stuff that stops you in your tracks and say “damn, what did he just say?” - and Yoakum sounds like he had so much fun making this album, and the guitars are cranking, and the songs are hooky, and his voice is just as good as ever… you can’t lose.

Another ear grabber- Lord Huron’s Strange Tails came out early in the year and got a little overlooked- but needs a listen if you missed it- a real reverb drenched mixed of tunes that could of been done more acoustically, but I really liked how this album sounded both from a production and songwriting angle..…and speaking of reverb…I’ll agree with most people tossing out top 10 lists- “Sound and Color” by Alabama Shakes is as good as everyone says it is. I just wish WFUV didn’t beat that one song to death.

Best guitar tones this side of Wooley Bully- J.D. McPherson’s second releases “Let the Good Times Roll” had a bunch of tunes that sound like they could’ve been in a texmex jukebox in 1965. “It’s All Over But the Shouting” -GREAT TUNE. Gary Clark Jr.’s release “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim” is also worth a long listen- pretty honest soul & rock n’roll done modern and real with more than enough guitar from track to track.

Speaking of the 60’s, my vote for best performance straight from the garage is a tie- One that could’ve been considered as comeback of the year, but a special shoutout to THE SONICS- for THIS IS THE SONICS- as much as I love those other old english guys running around touring, these septuagenarians don’t need no viagra. Total garage rock at its finest…….and one from the youngsters, if you love your rock and roll straight from the garage, check out Thunderbitch ( Like Britney Howard didn’t have enough going on this year….a really good side project that is either available on vinyl or download…no silver disc.

Reissue of the year- Soul Manifesto by Otis Redding- all ten OR albums in a tight little box. Put on one a day for ten days and you will understand why this guy is the definition of soul. Punto finale!

Lots of other women made great records this year, Emily Lou Harris with Rodney Crowell came out with “The Traveling Kind” a follow up to their first collaboration from two years ago. Harris totally slays the tune “Higher Mountains”- worth the price of the album alone. One of those performances that that you wish were there when she recorded it……… and I’ll take Florence and the Machine over anything that Adele lady is belting out. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a mix of power and elegance, and Florence Welch is an amazing songwriter with a voice and band to totally back it up.

So I think that is it til next year- a few more quickies on the “thumbs up” side-The Decembrists, Josh Ritter, and of course a real strong one from Weller round out my list.

In terms of disappointments, really only two- The latest from Blitzentrapper was a bit flat, though I’ll give it a few more listens…. as was the debut from Shaun and Starr-I expected more excitement from Sharon Jone’s backup singers…

Hope you found something new to listen to………til next year- find some good independent radio out there and turn off those “streaming” services that let some algorithm dictate what it thinks you should hear….and check out - if you want to mine some really unique stuff.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

New year, new blog, new things to do......

Decided to try and start creating more updates through this Blogspot site, more on a monthly basis for 2016. Figured it's a good place for some rants...and maybe some musical resolutions. Last year I made two musical resolutions- one to get that album out (in a format that wouldn't make me wince), and to try to play out at least once a month. Both pretty much done, thanks in part to the Growler, where I host a monthly songwriter series...
So just to air them out in public, because it will make me get them done, I'll throw up a few musical resolutions in the next week or so, and because some of you actually read it, my top albums for the year (which I'm sorting out now....)  Will keep you posted, and if you haven't done it yet, like that idiotic Facebook page- it actually helps in the getting gigs department.

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First Reactions to City Eastern Serenade

First Reactions to City Eastern Serenade-Nov/2015
I have to say, it’s kind of weird tossing your music out there and seeing how people react- especially the radio and the press. You bust your ass packing envelopes, folding press releases and bios, and drop tons of envelopes into the mailbox…then you kinda hope…It was nice to get some good early radio bites the first month- you forget that everyone and their mother is sending radio people CDs and MP3s, but it’s nice to get a few blips of airplay across the country- got some nice hits in California, Tuscon, and Maine- and we’re  hoping for more as people make their way through the mail piles. Got a real nice write up  from a great music blog called The Daily Country- you can check it out here-  which was totally unexpected- loved it! If you know anyone who runs a blog, radio show, or podcast that might give it a listen, let me know and I’ll send a press package out. Thanks-fm