Friday, May 28, 2010

Kings Go Forth- The Outsiders Are Back

What makes R&B sound authentic? Good question. There is a whole crop of newish musicians who are staking a claim on the legacy front; Sharon Jones, Raphael Saadiq, Ryan Shaw etc. have all made credible stabs at producing modern R&B that sounds like the stuff from the 60’s and 70’s. Some get it better than others. David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label has offered up a band called Kings Go Forth who really get it. As I listened to their debut album, The Outsiders Are Back I was stunned by the very real sounding R&B emanating from the speakers. There were Stax style horn arrangements, Gamble and Huff-like productions with strings and soaring vocal choruses, and a searing energy on every track. The more I listened the more I was able to pick out what made this group different. Aside from the familiar style of songwriting and strong arrangements, the production of Kings Go Forth is truly special. Whoever engineered this album deserves some credit because the thing that makes this album so special is the way the drums and vocals are recorded. Unlike most modern recordings, the keyboards and guitars are buried deep in the mix, and the drums, which are simple and straightforward, just explode. At times they almost seem on the verge of being over-recorded, but then they carry the tune to a new level and you realize it is just right. Slapping, whacking, thumping and bumping, it is real muscle, holding real sticks and kicking out real jams. There is no whiff of electronic pads or processed beats. Similarly the vocals are real and in your face. Nothing has been pitch corrected or sweetened up. It really sounds like a group of people giving it their all - straining at times, but belting it out with guts and feeling.

I had this CD in my car for the last week and I would just let it run. Everytime I would get in the car, The Outsiders Are Back would pick up where I left off. Each time I would have a moment of “Who or what is this?” Each time I would think it was something different - world, reggae, gospel - it was just a wash of soulful sound coming from the stereo. My inclination was never to turn it off, but to turn it up. Kings Go Forth manage to take elements of all the music they love and grind it into a mighty tasty R&B sausage. It has the ring of old school, but they are clearly sophisticated modern listeners who are able to integrate all modern music into their purist soul vision. -- Paul Epstein

Friday, May 21, 2010

Several Species of Small Furry Thoughts - Paul’s open forum

From left: Kevin Deal (PrimaLuna) John Atkinson (Stereophile), Joe Harley (Music Matters/AudioQuest). Photo: Eric Starling, ListenUp
On Wednesday night I participated in the annual Listen Up Music Matters event. It was an interesting experience on a number of levels. First off it was held at the Pearl Street location of Listen Up, which is a half a block from the original Twist and Shout location at 724 so. Pearl. Being on that block always brings me a bittersweet sensation as I both relish the memories of those early, simpler, more innocent times, and it allows me to reflect on the great distance we have come. When we started my only goal was to not teach high school anymore and to spend all my time in the music zone. Obviously things are never as simple as you would imagine, but overall I haven’t had to return to the public schools and I am still ass deep in music. It is the main thing in my life to this day, and getting that modest store on Pearl was the start of it all.

The Music Matters event was also a chance for me to see a bunch of music fanatics (many of them Twist and Shout customers) in their element, but not at Twist and Shout. Beside concerts I usually don’t see that many customers out and about. It was cool to see people exercising their music mojo and geeking out in a public space that wasn’t MY public space. The good folks at Listen Up put on a great event, full of good info on products and innovations and I got to talk records with a bunch of people. Aside from confirming what I already knew about the renaissance of vinyl, I was heartened to see so many people who were really conscious of the sound differences involved. I spoke to a number of people who were fully informed about all the great labels that are now on the market specializing in high quality vinyl pressings. I had lots of great conversations about what sounds great and why.

The big buzz, musically was a very un-high-quality recording - the remaster of Exile On Main Street. I brought copies with me and sold a handful of them. It is a phenomenal package, and an album that seems to bring out the collector in everyone. There are lots of strong feelings about this classic album and everyone seems excited to hear it again. The extra songs are a very interesting mixed bag. My favorites right off the bat were the demo of “Lovin’ Cup” and the version of “Soul Survivor” with Keith on lead vocals and the chorus missing.

