Benjamin Booker, the sensational new singer whose self-titled debut album of 12 songs was released last month, has such a whiskey-marinated and vintage-sounding voice that you’d never for a moment guess that he’s barely in his mid-twenties.
Every time this column makes even the tiniest mention of the Grateful Dead or offers on its web version, a download link for one of their concerts, there is one guy, a friend, actually, but also a virulent critic of that band, who makes it a point of making a snide remark. There are many people who consider the Dead’s fans as drug-addled hippies who get lulled into a happy, semi-comatose state by the band’s improv-heavy meanderings. That certainly amounts to gratuitous stereotyping. Read more
You don’t realise how talented a guitarist and bluesman the young Texan, Gary Clark Jr., is till you are into the second song on his first major label album, Blak and Blue. That’s when you see the way he can wield the axe. That’s also when you begin realising why many people compare him to Jimi Hendrix. Clark can make his guitar scream and shriek and do things that take you back to the golden era of blues based guitar rock. He’s also the one of the few contemporary African American blues guitarists to have created a ripple. Most of those in the new wave of great blues guitarists have been white—at least my favourites are (Joe Bonamassa, Derek Trucks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jack White, Dan Auerbach and so on). Read more
Every other day, I have to lie on my back with a hot compress under my neck in a darkened physiotherapist’s room, a place I am forced to visit three or four times a week because of a combination of factors: 1) rapidly advancing age; 2) a vain attempt to compensate for 1) by loading more plates on the bars at the gym; and, 3) an old niggling problem with the neck, which has something to do with decades of sitting in front of a computer. The lying down period is followed by pulls and pressures, not always gentle, applied to my neck, back and arms by a well-trained therapist. Read more
The first time I tried to watch Martin Scorcese’s Hugo I did so on an aircraft, on the piddly little screen on the back of the seat in front of mine in the economy section. Bad decision. Hugo is Scorcese’s first film shot in 3D and a tiny screen in the cramped confines of an airline seat does it no justice.
A couple of days after Levon Helm, drummer, singer and key member of The Band, the legendary rock group of the 1960s and 70s (and then again the 80s and the 90s), died in the middle of last month, I got to hear a podcast that excerpted two radio interviews with Helm—one from 1993 and the other 2007. There was a distinct difference in Helm’s voice between the two interviews. In the 1993 interview he sounded exactly like he did on The Weight. Remember The Weight? I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ about half past dead;/ I just need some place where I can lay my head. “Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”/ He just grinned and shook my hand, and “No!”, was all he said. What a gorgeous song that is. The vocals were shared by three of The Band’s singers. Besides Helm, there was Richard Manuel and Rick Danko. The song itself was written by guitarist Robbie Robertson who, I read somewhere, was inspired by the films of Luis Bunuel to write The Weight. Read more
Sometimes when you’re searching for new musicians you need look no further than the record label that publishes their work. Sub Pop is one such label. Set up in Seattle 25 years ago, it was a independent label that made a name when it signed up the vanguards of the Seattle grunge rock movement—Nirvana, of course, but also Mudhoney and Soundgarden. Those three bands may be legendary in rock music’s history but the list of great bands that have worked with the label is impressive—Sonic Youth, Death Cab for Cutie, White Stripes, Modest Mouse, The Shins, Built to Spill, Foals, The Smashing Pumpkins…. It’s a long list of stellar musicians and bands. So, although Sub Pop is not really a kosher indie label any longer (Warner Brothers has a biggish stake in it now), many people trust the label so much as to blindly pick up albums by new artists that it signs on. I tried Wolf Parade, Vetiver, CSS (Cansei der Ser Sexy, a very agreeable Brazilian band) and many other bands that I’ve become a fan of now simply because they have worked with Sub Pop. Read more
When a Facebook friend sent a Dropbox link to a mixtape called San Francisco Dues, I just had to explore what it was all about. San Francisco Dues is a Chuck Berry album that was released 40 years ago and any mixtape that evokes Berry needs to be given a listen to post haste! So I wasted no time in downloading the mixtape and to my most pleasant surprise, it turned out to be a bonanza. But before that, a bit about Dropbox. Do you use it? I’ve just started and I can’t stop raving about this most convenient way to ferry your files to wherever you want on whatever device you like or happen to have with you. In more technical terms it is a Web-based file hosting service that uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files and folders across multiple devices as well as with other people. Read more
When Bob Dylan released his 2009 album, Together Through Life, an album on which all but one of the songs were co-written by Robert Hunter, I raved about it in this very column. I was biased, of course. I have a tender spot for Hunter, a long-time collaborator of the late Jerry Garcia and really an invisible member of the erstwhile Grateful Dead, the band that lived and died with Garcia. Even today, much of the repertoire of the remaining members of the Grateful Dead comprises songs that were written jointly by Hunter and Garcia.