Monday, January 22, 2018

I'd Love to Turn You On #197 - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights

In the fall of 2007, I moved back to my hometown in upstate South Carolina after a couple of years in New England marked by academic stress and upheaval in my personal life. My father was preparing to retire from nearly forty years of teaching and I thought it would be a good idea to get some time with him while I figured out what direction my life would take next. Shortly after returning home, I started picking up shifts at the local record store where I’d worked before and grew up shopping. While I was in school, I hadn’t been able to stay current with new releases and up-and-coming artists. Working at a record store again gave me a welcome opportunity to explore music with frequency and depth. At the end of November, I took a memorable day trip to Asheville, North Carolina and listened to some new music I’d recently acquired. The album that most stood out on that drive was 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.

Leading up to that fall, I had heard about a soul revival group that was building up a loyal following with explosive performances and restless touring, but 100 Days, 100 Nights served as my introduction to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Sharon Jones had worked for years as a backup singer, but didn’t experience success on her own until her forties and fifties with the Dap-Kings. When I first listened to 100 Days, 100 Nights, I noticed not only the one-two punch of the superb musicianship and studied songcraft, but also the combination of Jones’ incredible voice and her lived-in, knowing delivery. Although The Dap-Kings worked on reviving the kind soul music that Motown, “the sound of young America,” popularized in the 1960s, they featured a lead singer who embraced middle age and all of the wisdom that comes with it. I had just turned thirty earlier that year, was still taking notes on some life lessons I’d recently learned, and appreciated these songs in a way I might not have a few years before. The title track, “100 Days, 100 Nights,” establishes the key elements of the album’s sound with a descending horn figure that quickly gives way to the full power of Jones’ voice as she guides the band through a workout and imparts the insight she has gained from a lifetime of love and loss. Later on, the album highlight, “Something’s Changed,” flies by in just under three minutes, but in that time it practically glows with warmth and reverb as Jones and company offer a master class in how to pull off a flawless pop song. Near the end of the album, “Keep on Looking” underscores the value of years of touring that honed the band into a taut, yet flexible entity able to complement Jones’ passionate, multi-layered performance with an urgent, responsive arrangement. Closing out the album, “Answer Me,” borrows the structure and content of a gospel song, but this satisfying sinner’s lament ends up feeling like a night out drinking while you’re still wearing your church clothes.

On Valentine’s Day 2014, I finally saw Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings for the first and only time at the Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, of all places. It was a cold night in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but Jones and the band heated up the room and put on one hell of a show, easily living up to their reputation. This tour occurred in between Jones’ two bouts with cancer, but I couldn’t tell that she was anything less than one hundred percent that night. Sharon Jones continued to perform and record until her death on November 18, 2016; her final album, Soul of a Woman, was released almost exactly one year later. Sharon Jones won over audiences with her generosity of spirit and I’m thankful for the ways she has reminded that how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life. 100 Days, 100 Nights provides a wonderful introduction to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and belongs in the collection of any music lover who has experienced the inevitable heartbreak of life, but isn’t willing to give up.

-         John Parsell

Monday, January 15, 2018

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #183 - Odd Man Out (1947, dir. Carol Reed)

Carol Reed was a British director best known for a series of dramatic thrillers, culminating in his best-known work, 1949’s The Third Man. Prior to that, he’d worked on ‘B’ pictures in the 1930s and embarked on a run of good-to-excellent films throughout the 1940s, beginning in 1940 with the Hitchcockian wartime thriller Night Train to Munich (widely seen as a sequel of sorts to Hitchcock’s hit The Lady Vanishes). But the “good” run turned to “excellent” in 1947 with Odd Man Out.

Like Night Train to Munich, the film is a thriller that uses a political situation as a backdrop for its drama, not as its actual subject. The film opens with a prologue declaring its lack of political intent as it launches into its tale of Johnny McQueen (the superb James Mason in one of his finest roles), the regional leader of “The Organization” (a thinly-veiled IRA), who has recently escaped from prison and has been in hiding. He’s helped put together a robbery to finance the group and is venturing out for the first time since his escape, despite a weakened physical condition. During the event, things go wrong and he’s wounded, left on his own to escape, with his comrades trying to discreetly locate and help him while a very public police manhunt is underway.

