Three that I nearly missed
A couple of weeks back, I listed five albums that stood out for me in 2012, five that I would certainly take with me into the next year. All five—Sigur Ros’s Valtari, Patti Smith’s Banga, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, and Dr. John’s Locked Down—are doing heavy-duty shifts on my playlists and, I’m quite sure, shall continue to do so for a bit. But if I look back again at 2012, there are a few albums that I wish I’d spent more time with. Some of them are gems that are sitting there to be discovered.
I’ve mentioned. In earlier instalments of this column, Joe Bonamassa, the blues guitar prodigy who, by most accounts that I’ve read, began playing the blues before he was a teenager. The Texas native who’s 35 now has a c.v. that reads like an unbelievable dream. At six or seven, he was playing tunes by guitar greats such as Jimi Hendrix; at 12, he opened for B.B. King; in his teens, he had a band that comprised some interesting members: Bonamassa, of course, but also Erin Davis, Berry Oakley, Jr., and Waylon Krieger. Davis, Oakley and Krieger are, respectively, sons of musicians Miles Davis, Berry Oakley (of the Allman Brothers Band) and Robby Krieger (of The Doors). That band was called Bloodline and has just one album to its credit.
Bonamassa went on to a stellar solo career with around a dozen albums released. In 2012, his live album, Beacon Theatre: Live from New York (2012), came out. And I completely missed it. I made amends and picked it up last week. Bonamassa, like many bluesmen, is a peripatetic gig man, doing as many as 200 concerts a year. The Beacon Theatre album is a two-disc heavyweight blues rock album that showcases not only Bonamassa’s powerful guitar but also a few noted guests who join him on songs—Paul Rodgers (yes, he of Free and Bad Company), John Hiatt (American rock singer and songwriter), and Beth Hart (another American musician). Beacon Theatre: Live from New York is a muscular blues-rock album and a must-listen for fans of great guitar led blues. To release the album and the DVD, in early 2012, Bonamassa went busking in the New York subway. And joke is that he hardly made any money because few commuters left anything as a tip for him!
I got drawn into the psych-experimental sound of Animal Collective when I heard Merriweather Post Pavilion, their brilliant 2009 album, which happens also to be their most accessible work. Since that, I have followed what the Collective’s band members have been up to, together as well as solo. Animal Collective members play under intriguing names: Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Deakin and Geologist. Their music is equally intriguing–heavily layered and unconventional. In 2012, they released Centipede Hz, a full-length album with which I spent far too little time. I made amends and went back to it and, yet again, was amazed at the magical nature of the band’s music. Animal Collective’s music is not easily definable but it is that attribute, which gives it an enigmatic charm. Centipede Hz has crawled into my playlist and is staying there.
The third album that I let pass with a couple of cursory listens doesn’t actually belong to 2012. It is from late 2011. So I’m cheating when I put it along with this year’s near misses. But there’s a reason for that. Last week I read the unhappy news that the Brooklyn, New York, based hip-hop group, Das Racist, had broken up. It is a pity because rarely do you come across a hip-hop band these days that is as literate as they were. There was the Indian factor as well—two of the group’s three, Himanshu Suri and Ashok Kondabolu (the third member is Victor Vasquez), were Indian, and many of the group’s songs had strong Indian references besides a generous dose of humour.
The trio burst on the the scene with their very funny 2008 song, Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. They put out two free mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude, and Sit Down, Man. And then released their first and, as it happens, their last full-length album, Relax, at the end of 2011. I heard Relax cursorily when it came out and moved on. Big mistake. It’s a great album with tracks produced by several guest producers, including Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, and Brooklyn rapper and producer, El-P, and Anand Wilder of Yeasayer. And it deserves greater attention. I’ve slipped it into my current playlist and have been delighted ever since. There’s an added bonus for bhangra lovers in Relax: American bhangra artist Bikram Singh has a track—of course, it is interspersed with rap verses from Das Racist but nevertheless, it is there, along with the group’s trademark references to India, Indians and many things Indian.
A nice place to score new musical discoveries is the Fuel/Friends Blog. It is actually titled I am Fuel, You Are Friends and features downloads of live performances, songs released by artists and a very well-written blog. This week it featured a 2012 Holiday Mix. It’s a nice download. Try it.