Another interesting thing that happened was that at least five different people, of different ages, made mention to me of Twist and Shout’s always increasing online presence. Specifically, I was hearing about our Twitter and Facebook profiles. If you want a good example of how successful it is, look no further than the record-time sellout of our Widespread Panic instore. On the strength of one Tweet and one mention on Facebook we had a torrent of activity. The reaction of the people at the Music Matters event confirmed this again. Here were guys in their 50’s telling me they love getting updated via these avenues and that they hear about all sorts of new stuff that way. I am as surprised as I am delighted. Look for more and more online activity from us technophobes here at hippy central.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #9: Traffic - Traffic

Welcome to Twist & Shout’s “I’d Love To Turn You On” a fortnightly column by our deeply knowledgeable staff of hardcore collectors and music lovers who want to spend some time turning you on to some of their favorite releases of yore; titles that may have slipped out of the public favor, or perhaps never quite found the audience they deserve. Dig in to some terrific musical esoterica and enjoy the sounds.

Do you know the phenomenon of being in a record store and seeing an LP or CD cover and having that momentary pulse-quickening excitement where you think; “oh I gotta have that record?” Then the rational side of your brain takes over and you remind yourself that you already have it. The funny thing is that there is a moment of sadness as real as the excitement you felt at seeing it in the first place. You are sad because you can’t buy it and have the experience of listening to it for the first time again. Traffic’s self-titled second album is that album for me. Every time I see it in the racks or in a collection that I am buying I stop and pine for the day I first discovered this wondrous thing. Recorded in 1968, this album is everything I want out of a rock album. Start with the cover. Has a band ever looked cooler? The first time I saw Stevie Winwood’s outfit and Jim Capaldi’s beads and red socks and Dave Mason’s battered cowboy hat or Chris Wood’s knowing smile, I knew these guys were part of a club I had to join. That’s the least of it. Honestly, I can’t think of a more sublime album from start to finish. Let me break it down song by song.
“You Can All Join In” – Common wisdom is that the three-man line-up of Traffic (which produced the great John Barleycorn Must Die) is the ultimate version. Not in my opinion. I feel that Dave Mason’s contribution was key to the greatness of Traffic. It certainly is on this album. Opening with Mason’s upbeat anthem to hippie inclusiveness, “You Can All Join In” is as buoyant and pleasing as a slow boat ride on a summer day. Propelled by Mason’s roiling acoustic guitar and nursery rhyme lyrics it is a perfect opening. Winwood adds some beautiful electric guitar lines while Chris Wood chugs along in the background on sax and the whole thing sets the album off on a light positive note.
“Pearly Queen” – is another type of animal altogether. Starting with a snaky organ line, this masterpiece unfolds as a musical and lyrical tribute to Winwood’s greatness. He sings, plays guitar, organ and bass, and the song is probably the most persuasive argument that he is everything his fans think he is. Jimmy Miller’s woozy production (panning the guitar solos from speaker to speaker) adds a mystical quality to the song, but the complex lyrics (which my poor adolescent brain just couldn’t quite grasp) are everything the 60’s were about; insinuating, yearning, and ultimately confusion. The song unfolds like a coiled snake, both mesmerizing and threatening at the same time.
“Don’t Be Sad” – Another fine example of Dave Mason’s important contribution to the band. Mason’s pleading vocals are wrapped in a cocoon of his own guitar lines, lovely harmonica work and a layer of Winwood’s lush organ playing. The quadruple threat nature of Winwood’s talent (singer, songwriter, guitar, organ) was always central to Traffic’s appeal, but with the added bonus of singer, songwriter, guitarist Dave Mason the band was exploding with great songs and musical ideas.
“Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring” – When, in 1968, I heard the first lines of this song “We are not like all the rest you can see us any day of the week/Come around, sit down, take a sniff, fall asleep, Baby you don’t have to speak” I felt as though I found the club I wanted to join. I knew it wasn’t the Boy Scouts or ROTC - it was THIS place where people were free to come and go, and sniff things and the line between waking and dreaming was blurred. Yeah, this was where I wanted to be. Musically, it’s all Winwood. He plays everything but drums, and his musicianship is sublime. His organ playing is impossibly loose and precise at the same time. No player in rock has come close to Winwood’s mastery of this instrument. A stoned, funky groove from start to finish - this might be my favorite song on the album.
“Feelin’ Alright” – But then there is “Feelin’ Alright.” This song defines classic. Covered by everyone from Joe Cocker to The Jackson Five, it has a magical vibe about it that has made it one of the most beloved songs of the 60’s. It skirts the line between psychedelic wizardry and soulful strut with careful aplomb. It shows Dave Mason to be a great songwriter and his sly vocal is the best of all the many versions. When the song rounds the corner and Mason and Winwood are both wailing on vocals, it’s a pretty strong argument for this lineup of Traffic. This song is all about the details: Jim Capaldi’s cricket-like percussion, Chris Woods’ woodwind work, Winwood’s subtle piano. At their best, Traffic were not about individuals soloing, it was about an almost baroque ensemble form of playing.
“Vagabond Virgin” – Side two opens with this charming slice of English folk, anchored by Chris Wood’s snaky flute playing, some tasteful acoustic piano and Mason’s great lyric about innocence and lack thereof, it is the pastoral side of Traffic.
“40,000 Headmen” – One of Steve Winwood’s most mysterious and very best songs, it’s hard to overstate what a profound effect it had on me as a youth. I would listen to this song over and over trying to understand the lyrics - following along in the lyric book included with the album. That’s something else worth mentioning. The package of the original LP was just amazing. It had a 10 page booklet with great photos of the band (were they passing a joint in that one photo?) and all the lyrics, and information about who played what. You could really spend some time with this record and then you felt like you knew the band.
“Crying To Be Heard” – Dave Mason’s last song on the album starts with an explosive chorus and masterful organ and harpsichord flourishes by Winwood. There are lyrical hints at the tensions between Mason and the rest of the band. Producer Miller again employs some crazy special effects for some very trippy results.
“No Time To Live” – A slow, moving Winwood ballad, it is a showcase for his otherworldly vocal abilities. Chris Wood adds some spooky soprano sax wailing and Mason takes a turn at the organ to pretty good effect. This song should be a standard among soul singers. Ray Charles could have killed with it.
“Means To An End” – A very soulful Winwood offering with his own exciting guitar work and Jim Capaldi’s propulsive drumming and percussion pushing it along. When I read the final lines “O sweet silence without kings and queens/No one here has ever reached your centre/Better to be quiet than to speak/without a thought or you may loose/ The meaning of your venture/Save as who knows” I knew I had my work cut out for me.
It was clear that I could now spend some of my life (the rest of my life as it turned out) exploring and trying to understand music. As much as any album I’ve heard, Traffic by Traffic is responsible for that quest. If you don’t have this album and are going to buy it and hear it for the first time today, I envy you.