The rest of the film finds Johnny dazed, barely able to move, and closing in on death, encountering different people throughout his travels across Belfast who variously decide to help him or shun him, not wanting to “get mixed up in that sort of thing.” And from the friendly dowager, to the English nurses, to the sympathetic cab driver, to the wary bar owner, to the eccentric and philosophical/artistic trio living in a ruined Victorian mansion, to the priest hoping to save his soul, each interaction with the regular populace of the city gives the characters an opportunity to display their reasons for helping him (or not) – and gives each actor in the cast (many drawn from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre) a chance to turn in superb work as well.

Despite the great acting all around, the main thrust of the film is Johnny’s relationship with Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan), the young woman who loves him both for his cause and as a man, even against the advice of Grannie (Kitty Kirwan) who tells her not to waste her youth on a doomed hero. She continues to try to find and help him when others have given up and, in one of the more startling scenes, offers to take both Johnny and herself to the afterlife before she’d let the police get him.

The film opens on a city clock chiming the time and church bells and clocktowers continue to chime throughout the film, taking on an increasingly doomy overtone as the night progresses and Johnny’s condition worsens. As he loses blood and can’t find respite, the events of his life get increasingly disjointed and the film’s tone turns more grimly philosophical, with the artist trio late in the film offering up the lines: “It’s the truth about us all. He’s doomed.” “So are we all.” And Reed, along with cinematographer Robert Krasker (who also filmed The Third Man), continue to push the film’s opening realism further and further into abstract territory, with the familiar canted angles, backlit chases, and sharp divisions of darkness and light seen in the later film present here and used equally effectively.

In short, the film is a powerhouse of a dramatic crime thriller, anchored by a remarkable performance by Mason – even more remarkable perhaps because he is often a silent witness to the goings-on around him in which others decide his fate – and the continual thread of Kathleen Ryan’s righteous pursuit to save the man she loves.

-         Patrick Brown

Friday, January 12, 2018

2017 Best Of Lists from Friends of Twist & Shout! Part 3

Scott Brand of Caroline Records

Top 10 Albums:
Mabrak – Drum Talk (Dug Out)
Ill Considered – Ill Considered (Self Released)
ELWD – All Good Things (Bad Taste)
V/A – Warfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares (Numero)
Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (Armageddon Shop)
Kendrick Lamar – Damn (TDE/Interscope)
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord)
Mastodon – Emperor of Sand (Reprise)
Dodecahedron – kwintessens (Season of Mist)
Suffering Hour – In Passing Ascension (Blood Harvest)

Top 10 Songs:
Elder – Sanctuary
Chelsea Wolfe – 16 Psyche
Falls of Rauros – White Granite
Hark – Son of Pythagoras
Protomartyr – My Children
Queens of the Stone Age – The Evil Has Landed
Kendrick Lamar – The Heart  Pt.4
Wand – Bee Karma
Quelle Chris – Buddies
Thundercat – Show You the Way

Kyle Emerson, musician, former T&S employee
Denver, CO

Here's my list in no particular order:

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
Alvvays - Antisocialites 
The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
Kendrick Lamar - DAMN
Big Thief - Capacity
Mac Demarco - This Old Dog
Ryan Adams - Prisoner
Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow
Kevin Morby - City Music
Shady Elders - Inside Voices
King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard & Mild High Club - Sketches of Brunswick East

President Barack Obama

My favorite songs of 2017:
Mi Gente by J Balvin & Willy William
Havana by Camila Cabello (feat. Young Thug)
Blessed by Daniel Caesar
The Joke by Brandi Carlile
First World Problems by Chance The Rapper (feat. Daniel Caesar)
Rise Up by Andra Day
Wild Thoughts by DJ Khaled (feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller)
Family Feud by Jay-Z (feat. Beyoncé)
Humble by Kendrick Lamar
La Dame et Ses Valises by Les Amazones d’Afrique (feat. Nneka)
Unforgettable by French Montana (feat. Swae Lee)
The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness by The National
Chanel by Frank Ocean
Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man
Butterfly Effect by Travis Scott
Matter of Time by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Little Bit by Mavis Staples
Millionaire by Chris Stapleton
Sign of the Times by Harry Styles
Broken Clocks by SZA
Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix) by U2
*Bonus: Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen (not out yet, but the blues version in his Broadway show is the best!)

