My playlist got a little weird last week. It all began with a version of Paint it Black, the Stones’ song from 1966. The version, a cover, was stunning: slower and with none of the original lyrics. There was an Afro-beat and a funky feel to it, replete with congas and stuff. It was rather good. Instead of the original lyrics, the band covering it occasionally chanted “Paint it black”, pronouncing black as ‘Blaak’. I got curious and found out that the cover version was by a band, or rather, a collective, called Africa who put out just one album in 1968 called Music From Lil Brown. I later found that that Music from Lil Brown was an African-American response to Music From Big Pink, the debut album from The Band, which, of course, is the Canadian-American band that got fame because it was Bob Dylan’s back-up band but which on its own was easily one of the best rock bands that I’ve heard. Read more

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When Tom Waits and Keith Richards sing the old ballad Shenandoah for you, the only libation that I can think of as an accompaniment is Old Monk Rum. Waits, 63, and Richards, 69, have probably two of the most gravelly voices (and looks to match) in the business and their rendition of Shenandoah, a song whose exact provenance I tried to find out and wasn’t completely successful, is an indication of the shape of things to come in the form of a new album called Son of Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys. Read more

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My daughter, about to be eight, has an earworm. You know, a piece of music that seems stuck in your ear so seemingly permanently that you just couldn’t get it out. It’s a song that she hums, sings and dances with vigorously even though it’s not being played anywhere. And I’m happy. Delighted, actually, because the song happens to be Lonely Boy by The Black Keys. Actually, the duo that makes up The Black Keys may also seem like an earworm for Download Central, in case you are one of those readers who for some strange reason follows this column fairly regularly—I don’t know how many times I have written about them, obsessively, compulsively and, perhaps also, maniacally.
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I think it is sometimes better to watch a film without having read any of the reviews. Had I read the reviews of 2010’s British film, London Boulevard, I probably wouldn’t have readily watched the film on DVD as I did recently. On Metacritic, the film, a directorial debut of William Monahan, the Oscar winning screenplay writer of Martin Scorcese’s The Departed, got a score of just 52, which is at best considered a middling rating. I was fortunate not to have scoured the net before watching the DVD because I liked the film. London Boulevard is a British crime drama with all Brit cast—Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone and David Thewlis (he played Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films). But it is a British film made by an American director. Read more

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There are some musicians that you want to kick yourself for not discovering earlier. And the desire to plant the sole of your shoe firmly on your own behind is intensified if the musician happened to have been right under your nose and yet you didn’t notice. Sugar Blue is one such musician that I wish I’d discovered much earlier than I did, which happened to be just a couple of weeks back. Sugar Blue plays the harmonica. In fact, he is dizzyingly good at it. But more about him in just a minute. Read more

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Some musicians are so low profile that you hardly ever realise their influence. They rarely hog the limelight and, in fact, are most often overshadowed by their band-mates who are way more famous. How many of us know of Chuck Leavell? Even if someone told us that Leavell, 59, is an American pianist and keyboardist who has played with the likes of Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers, we’d probably go, “Oh, yet another sessions musician; there are so many.” But if I were to tell you that Chuck Leavell is actually a part of The Rolling Stones and has been touring with the band for years, would that make him any more familiar? Read more

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There are some bands that you either love or you hate. Jane’s Addiction is one of them. I love them. But I also know many people who hate them. In fact, it is the very same reason for my loving them that is also the reason why some others hate them. That is, of course, Perry Farrell’s unconventional style of singing (he shrieks) and his voice, which I’ve read, being compared to a “banshee-in-a-wind-tunnel”. I have had companions forbidding me from playing any Jane’s Addiction albums at home on the stereo, forcing me to listen to those delightful brain-shredding shrieks on the earphones or headphones. Read more

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Rick Grech’s violin solo on Sea of Joy is probably the reason why I keep going back to Blind Faith, the eponymous and only album by the 1968 British super-group that Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Grech formed. I am not sure whether they lasted together for a full year but that album has so many of my memories attached to it that I can’t even begin to tell you. I must have been just a bit older than the pubescent girl on that risqué and controversial album cover when I first heard Blind Faith. It came out in 1969. I must’ve heard it in 1973 in my friend Sujoy’s mezzanine den where we used to meet for our nefarious activities. It was a vinyl that we played on a rather robust record player that he had – believe me, it took all kinds of mishandling, including some that I would be embarrassed as hell to tell you.
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My entry into the music of John Mayall, British blues pioneer and mentor of many great musicians, including Eric Clapton, happened sometime during 1974. I was in class 9 and an older friend had two albums (both of 1969 vintage), Turning Point, which was a live recording, and Empty Rooms, a studio effort. I remember two things that happened to me when I first heard those two (both were Polydor vinyls): a) I fell in love with the blues; and b) I couldn’t stop marvelling at the fact that Mayall (who played the harmonica, guitar and keyboards), while using guitarists, bassists and a flautist-cum-saxophonist, didn’t employ a drummer on either of the records and yet produced such a full sound. Read more

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At the beginning of this month, The White Stripes announced that they were breaking up. I was saddened but not surprised. Jack and Meg White—the once-married duo—formed the Detroit-based band in the late 1990s and have six great full-length albums besides some live recordings and many singles to their credit. Although they already had two albums already out, the first album by The White Stripes that I heard was their third, White Blood Cells, in 2001. I liked them instantly. It was their sound: rock and roll with a blues and punk twist. Raspy, distorted guitar-work (Jack), primal drumming (Meg) and howling vocals. I have lost count of how many times I heard White Blood Cells when I first got that album. Even now, I just have to think of that album and I can hear the opening riffs of the first song, Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground. Read more

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