Catching Up With My Favorites

Over the past few years I’ve come across a few artists that have taken places among my favorites.  So this week I’m checking out what’s new with Lake Street Dive, Snarky Puppy and Chris Thile.

In an amazing convergence, Chris Thile performed with Snarky Puppy at a recent live show.  Chris jumps in to play jazz mandolin at about 2:30. You’ll hear Snarky Puppy’s band leader Michael League say, “We got six minutes, Chris Thile you got four-and-a-half!”. Suitable homage from one supremely talented musician to another.

Chris also dropped by the Steven Colbert show where he played his Punch Brothers song “My Oh My” with Jon Batiste & Stay Human. You don’t often get to see Stay Human play a full song, so check out their work including Batiste’s fantastic piano accompaniment. You’ll see why Thile exclaims “This band!”.

Lake Street Dive’s members seem to have taken time over the winter for some side projects.  Listen to Rachel Price tap into her jazz roots with a 1930’s Gershwin Brothers tune, in a duet with Brooklyn-based guitarist/singer Vilray.

And LSD’s base player, song writer, backing singer and all around super talented Bridget Kearney put out her own album “Won’t Let You Down” a couple of weeks ago. Here’s the video from “Wash Up”.

Roland TR-808 – Iconic Drum Machine

Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of Roland Corporation, died on April 1st at the age of 87.  Roland has produced a huge range of electronic musical instruments and effects since its founding in 1972, and Kakehashi developed MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface that sits at the heart of electronic instrument communication. But no product or invention by Kakehashi and Roland has had more impact on popular music than the TR-808 drum machine.

Manufactured for three years beginning in 1980, the 808 has been used by innumerable artists for nearly 40 years, and it’s said that the 808 is to hip hop what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock and roll.  The 808 was built just before sampling became widespread and produced 16 synthesized approximations to sounds from a bass drum to a handclap.

The first hit record to use the 808 appears to have been Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” from 1982.   Listen to the opening bars and you’ll immediately recognize the iconic sounds.

Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock”, also from 1982, is credited with cementing the 808 into hip hop’s early vocabulary.

Whitney Houston used the 808 to set the beat for her 1987 hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.

In 2008, Kanye West built his fourth studio album around the sounds of the 808, and even named the album “808’s and Heartbreaks”. The drum loop in “Say You Will” is all 808.

If you want to get the full scoop on this history of this important piece of technology, here is the trailer to “808” the movie!

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.

Grab Bag: Mark Whitaker, Draco Rosa, and Veruca Salt is Back!

One of our favorite excavators of new music, Jess at pH balanced and mvyradio, featured Boston-based artist Mark Whitaker on a recent blog post – a great voice, an interesting banjo style, and very nice song writing.  Here is “Nowhere to Land”.

Another one of our favorite sources, Read and Hear, recently featured a song by Maggie’s Dream. The band was fronted by Draco Rosa, along with the likes of Ricky Martin part of the boy band Menudo, and recorded only one album of rock, funk, soul in 1990. Despite recent illness, Rosa has continued to record, creating his own modern latin sound. See what you think of “Change for the Better” by Maggie’s Dream, and Rosa’s “Mas Y Mas” from his 2013 album “Vida”.

And not to shift your sonic gears too hard, but Veruca Salt is back! The original line-up, with vocals by Nina Gordon and Louise Post, put out a two-song EP in April for Record Store Day. Nina’s and Louise’s voices are as sweet as they were two decades ago on “The Museum of Broken Relationships”.

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