Originally Published by Paste

Darlene D'Agostino Beck, director of marketing for Z2 Entertainment (Fox Theatre, Boulder Theater, and Chatauqua Auditorium)
Boulder, CO

1. Father John Misty, Pure Comedy
2. Ron Gallo, Heavy Meta
3. Tennis, Yours Conditionally
4. The Black Angels, Death Song
5. Chicano Batman, Freedom Is Free
6. Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator
7. The War On Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
8. St. Vincent, Masseduction
9. Angel Olsen, Phases
10. King Krule, The Ooz

Monday, January 8, 2018

I'd Love to Turn You On #196 - Miles Davis - Filles De Kilimanjaro

Filles De Kilimanjaro and In a Silent Way are two records that clearly lead away from “traditional” jazz and into the “electric” jazz era for Miles Davis. The album was released in 1969 and the title was a reference to a coffee company Miles had invested in. Filles featured his quintet from the recordings directly prior with two additional musicians. The musicians were Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Tony Williams on drums, Ron Carter on electric rather than his usual acoustic bass, and Herbie Hancock on Rhodes piano. The additional musicians were Chick Corea, playing electric and acoustic pianos, and Dave Holland, playing acoustic bass. Miles Davis was experimenting with taking away the swing element in the music, at least from the rhythm section, and replacing it with a more rock-based feel. Along with a transition in feel came a transition in instrument choice. The horn section was using traditional horns, but the rhythm section was altering their sound by using contemporary instruments. Electric keyboards and basses start to appear where only acoustic instruments had been before. Filles De Kilimanjaro is a snapshot of a metamorphosis. It is a band in the midst of a change from one state to another, and the record is a vital picture of the process.

“Frelon Brun (Brown Hornet)” is the first track and it starts with the alternate rhythm section of Corea and Holland. The melody is played followed by a blistering solo by Miles, in which Williams not only holds down the time, but takes interjection and counter statement to a high level. Wayne Shorter does not ease up on the second solo, nor does Williams. It is only on Corea’s solo that we get a little respite and that may be only because the tone of his electric instrument would not fully cut a combative Williams. After a bit of a back and forth from Corea and Williams the melody is stated again and the song ends. Speculation that Davis was inspired by James Brown and Hendrix certainly makes sense when examining tracks such as these. A solid groove is laid down by Williams and Holland, but then Corea and Williams have an ability to comment and interject in an energetic fashion an additional layer on top of that first groove. This gives the music a rhythm and a pulse of rock, a straight meter, but the added layers and complexity of jazz.

“Tout De Suite” starts on a cool slinky and downtempo groove, but quickly moves to Hancock prodding in an increased tempo which sets up a new energetic space. Rather than set up a steady groove, Carter uses his bass more as an accompanist with random prods and Miles once again moves in with an aggressive first solo. Shorter takes the second solo with Williams pulsating time on the high hat. Hancock and Williams seem to have a real connection, while Carter seems tentative in his electric duties, or maybe his nontraditional bass role. Hancock’s solo blends pulsation with flurries and eventually melts slowly allowing for the head to melt back in. Williams shifts the tempo back up after the head for a finale that fades out. The liquidity of the transitions and the ease in which the ensemble flows from one state of being to the next are remarkable. It is a level of communication which only comes with playing music for an extended amount of time and a willingness to explore. “Petits Machins (Little Stuff)” has a playful head and continues in the theme of having a unison head. Ron Carter fills more space by holding down pedal points and Tony Williams sets up space filling it with a chattering snare. Miles once again takes the first solo and the main theme is never too far away. Wayne Shorter’s solo is a little more exploratory, allowing for more space in reply from Williams and Hancock. Tony Williams is the glue on this track. You can hear the trust in space and the patience. A less experienced band might have fallen apart. Herbie Hancock’s solo is next and consists of right hand runs with occasional flurries of chord clusters. It leaves Williams plenty of space to frolic. After Hancock’s solo Miles comes back in with a short statement of the head out.

“Filles De Kilimanjaro” has a unison head with an ostinato (or repeating line) that both the bass and keyboard double. The melodic statement is played a couple of times and then Miles takes a solo. The use of one key lets Miles use more extended tones to get tense tonalities at the end of his solo. Shorter starts his solo with short bursts of notes and balances it out with longer tones referencing the main melody. The main melody is then broken up with only bits played and Hancock soloing in between those statements. Miles solos a bit more still referencing the main melody strongly, and then the track fades out. This track has the sense of anticipation and mystery which is only resolved by Miles playing in a major (happy) key. That major key (or happy resolution) gives the song a strong resting place and a good ending. Chick Corea and Dave Holland are back for “Mademoiselle Mabry (Miss Mabry).” This song is rumored to be a reworking of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary.” The extended bass and keyboard blues statement with Williams playing sparsely over the top is like nothing else on the record. Miles gently plays the head with subtle inflections and half valve expressions. Williams avoids any steady beat and just comments on the toms with an occasional high hat snap or cymbal roll. Shorter opens up his tone a little for his solo, allowing Williams to increase his interaction, while Corea and Holland state the framework. Corea’s solo is largely a duet with Holland, with Williams just hitting the form landmarks and a few cymbal flourishes. Miles then comes back in to play briefly over the cycle that will signal the end of the song, and the record. Compared to the rest of record “Mademoiselle Mabry (Miss Mabry)” is slowed down, simple, and starkly beautiful.