--Paul Epstein

Friday, May 14, 2010

Holy Fuck – Latin

Sometimes when we play new releases in the store I am immediately excited by them, but after repeated listens I find that my initial enthusiasm has waned and it wasn’t as good as I thought. When the aptly named Holy Fuck’s new album came on the other day I was quite excited. Their all-instrumental sound is a wild amalgam of refined melodic sensibility, electronic experimentation, shoe-gazing guitar rock and hypnotic dance music. There is ample use of modern technology, with loops and splices and samples, but there is also a pleasing (to my ear) attention to old-school details like noisy guitars, washes of feedback and lots of weird retro keyboard treatments. It is easy to see how fans of many kinds of music can enjoy this band. They have the non-stop buildup and release attraction of dance music, but there is substance to their tunes and their flourishes bring to mind the work of Kraftwerk, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Tangerine Dream and even Pink Floyd.
After listening to Latin in several locations and several states of mind, I can confirm that I not only still like it, I think I REALLY like it. Music for your head.
Paul Epstein

Widespread Panic - Dirty Side Down

It is not surprising that Panic’s first studio album with guitarist Jimmy Herring on board is their most satisfying work since original member Michael Houser passed. It is a mature album filled with carefully crafted songs and great playing, and feels like a band back on top after a shaky few years. Having longtime collaborator John Keane back in the producer’s chair and contributing guitars and vocals is the first thing you notice. It sounds like Widespread Panic again. His spacious and lean production gives the band the room they need to inhabit their songs, allowing them to approximate the vibe they get on stage (listen to the instrumental “St. Louis” for a nice example). Principal songwriter and vocalist John Bell has never sounded better vocally as he demonstrates on “Shut Up and Drive” (which includes a completely deranged solo by Herring -almost like Zappa) or the complex opening song “St. Ex.” His vocals are an acquired taste for some, but he has grown into his voice and expanded his range enough to accommodate more difficult ballads, in addition to the warm growl he employs on up-tempo numbers. Two of the best songs on the album are written by familiar friends of the band; Jerry Joseph’s “North” is a song that they have been playing for at least a decade and goes back to Joseph’s Boulder based band Little Women before that. It is a perfect song for Panic and this is a nice version to memorialize it. It captures much of the live excitement. The recently departed songwriter Vic Chesnutt is paid tribute on his haunting “This Cruel Thing” which JB does proud. Saving best for last is the new song “Cotton Was King” which is an immediate classic and fertile ground for live treatment. A classic album cover often bodes well, and in this case it looks and sounds like a big return to form for Widespread Panic.

So you may have heard we are doing a Widespread Panic instore on June 24th. Yes, hard to believe-they are actually going to perform in a record store. That is indeed the good news. The slightly less good news is if you don’t already have your golden ticket the boat has already sailed. In an unbelievable display of internet connectedness, we made one tweet, and one mention on facebook and within 12 hours we had sold out the event and the Onion was making snarky remarks about hippies on Colfax. We have a long history with the band and this is their third time visiting Twist & Shout, but this happened fast! So what can we do for you? How’s this: Submit your favorite Widespread Panic memory to and we will pick our two favorites. Those people will get a very special poster that we're making for the Widespread Panic event at the store that will be signed by the band. Unfortunately we're already at capacity and can't give out tickets to the winner, because the fire marshall may have an aneurism, but we'll post a handful of essays here on Spork... Is that incentive to write like you haven’t written since ninth grade study hall???

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cup of Sugar: It's the Economy

Welcome to "A Cup Of Sugar". We're borrowing a few reviews from our neighbors at Tattered Cover to make something that we hope everyone will like. So dig in to the treats they've helped us make here; they've come up with some delicious reviews.

Too Big to Fail (Hardcover)
By Andrew Ross Sorkin

An inside look at the really big players. A gripping narrative of how the men and women in the headlines responded to the financial meltdown. Detailed, moment by moment account of one of the most calamitous times in our history.
A real-life thriller about the most tumultuous period in America's financial history by an acclaimed New York Times Reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin delivers the first true behind-the-scenes, moment-by-moment account of how the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression developed into a global tsunami. From inside the corner office at Lehman Brothers to secret meetings in South Korea, and the corridors of Washington, Too Big to Fail is the definitive story of the most powerful men and women in finance and politics grappling with success and failure, ego and greed, and, ultimately, the fate of the world's economy. "We've got to get some foam down on the runway!" a sleepless Timothy Geithner, the then-president of the Federal Reserve of New York, would tell Henry M. Paulson, the Treasury secretary, about the catastrophic crash the world's financial system would experience. Through unprecedented access to the players involved, Too Big to Fail re-creates all the drama and turmoil, revealing neverdisclosed details and elucidating how decisions made on Wall Street over the past decade sowed the seeds of the debacle. This true story is not just a look at banks that were "too big to fail," it is a real-life thriller with a cast of bold-faced names who themselves thought they were too big to fail.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A real treasure trove of live music

