Take a singer of Puerto Rican descent who was born and raised in the Bronx; who hung out in her early teens in New York’s gritty Lower East Side; and then, just a day after she turned 17, ran away to New Orleans to make that city her new home. With such a backstory, you wouldn’t expect Alynda Lee Segarra to make the music she does – Americana, country and folk –but that’s what she does. Her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, was new to me when I heard them recently, but they’ve got a discography that comprises six full-lengths, including the latest, Small Town Heroes, a collection of a dozen upbeat, downbeat and genre-straddling tracks. Read more
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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

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The box set comprising the entire second season of Treme had been lying on my bedside table for months without being watched. One reason for that was, of course, time. Watching a box set can become an addiction and even if you start by watching the first couple of episodes, before you realise it, you’ve spent the entire night, eyes glued to the television screen, watching the entire truckload of episodes and, in effect, killed any prospect of functioning normally at work the following morning. Read more

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It’s been nearly three months since Frank Ocean’s debut album Channel Orange was released and I find myself going back to it over and over again. In fact, Channel Orange is well on its way to finding a berth on my best albums’ list of the year. It’s not as if I’m the biggest fan of R&B – indeed, the current crop of R&B stars such as Usher, Chris Brown, Mariah Carey and Beyonce, don’t do it for me. In theory, contemporary R&B is an amalgam of R&B (of course) and funk and soul and hip-hop, but much of today’s R&B music, with its mandatory pounding beats and formulaic dance-friendliness really is like a substitute for erstwhile disco music. The music is often repetitive and clichéd and the lyrics unmemorable – not my cup of beverage whatever that might be. Read more

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Had it not been for an email from a young colleague at work (“Have you heard Hanni El Khatib? The guy is awesome. Very Black Keys. Shazamed it on Californication”), I’d probably have never heard El Khatib. Till he became more famous, that is, and I’ve reasons to believe that he may well become so. Read more

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Tomorrow is Monday. No matter how good or bad your weekend was, tomorrow is Monday. It’s been too many decades – far more than I would care to mention – since I left school, but the tendency to malinger on Monday mornings still lingers in me every time that first working day of the week looms ahead, precisely, invariably and without exception. So to dull the blow of Monday mornings, I try to put together a playlist for my commute to work, something to make it easier to get back to the grind. Last week, I surveyed my latest haul of albums, songs and podcasts and zeroed in on something that I hoped would be a good antidote to the Monday morning blues, the new Best Coast album, The Only Place. Read more

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In one of the early episodes from the first season of Treme, the American TV drama series themed on post-Katrina New Orleans, Elvis Costello drops in at a club to watch one of the flood-ravaged but still music-drenched city’s leading lights, jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, play. Ruffins, of course, has no idea about who or how big the English singer-songwriter Costello is. When, during a break, someone tells him he should go and say hello to his famous fan, Ruffins, whose gigs usually end with a free-for-all cook-out that he does himself for his audience, is reluctant. “So, do you want to spend all your life playing small clubs and doing your barbecues in New Orleans?” asks the rather surprised man. “That’d be alright,” says Ruffins with a smile. Read more

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Rarely have I known someone to be as passionate about music as was my friend Amitava. Incorrigible Deadhead and passionate lover of guitar jams, he’d drop by in office occasionally to check what I was listening to and pass me his pen drive for a top-up. I enjoyed feeding him new music; mainly because he would not only listen to the stuff I proffered but promptly provide feedback on the music as well as regularly on this column. Amitava ‘Goldie’ Guha passed away recently and I shall miss him sorely.

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I usually like my music to come with vocals and lyrics. I like to listen to the singers, their voices, the words they sing and what they mean. They could be joyous and exuberant or morose and melancholy, love struck or angry. It doesn’t matter. I like all of that and depending on my mood, I usually love to hear songs sung as much as I do the rest of it—the music, the beats, the rhythm and the solo riffs. But sometimes, words can become a distraction. Sometimes, like it was for me last week, words just don’t do it for you. You are too preoccupied with your own thoughts to need somebody else’s words and you just need instruments and nothing else. No pernicious interruptions by vocalists, no matter how great they are. Read more

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There is nothing better than going to a live gig. I like the anticipation; the crowd; the hanging around before the band gets on stage to play. It is always a strange but happy feeling. You could be at a posh, replete with polished acoustics, audi to see a top-notch band for which you paid an unmentionable amount per pop or you could be at a crummy little bar (yes, with little by way of acoustics) in a South Delhi shopping complex where cowdung is one of many ethnic embellishments. It doesn’t matter. A live gig is a live gig. I remember the gigs we used to go to as teenagers in what was a very different Calcutta, at the Hindi High School auditorium on Moira Street, at the Kala Mandir on Theatre Road or even at the Parish Hall in the St. Paul’s Cathedral compound near the Maidan. We’d gather in excited bunches waiting to get in to watch the hot city bands of those times—High, Hellfire and Muff. Or to watch the talented Dylanesque Bertie da Silva or the late Dilip Balakrishnan whose solo work would have, if the world was a global village as it is now, stood out anywhere. Read more

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