Filles is a suite of music. As with many records the cumulative force of the whole is greater than the individual force of its parts. The groundwork for In A Silent Way was being laid on this record, which is one of the fascinating things about Filles. The drums are more pattern-based, although Williams has the ability to still hold a groove and interject. The bass is working with ostinato patterns as opposed to walking lines. It repeats a rhythmic motif to add a texture and a mood. All the songs are in one key lending to a subconscious cohesiveness that might only be noticeable to a certain segment of listeners, but gives a certain feel and sameness to the entire album, despite the individuality of the compositions. We can see detail and individuality in each piece, but only within the whole is the deeper meaning and contents revealed. While a traditional head-solo-head format is being utilized, within that roles are being exchanged and Miles’s new catchphrase “New Directions In Music” was being put to the test. This is a catchphrase that his albums would bear from now on. As  we near the 49th anniversary of the record we have the benefit of hindsight to show us what a masterpiece Filles De Kilimanjaro is. Miles always had remarkable taste in sideman. The personnel of this album is a virtual who’s who of jazz legends today. Each of them lead their own ensembles and expose great new talent to the jazz world. All are still with us with the exception of Miles Davis and Tony Williams. Just following any one of these band members’ careers after this album will provide a trove of great listening. This was always one of the greatest gifts of Miles Davis, starting from his days of bandleading on the Prestige Label - choosing bandmates with interesting voices such as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock, and so many more that made his music so rich. So when people ask me which is my favorite, Filles De Kilimanjaro or In A Silent Way? I say why choose? Love them all, don’t leave any out. I guess it depends which one you love that day, but I’d love to turn you on to Filles.

-         Doug Anderson

Friday, January 5, 2018

2017 Best Of Lists from Friends of Twist & Shout! Part 2

Mik Davis from TBONES Records & Cafe
Hattiesburg, Miss.

Dean Whitmore from Sub Pop
Seattle, WA

Lots of cool stuff came out this year!
All these bands had new releases I liked. In no order:

The Stevens,
Alvarius B,
Steve Gunn,
Naomi Punk,
Anthony Pasguarosa w/ John Maloney,
Feral Ohms,
Wolf Eyes,
Pissed Jeans,
David Nance,
Uranium Club,
Dream Decay,
La Feline,
Davy Kehoe,
Odyssey Cult (X2),
Matt Jencik,
Heron Oblivion,
FNU Clone,
Juana Molina,
Aaron Dilloway,
Ordnungsamt Et La Politesse,
Richard Dawson,
Karl Blau,
Sleaford Mods,
Tiny Vipers
+ others I’ve forgotten!

Tyler Harvey from 303 Magazine
Denver, CO

My Top Albums of 2017
1. “American Dream” - LCD Soundsystem
2. “Haiku From Zero“ - Cut Copy
3. “Science Fiction” - Brand New 
4 “Humanz” - Gorillaz
5. “Mura Masa” - Mura Masa
6. “Supply” - Parallelephants
7.  “Awaken My Love!” - Childish Gambino / Donald Glover
8. “Bishop Briggs” - Bishop Briggs
9. What Now” - Sylvan Esso
10. “Process” - Sampha
HB’s: “Missing Link” - Nick Murphy fka Chet Faker, “Rose” - ABRA, “Kaleidoscope EP” - Coldplay, “Monsters Out West” - Tnertle, "I Don't Mind" -  Retrofette, “True Care” James Vincent McMorrow, “Boy In a Well” - The Yawpers, “Big Fish Theory” - Vince Staples

Terry McGibbon from The Orchard Distribution
New York, NY

God Speed You Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers.
Tyler Childers – Purgatory.
Peter Perrett – How The West Was One.
Son Volt – Notes Of Blue.
Steve Earle & The Dukes – So You Wanna Be An Outllaw.
Buzzcocks – Times Up !
Karl Blau – Out Her Space.
Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Rot.
Bathsheba – Servus.
My Sad Captains – Sun Bridge.