The Collector’s Choice label has long been up there with Rhino and Shout Factory as one of the premier venues for well-made reissues of classic albums. They have tackled the catalogs of many bands as important as The Everly Brothers, the Association and the Kingston Trio, and as obscure as The Electric Prunes, The Beau Brummels and Fred Neil. They do an equally fantastic job with both and have quietly built up a huge catalog of desirable music. With their new series called “Collector’s Choice Music Live" they are moving into new and exciting territory. Their first four releases are all taken from deep within the Sony vaults and are each amazing in their own right. These are not radio broadcasts or spurious live recordings that are being dredged up to cash in, no these are beautifully recorded sets in front of small audiences that were often slated for release then somehow lost to time. Here is the breakdown of the first four:

Poco - Live At Columbia Studios 9-30-71 (available Tuesday, May 11th!)
Sounding almost like a studio recording, this stunning concert captures Richie Furay, Timothy B. Schmidt and company at their very best - sounding like a cross between Buffalo Springfield and The Eagles. Tthe performance has the energy and perfection of their great live album Deliverin’ but offers up a different setlist and some even tastier playing. Poco has never been given their due as an important link between country and rock, or for being one of the bands that defined the early 70’s FM sound. Highlighted by a medley of “Hard Luck,” Springfield’s “Child’s Claim To Fame” and “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” this is high energy country rock at it’s best.

Johnny Winter - Live At The Fillmore East 10-3-70 (available Tuesday, May 11th!)
This is the legendary and short-lived Johnny Winter Group that featured second guitarist Rick Derringer and which blew the mind of every guitar obsessed kid in the late 60’s. Winter’s M.O. is loud fast and over the top! It will be obvious to any listener why Winter is considered such a “heavy” guitarist after listening to the 22 minute version of “It’s My Own Fault” or an 18 minute “Mean Town Blues” whereby Winter and Derringer wring every possible note out of their axes to the point of it almost being unbelievable. It is very different from what guitarists do today, there is no restraint whatsoever as they just wail away on the blues for seemingly impossible lengths. As we played it in the store I overheard some employees remarking on the “old school” delivery and I was thinking “damn right!”

John Denver - Live At Cedar Rapids 12-10-87
Honestly, I have very little experience with John Denver. I know him, as everyone does, as the writer of huge hits, the family-oriented actor and the all-around wholesome nice folk singer from the 70s. As I listened to this double CD I was struck by the sincerity and warmth of his songs and delivery, and by the excellence of his songwriting. It is really easy to look down your nose and take for granted a song like “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” “Fly Away” or even “Rocky Mountain High” however I would caution anyone who scoffs to try and write a song like that. As someone who has tried his hand at writing songs I can say that often the simplest of emotions are the hardest to convey, and to convey them with the heartfelt clarity of “Take Me Home Country Roads” or the lovely “Annie’s Song” is a rare talent indeed. I enjoyed all four of these releases, but this one was the biggest surprise.

Hot Tuna - Live At New Orleans House Berkely, Ca. 09/69 (available Tuesday, May 11th!)
Taken from the series of shows that comprised their first, self-titled album, this release was my favorite of the four, and it provides the biggest thrill for established fans of this Jefferson Airplane offshoot. Guitarist/Vocalist Jorma Kaukonen and Bassist Jack Cassady are joined by Harmonica ace Will Scarlett as they tear though an exquisite set of acoustic blues and folk that clearly illustrates what masters these guys are. Whether it is Jorma’s intricate fingerpicked versions of Lightning Hopkins, Blind Blake or Rev. Gary Davis, or his swaggering take on folk numbers like “Keep On Truckin’ or Jellyroll Morton’s “Don’t You Leave Me here” the Tuna boys are dead-on in their capturing the spirit of early 20th century idiomatic song. There are also a handful of Jorma’s originals included that adds another dimension to this complex and talented musician. The highlight is the rarely heard “Sea Child” stretched to 10 hypnotic minutes, it showcases both Jorma’s original playing and his image-rich lyrical abilities. This release has all the magic of that first Tuna record, but it is filled with unheard songs that only expand on it’s greatness. Long time Tuna fiends are going to flip over this.

