Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) On To New Things

Hip hop artist and actor Yasiin Bey, whom most of us know by his long-time stage name Mos Def, announced last year that he was retiring from music and the screen at age 43.  For his final concerts he chose a three-night run this past New Year’s weekend at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.  He promises to stay in the arts, and I hope someday he’ll head back to the recording studio.

His entertainment career began as a child actor, with small TV parts, and he’s since appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. He was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his starring role in the HBO movie “Something the Lord Made”, based on the life of Vivien Thomas.

His music career took off with the release of “Mos Def and Talib Kwali Are Black Star” in 1998.  Bey’s brand of hip hop was often on the musical side of the genre’s spectrum, and his lyrics were socially conscious and most often playable in polite company.  Though not the most famous song from “Black Star”, “K.O.S. (Determination)” is my personal favorite.

A year later he released his major solo debut “Black on Both Sides”.   A personal favorite on this album is “Umi says”, any my taste has been validated on this one.  President Barack Obama included it on his 2015 summer playlist.

Of course Bey collaborated with many of his hip hop contemporaries, but his global reach may have been broader than many. Here is a nice track from the 2009 album “Soundtrack 2” by Japan’s DJ Deckstream.

The Milk Carton Kids

Last week’s post included a video from the movie “Another Day, Another Time”. Also performing in that movie was a group that somehow I’d overlooked all this time, the indie-folk duo The Milk Carton Kids.

Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan formed the group in 2011 and have released four albums, the third of which “The Ash & Clay” was nominated for a Grammy.  Here they are rehearsing for the movie, playing their song “Snake Eyes” from that Grammy-nominated album. Chris Thile, Marcus Mumford (who wrote a song of the same name) and T Bone Burnett look on appreciatively.  Ethan Coen tears up at the end.  They’ve been compared to Simon and Garfunkel by some, and they have some deadpan fun with that.

For you Pink Floyd fans, here is a cover of a classic – Kids-style.

You may have picked up that Pattengale is a crazy good guitar picker, and this track from their Austin City Limits concert puts any doubt to rest.

If you’d like to see and hear a bit more, check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert performance; a perfect setting for The Kids.

Across the Pond – Little Brother Eli and The Dø

Three years ago I happened across the newly formed British band Little Brother Eli (2013 post) while checking out the music blog Read and Hear.   The band released an EP that year and has now released a full-length effort “Cold Tales”.  The new album features solid rock and roll, as well as some eclectic tracks with deep, bluesy feels.  Check out “This Girl” in the rock and roll vein, and the title track to hear the band’s more eclectic side.

Somewhere over the Atlantic I spent a couple of hours sampling the musical offerings of AirFrance’s in-flight entertainment system. Found some crazy things on there (did you know that Hugh Laurie – the “House” guy – sings old blues tunes?)  Also came across an engaging song by the French duo “The Dø”. “At Last” is from their first album “A Mouthful” released in 2008. Their most recent release “Shake Shook Shaken” has swapped the guitar for synthesizers and a decidedly more electric sound, as you’ll see on “Anita No!”

Paul Simon, Chris Thile and Peyton Manning (?)

Paul Simon released his thirteenth solo album on June 3rd, a few months shy of his 75th birthday. “Wristband” was the first track released from the album, and here is what may have been the first performance of the song.  It took place on A Prairie Home Companion backed by Chris Thile, Chris’ Punch Brothers outfit, and PHC regulars. Listen to all the lyrics, and you’ll be reminded that Simon remains one of our great social observers and poets.

Chris Thile, by the way, will become the new host of A Prairie Home Companion this October.  He’ll take over from Garrison Keillor who hosted his final episode this week after 42 years at the helm of the live radio variety show he originated. Keillor could not have chosen anyone to bring better music and musicianship to the future of the show than Thile, and Chris has also shown he can keep the comedy flowing.

Paul Simon’s performance of “Wristband” took place on February 6th, the day before Superbowl 50.  Enjoy Thile’s homage to Peyton Manning on the eve of the quarterback’s final performance.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Are Back, And An Unreleased Track Surfaces

In mid-June the Red Hot Chili Peppers will release “The Getaway”, their first new album in almost five years.  Breaking a 25-year, 6-album string with uber-producer Rick Rubin, “The Getaway” is produced by uber-producer Danger Mouse.  “Dark Necessities” is the album’s first single, and it features Flea playing piano as well as bass (remember that Flea’s first instrument was the trumpet).

Dave Navarro played guitar for the band for five years in the mid-90’s, a tenure that by all reports featured a clash of musical sensibilities between Dave and the other band members.  Recently an unreleased track from that era surfaced, “Circle of the Noose”, which reveals Dave’s straight rock influence and little of the funk that had been the band’s hallmark. Give a listen to this piece of newly recovered history, and also to the Number 1 single “My Friends” from the only album Navarro recorded with the band, “One Hot Minute”.  Dave’s guitar work on “My Friends” is really special.