Wire -  Silver / Lead.

Zoe Lanterman from Soda Jerk Presents
Denver, CO

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
2. King Krule – The OOZ
3. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
4 tie. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice & Mac Demarco – This Old Dog
5. Gorillaz – Humanz

Monday, January 1, 2018

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #182 - Jeremiah Johnson (1972, dir. Sydney Pollack)

For as many Western films as I have absorbed over the years, there are few that truly capture the beauty and expansiveness that was the uncharted West. Many simply take place in that vaguely “Western”-looking town or settlement we’ve all seen before, with the dirt roads and the hand-painted signs; maybe a saloon is involved where men talk shit to each other and guns are pulled, all in that familiar sepia tone. Don’t get me wrong I love those films, but if you update the clothing a bit and replace the horses with cars, they could take place in the present in literally any old rural area of America. In fact, where I grew up in Dubuque, Iowa there are countless unincorporated towns within a few miles of the city either in Iowa or just across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin that are almost exactly like the average town depicted in a Western film. Maybe not as heavy with the gun violence, but you get my point. These films are Westerns simply because their creators tell us they are.

The 1972 Sydney Pollack film Jeremiah Johnson stands out in that “The West” is more than just a backdrop or locale. Filmed entirely on location in Utah at the insistence of leading man Robert Redford, the film marries the majesty and danger of the mountains with its breathtaking snowy landscapes and intense fight scenes with both man and beast. This duality is used in much the same way Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese’s films might use that of New York City. Pollack utilizes the Rocky Mountain wilderness as if it’s another character unto itself.

Redford plays the titular Johnson, a soldier in mid-1800s America who becomes fed up with the war he’s fighting and decides to leave to become a mountain man in the uncharted mountains of Colorado. While there, he quickly learns what it takes to live among the wilds. The first winter he is there, Johnson almost doesn’t survive. He is clearly a novice in both trapping food and building shelter. While fishing one day, a Crow Indian chief comes upon him and, seeing how helpless he is at catching fish, takes pity on him and leaves him be. This would not be the last that Johnson sees of the Crow. Johnson meets an eccentric mountain man named Bear Claw (Will Heer), nicknamed as such because he is a Grizzly bear hunter who keeps their claws as souvenirs. Bear Claw teaches Johnson the skills he needs to survive in the mountains, with a lesson that includes a face to face encounter with a “grizz.” Eventually, Johnson sets off on his own to put his new skills to the test. Over the next year, he adopts a son whose family has been killed by Indians, and marries a Flathead Indian woman in order to avoid conflict with her tribe. Reluctant at first to having traveling companions, Johnson comes to accept the woman and the boy, and they become a real, loving family. Later, Johnson aids a U.S. cavalry in rescuing a wagon train that’s been buried by snow. In doing so, he leads the cavalry through a Crow sacred burial ground, breaking a tribal taboo. By the time Johnson returns to his cabin, the Crow have murdered both his wife and his adopted son. This sends Johnson on a murderous vendetta, killing all the Crow tribesmen that he comes across and sparking a years-long feud between him and the Crow Indians.

There are other incidents that occur in the film, but that is mostly the gist. There is minimal plot, minimal dialogue and minimal cast. But, like I said, the real thrill of watching this film lies in the locations it was shot in. I remember the first time I saw Jeremiah Johnson, my dad rented it when I was six or seven years old. After that, when I wasn’t begging him to rent it again, I was playing “Jeremiah Johnson” by myself in the woods behind my house. At this point, I lived in a very rural part of New Hampshire and for a time, I was positive that if my parents ever made me mad again, that I was going to disappear into those woods and try to make it on my own just like my new hero. Mostly, the film just made me want to be outside, enjoying what nature had to offer. Now, even as an adult, I often think of Jeremiah Johnson when I am hiking or camping or whatever, especially now that I live near the very mountains that he tried to tame.

But beyond it being a visually stunning film, the story itself is also incredible and based loosely on factual events. It is partly based on the book Mountain Man by Vardis Fisher and partly based on Raymond Thorp and Robert Bunker’s Crow Killer, which is a book about the life of a guy named Liver-Eating Johnson. I’m going to repeat that: Liver-Eating Johnson. If you don’t immediately want to know that guy’s story after hearing his name, then you may not be human. Redford’s performance alone is a reason to see this film. His portrayal of the protagonist as he goes from naïf to expert is both powerful and realistic.