--Paul Epstein

I'd Love to Turn You On #8: Digable Planets - Blowout Comb

Welcome to Twist & Shout’s “I’d Love To Turn You On” a fortnightly column by our deeply knowledgeable staff of hardcore collectors and music lovers who want to spend some time turning you on to some of their favorite releases of yore; titles that may have slipped out of the public favor, or perhaps never quite found the audience they deserve. Dig in to some terrific musical esoterica and enjoy the sounds.

The celebratory, somehow secretive horns on the “May 4th Movement starring Doodlebug,” that open this album are a slick preparation which ease the listener into the forthcoming onslaught of "creamy bullets," lyrically flying amidst one of the funkiest rides and loftiest endeavors in hip-hop history. Digable Planets’ sophomore – and to date, last – effort may throw one off a bit as its depth and richness is only hinted at on their debut Reachin’.

As a cohesive effort, with a multitude of positive messages delivered in superb fashion, the overall flow of Blowout Comb offers commanding twists and turns and a Candyland type ride full of hedonistic pleasures which derive not from the gold on their necks, but from the richness of the people they encounter. Some of those people include Guru, the recently passed on and massively talented voice of hip-hop music. Also, the influential Gang Starr Foundation, Jeru the Damaja and other gifted young artists such as Sulaiman round out and perfect the record.

Although it is commanded by Digable Planets to listen "one time, for your mind," this album is honestly a whole bunch of fun. It is a party to end all parties, at every turn the unexpected bumps and oddities make for a wild, delirious journey, providing all the blueprints necessary for groovin’ and spacing out. The album’s easy vibe disarms the listener, providing soft, fertile ground in which Digables plant plenty of juicy thoughtful seedlings – stoic and solemn lyrical pleas for the correction of injustices and freedom for imprisoned political prisoners, among other things. There is no compromise on any level in this production. If this is the last thing they had to say, they "came correct, no question." Digable Planets beg for togetherness, unity, more pleasure and love, and less hurting and hating. But do not be fooled, their delivery and no nonsense approach make this a serious and provocative effort. This is in no way hip-hop lite. Its lack of obviousness, so-fresh-it's-the-future delivery, and clever lyrics make me return to this album almost every summer with nostalgic glee.

It is true that this album holds much sentimental value for me. I bought this album on the way to Colorado from Las Vegas in the summer of 1994. Much like the move here, I did not know what to expect but was more than just pleasantly surprised at the richness of the landscapes and diversity of the big city. I left Colorado and came back many times. Every time I came back to this magnificent place I wanted to hear Blowout Comb again and it was always the perfect album to put on. It reminds me of the summer I was 18, when I had such great hopes for the future and although life hasn't turned out perfectly, there have been perfect moments and albums like this remind me of those times in the past and yet somehow still evoke those same hopes for the future.

What really makes this album so timeless is its ability to delve deep into the past and still remain completely in the Digable Planets’ own world. This is beautifully exemplified by the Roy-Ayers-sampling "Borough Check," a masterpiece touched by the hip-hop Midas himself, Guru. They delve into the lush libraries of NYC for source material, and also into the darkest corners of daredevil graffiti-laden subway tunnels, so slickly displayed on "Graffiti." "The Art Of Easing" flows cleverly in response to critics’ disses that they were not real rappers. The art of easing through the streets of NYC comes, after all, with knowing its ins and outs. They also remind us that easing through NYC is not for the weak of heart and being "freshly dipped" and groovin’ on funky beats helps out a lot sometimes. The hook "noise, noise, noise" on "Graffiti" reminds me of a Brooklynite I knew who couldn't sleep in California at all because it was too quiet. She needed the sound of fights, music, traffic, and breaking bottles to soothe her to sleep. Everywhere outside of Brooklyn just wasn't alive enough. That is the feeling of this album, it is the ultimate non-stop party - too much too pay attention to in just one visit. But they ease you into such a groove, you will find yourself wanting to return to Blowout Comb many times and find yourself surprisingly at ease amongst the initial chaos when you do.

-Christianne Chowning
RIP Keith Elam AKA Guru