Back in the Saddle!

After a extended hiatus for most of 2015, Music Now & Then is mounting a comeback for 2016!  Please send your encouragement, and I’ll try to keep the posts coming.

Though it might fairly be said that 2015 will not go down as one of the most memorable years for new music, there is plenty to catch up on over the next few weeks.  A fun place to start is this mashup by DJ Earworm.  “50 Shades of Pop” is the ninth installment in his annual series of retrospectives.  This year he samples from the top 50 songs in Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100. While The Hot 100 is not typical grist for Music Now & Then, this mix gives a nice feel for what you’ll be hearing if you watch the music award shows in the months ahead. The first voice you hear is a single word from Adele.

DJ Earworm’s first effort in this vein was 2007’s “United States of Pop”, but he only dug 25 deep into that year’s pop stack.  Rihanna was exploding that year, and Adam Levine started sporting that tux!  Instead of Adele, the first voice you hear is Jay Z.

If you want to dig deeper into the history of these mashups and get DJ Earworm’s views on the underlying music trends, this recent article on is what got me going on this post.  Enjoy, and it’s good to be back!

Eclectic Times Two – alt-J and TV On The Radio

The first thing to know about alt-J is that the band’s name is not alt-J.  If you simultaneously press the “Option” key on your Mac, which also serves as the “alt” key, while pressing the letter “J”, you get the symbol ∆.  That’s the upper case Greek letter Delta, and in an Artist Formerly Known as Prince way, that’s the band’s name. And a triangle makes a great hand sign to hold up at concerts.

Now on to the music. The band released its second album, “This Is All Yours”, in September.  ∆ puts out some pretty eclectic music, but they found their way to a catchy hit with “Left Hand Free”. Check it out and then listen to “Choice Kingdom” to get a feel for the range of material on the album.

TV on the Radio generates an eclectic mix of their own and put out their fifth album, “Seeds”, in November.   Whether you’re a skateboarder or not, you’ll get a kick out of the song and the video for “Lazerray”.  The credits at the end give the names of all the skateboarders and, in a nod to the uncomfortable future, to the drone operator.

While not big chart toppers, the band had a minor hit a few years back with “Will Do”. Nice song with a video featuring what may have been a bad Google Glass prototype.

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Two Bands of Brothers – Punch and Barr

Over a year ago we wrote about the then recent doings of Nickel Creek alums including mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. Around the time Nickel Creek disbanded in 2006, Thile formed a new group called How to Grow a Band, since renamed The Tension Mountain Boys, since renamed Punch Brothers. Their fourth album “The Phosphorescent Blues” was just released – thanks for the reminder Eric!

The album contains the eclectic mix of styles that fans of the band and of Thile have come to expect. Give a listen to the first single released from the new album, “I Blew It Off”, with its pop vocal harmonies. Then dip back to “Movement and Location” from their prior album “Who’e Feeling Young Now”.

The Barr Brothers released their sophomore effort “Sleeping Operator” last October. Brothers Andrew and Brad Barr originally played together in The Slip, a Boston-based band that performed together through 2011, but have put most of their recent effort into the Montreal-based The Barr Brothers. Here’s a live performance of “Even The Darkness Has Arms” from that album.

“Even Rats” from The Slip’s 2006 album “Eisenhower” was one of the songs adapted for the video game “Guitar Hero”. Listen to a bit of the original, then watch a young guitar hero go at it back in the day!

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Women Vocalists Review – Björk, Rhiannon Giddens and Kandace Springs

Before we start, a couple of notes on last night’s Grammy Awards.  Happy to see Roseanne Cash take home three in the American Roots categories for “The River & The Thread” (see our earlier post), Beck take home two for “Morning Phase” (see our earlier post), and Jack White score one for “Lazaretto”.

But that’s old musical news.

Björk (she of the infamous swan dress) is a unique and esoteric vocalist with an international following, putting out top selling solo albums since 1993.  Her latest, “Vulnicura” (meaning “Cure for Wounds”), was to be released in March to coincide with an exhibit on her career opening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  But the album leaked on the internet in January, so the album dropped early.  Lush with string arrangements, the album is a meditation on her breakup with American artist Matthew Barney.  Spend a few minutes getting into the hypnotic feel of the album’s first track “Stonemilker”.

In a completely different vein, Rhiannon Giddens has been working with uber-producer T Bone Burnett on a few projects, including her first solo album “Tomorrow is My Turn”. The album includes covers of a number of great artists, features great backing musicians, and most of all introduces us to a great new singer. Listen to these covers of Patsy Kline and Joan Baez.

And in another completely different vein, Kandace Springs is a singer and pianist bringing a soul look and style that’s a little bit retro and a whole lot of fun. Check out “Love Got in the Way” from her eponymous debut EP. Then, to tie back to last night’s Grammy’s, listen to her cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” which won him Record of the Year and Song of the Year.


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Suggestions From All Around – Snarky Puppy, The Lone Bellow and Polaris Rose

To get 2015 off on the right foot, some great suggestions have floated in from friends and other bloggers.  But before we get started, happy to say that two of the artists we featured when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees were announced made it through (see the post)!

First up is Snarky Puppy.  Thanks, Ben!  This Brooklyn based group of jazz fusion musicians, a self described “quasi-collective”, migrated from the University of North Texas .  Their website lists a dozen members, but the video below makes you wonder if that number grows on some tracks.  The video for “What About Me?” is from the live performance set-up they used to record their latest CD “We Like It Here”.  If you find the beginning of the guitar solo at 3:00 a bit ethereal for your tastes, hang in there till things pick up at about 3:45.  And if you want to hear one of the other guitarists strut his stuff, check out “Jambone”.

Meanwhile, on another street in Brooklyn we find the alt-country trio The Lone Bellow.  Thanks Dennis and Maureen! They are about to release their second album, “Then Came the Morning”, and will  apparently be on Jimmy Kimmel tomorrow night to play “Cold As It Is” from that album.  Hear that track before everybody else, and also try out the album’s title track. No shortage of great backing musicians in the Big Apple!

Last but not least is the duo Polaris Rose from Los Angeles.  They were mentioned on the excellent blog “The Delete Bin”.  Thanks, Rob!  No matter how cold a winter you’re dealing with, these harmonies and lush guitar tones will make you feel like you’re in the California warmth of the videos.  “Perfect View” is from their new album “Telescopes”, and “Chartreuse” is from their debut EP “The Moon & Its Secrets”.


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