As far as Westerns go, it may not be the best you’ve ever seen. Some parts of it can certainly drag on a bit and the character of Johnson is a little bit underdeveloped, if you ask me. However, I can guarantee that Jeremiah Johnson is one of the most unique Western films you’ve ever seen, and perhaps it will encourage you to get outside and experience nature like it did me all those years ago.

-         Jonathan Eagle

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Best Of Lists from Friends of Twist & Shout! Part 1

Record Exchange, Boise, ID
List: HERE
Website: HERE

Omega Music, Dayton, OH
List: HERE
Website: HERE

Terry Currier, Music Millennium 
3158 E Burnside St. in Portland, OR

Taylor Townes, Merge Records
North Carolina 

Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble - Finding Me Finding You
Bitchin Bajas - Bajas Fresh
Joshua Abrams / Natural Information Society - Simultonality
Brooklyn Raga Massive - In C
Wand - Plum
Circuit Des Yeux - Reaching for Indigo
Laraaji - Bring On the Sun
Chuck Johnson - Balsams
Mind Over Mirrors - Undying Color
Cate Le Bon - Rock Pool
A. Savage - Thawing Dawn 
Reissues: Midori Takada - Through the Looking Glass & Hiroshi Yoshimura - Music for Nine Postcards

Monday, December 25, 2017

I'd Love to Turn You On #195 - Kenny Rankin - Silver Morning

Here’s a gift for the holiday - something rare, warm and beautiful. You may have never heard of Kenny Rankin - he was never a top ten artist, he garnered little airplay, and he barely penetrated public consciousness. However, if you were among those lucky enough to have discovered this artist of uncommon gifts during his heyday in the 1970’s, (although his career stretched from the mid-60’s to ’07) you were given a mighty respite from tumultuous times. Kenny Rankin’s magic was very simple for me. His music evokes a state of calm. His voice is a magnificent instrument of sooth and healing, and his music is inviting and approachable. My favorite album by Kenny is 1974’s wondrous Silver Morning, because it so beautifully balances his own compositions with world class covers and exudes the gauzy comfort of happier times. While clearly of another time, there is paradoxically, a timeless quality about this album. It always seems to make emotional sense.

Kenny Rankin’s greatest gift was his angelic voice. One of the great interpreters of song in the rock era, his versions of Beatles songs endeared him greatly to the authors, with his version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” being played at George Harrison’s memorial service. On Silver Morning he takes on both “Blackbird” and “Penny Lane” to amazing effect, turning them into patented jazzy vocal swingers. He reimagines complex arrangements into equally complex different arrangements which replace many instruments with the power of his own voice. But Kenny Rankin did not skimp on musical muscle. The performances are lush and full featuring the cream of 70’s jazz and rock session cats. Rankin has a way of getting inside the most iconic songs’ melodic core and adding his own cool sensibility to it, giving it life outside of its classic original. Take his amazing version of Curtis Mayfield’s undeniable “People Get Ready.” Rankin takes the song to a place of folk-soul bliss, mellower than Mayfield’s, yet with a new sheen of beauty driven by John Sebastian’s beautiful harmonica playing and Rankin’s own nylon-string guitar strumming. Also covered on this album are Baden Powell’s lovely “Berimbau,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Pussywillows Cattails” and a sublime version of Frankie Lymon’s “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?”

However, my greatest affection is for the Rankin originals on this album. The title track “Silver Morning” is an orchestral ballad that never fails to lift my spirits. It is the musical equivalent of a warm patch of sunlight on a Persian rug during the dead of winter. It is a welcome and comforting presence in the room. Equally beautiful is “Killed A Cat,” a downbeat memoir of his youth growing up in New York City. And no song on this album has thrilled me more over the years than the exhiliratng “In The Name Of Love.” The first time I heard this song, shortly after getting my first acoustic guitar, I just about lost my mind. This guy was doing everything I could have aspired to accomplish in the cultural open-wound that was the early 1970’s; he played like a demon (Dylan had used him on some mid-60’s sessions), he had a voice that was like mercury coated with honey: controlled yet liquid, and his arranging sensibilities were both honoring the past and totally forward-looking. This song was really something, and it still feels that way when I listen to it 43 years later. Nothing else is quite like this, and very few albums have had such a consistently tranquil effect on my psyche as Silver Morning has. Need a remedy for today’s political nightmare? Take Kenny Rankin and call me in the morning.

-         Paul Epstein

Monday, December 18, 2017

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #181 - Mirrormask – (2005, dir. Dave McKean)

When I was in a freshman in high school in the early nineties, I wanted to hang out in T-Court, an outdoor space carved out between the junction of three academic buildings where all of the weird, creative older students ate lunch. These students traded cassette tapes by Bauhaus and Sonic Youth, talked about movies like The Fisher King and Edward Scissorhands, and read comics like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. From that point forward, I felt a deep connection between Neil Gaiman’s work and what it means to be young, strange, and drawn to the less explored corners of life. Dave McKean’s off-kilter, evocative cover illustrations for The Sandman series provided an influential touchstone for the decade’s non-mainstream style. In 2005, Gaiman and McKean teamed up with The Jim Henson Company to create Mirrormask, a coming-of-age movie that bristles with all of the emotional intensity and unbridled imagination of an adolescent fever dream.

While an inventive credits sequence establishes the visual language of the film, Gaiman and McKean drop the audience into an unfolding domestic drama within minutes of the opening curtain for The Campbell Family Circus. The performers are busy warming up, but Helena, the daughter of the couple who own and run the circus, sits in her trailer amusing herself with an improvised sock puppet show. As the circus begins, Helena’s mother rushes to her daughter’s locked trailer and pleads, “All of those kids in there, they want to run away and join the circus.” In real life!” Helena’s fight with her mother escalates and she yells out something hurtful that she might regret instantly, but certainly feels a deep, growing sense of remorse when he mother falls ill during that night’s performance. By the next morning, Helena and her father are facing the mounting challenges of medical bills, the fate of the circus, and the uncertainty of her mother’s health problems. One night during this stressful, traumatic week, Helena falls asleep and wakes up in world that quickly reveals itself to be a skewed reflection of the life she knows. Mirrormask proceeds with an idiosyncratic fluidity that blurs the distinction between the images in an artist’s sketchbook and dreams that inspired them. Before this movie, Gaiman and McKean had been working together for years on collaborative projects that honed their complementary artistic styles. Adding The Jim Henson Company to bring this shared vision to life on screen feels like an inevitable choice. Stephanie Leonidas, although no longer in her teens during production, brings a surprisingly authentic innocence, churlishness, and honesty to her performance of Helena, a teenager facing a crisis while balancing just on the edge of impending adulthood. Gina McKee and Rob Brydon, two great, veteran supporting actors from British film and television play Helena’s parents and provide the film’s generous heart as well as its wicked sense of danger.

Mirrormask shares more than a few similarities with Jim Henson’s 1986 coming-of-age fantasy romp, Labyrinth, but something about this movie feels like a secret and it possesses a delicate intimacy absent from the earlier movie. Gaiman offsets his masterful fantasy world-building skills with a wry, literate sense of humor while McKean and The Jim Henson Company push the bounds of CGI to create moments that feel like walking through a living abstract sculpture exhibit. When I first saw this movie, I realized that Helena reminded me of the kids who hung out in T-Court. Helena feels like a real teenager coping with massive changes in her life and struggling to make sense of what’s happening. In portraying Helena’s journey so beautifully, Gaiman and McKean achieve an unflinching emotional impact unusual for a movie aimed at young people.

-          John Parsell

Monday, December 11, 2017

I'd Love to Turn You On #194 - Fred Frith – Gravity

When I lived in New York City, I used to hit about a dozen record stores in a ten block radius in and around Greenwich Village, all of which had their own niche focus that made it so I *had* to go to them all to make sure I had the best possible chance of finding what I wanted. One of these stores, Lunch For Your Ears, focused on avant-garde jazz and experimental music from around the world, and as my tastes expanded outward I found myself going there occasionally. The owner was Manny, a notoriously cranky record store guy. Manny was intimidating - he seemingly knew everything about the music I was just learning about, scoffed at a lot of the more mainstream stuff I enjoyed, and in classic NYC style was a pretty thorny person - on the outside. But if you got past the exterior, he was a passionate and broad-minded music lover with a deep knowledge of tons of hard to categorize music - jazz-ish improvisors, noise rock of varying stripes, art-music in all subgenres, international musicians, and so forth - lots of whom played at the (then) nearby Knitting Factory, and many of whom frequented his store and were on a first name basis with him.
One time my friend Dave and I were killing time at the store, looking at records without any specific need to buy one. Manny noticed Dave looking at a King Crimson album and asked him if he was a fan. Dave tentatively said “sure” and Manny said “You guys have some time?” and proceeded to turn off the lights, close the door to his shop, sit us down in a couple chairs, and play us an eight-minute segment of a live King Crimson video with a stunning, acoustic Robert Fripp solo. Another customer tried to come in during this and he wouldn’t let him in, telling him that he was busy with us and he could come in in a bit. Once the video had played, he simply and reverentially said (to the air more than to either of us specifically) “And they say the man is just a master of electric guitar…” turned the lights on and resumed normal business - as normal as he got anyway. That was Manny in a nutshell - so invested in the actual music that he couldn’t be bothered to let a customer in because he wanted to share the music he loved with another customer. And Dave bought Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.
Another time, based on the strength of the album Gravity, I was getting deep into the daunting catalog of Fred Frith - the English guitarist/violinist/composer who was one of the mainstays of art-rockers Henry Cow and about dozen other bands (including John Zorn’s thrash-noise-jazz outfit Naked City) that I would soon learn about - and I needed to get my hands on whatever I could afford. I went to the obvious spot to find this kind of music - Lunch For Your Ears - and was a little disappointed to find that the store wasn’t open (though I knew I had limited funds anyway) and the steel gate was most of the way down. Looking in the window and turning to leave, Manny suddenly appeared behind the metal shutter and asked me “What are you looking for? I know every record I have in here.” I was taken aback and said “Ummm… Fred Frith I guess?” He asked what my favorite album of his was, since Frith covered so much territory in his music. The instrumental album Gravity was my answer, and Manny quickly countered that he preferred the subsequent (and more challengingly spiky) album Speechless then rattled off about a dozen in-stock titles off the top of his head, including the just-released Naked City EP Torture Garden. It was the only thing under ten bucks, so I bought it. I might have bought more over time at the store, but Manny made me a little nervous. So for the time being I stuck to Gravity and (less-frequently) Speechless and the pure WTF-ness of the Naked City record.
            And there’s no question about it - whatever Frith’s reputation as experimentalist, as avant-gardist, and no matter how many different types of records he releases - Gravity is something special and very different in his catalog. Where much avant-garde is challenging, deliberately off-putting, humorless, here was a record that had hallmarks of experimental music - odd time signatures, dissonance - but was also catchy, danceable, and just plain fun to listen to. It kicks off with Frith’s high-pitched laugh at the beginning of “The Boy Beats The Rams,” as if to signal his intentional break with the seriousness and intensity of Henry Cow, then an insistent drumbeat starts to fill in the space between the ambient noises and Frith’s fiddle. This drives forward into the light, gentle “Spring Any Day Now,” which disguises its tricky bossa nova –inspired rhythms with a catchy guitar melody that sticks in the craw. The (album) side progresses through the deliberate rhythmic shifts of “Don’t Cry For Me,” the speedy tempos and gypsy violin improvisations of “Hands of the Juggler,” and the heavier guitar riffing of “Norrgården Nyvla” before closing out on the show-stopping drumming and oddball circus feel of “Year of the Monkey.” This is not the avant-garde that’s difficult and off-putting, this is the kind that welcomes you in, that invites you to enjoy song structures and melody rather than eschewing them. And even though Frith switches bands for the second half of the record, it’s still of a piece with the first, giving us some more challenging art rock in a vaguely Beefheart-ish mode a couple times, a tune that sounds like the theme for a late 60s TV cop show, and a playfully disrespectful cover of “Dancing In the Street” before taking in another fiddle tune with a heavy Scottish influence and a lovely and calming piano solo with light percussion that closes out the record on an almost lullaby-like feel.
            The whole thing is catchy, rhythmically propulsive (even when they go for more challenging meters), and very user-friendly. And if someone like Manny has intimidated you into thinking that experimental music is inaccessible or over your head, I’m here to tell you that Gravity is a key to accessing a lot of different things: art-rock, largely improvised music, international musics of varying stripes, and the variety of Fred Frith’s work as well. It did that for me, pushing me off in a dozen directions at once and opening a lot of doors for me, musically speaking. Manny’s right, Speechless is great too, but Gravity is the easier in for sure. And we can talk about Naked City’s Torture Garden another time.
(Note: Manny closed Lunch For Your Ears in the early 90s and joined up with another Lower East Side guy, Bruce Gallanter, to open the similarly-stocked Downtown Music Gallery, which still operates in Chinatown. Check ‘em out if you’re there!)

-          Patrick Brown