Real Musicians vs. RadioPotato: The Showdown
What qualifies someone as being an expert on music? Do they have to be a musician? Do they work in the music industry? Have they banged a lot of musicians? Well, being the owner and operator of RadioPotato, I don’t quite fill any of these credentials. I mean, I’m a LADY after all (and my mom reads this blog).
I was asked to be an “American Idol” type judge for America’s longest-running talent search Texaco COUNTRY MUSIC Showdown hosted by Kicks 101.5 – WKHX and housed at Eddie’s Attic. Yup, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve publicly declared my dislike for country music here and here to many hostile country music fans. What…was I thinking?
My first week, I judged alongside the popular soul singer-songwriter Micah Dalton and the legendary Eddie Owen. Micah and Eddie KNOW music inside and out. I just like what I like and have somehow garnered a following on this site. So these young hopeful talents performed and I’m way out of my comfort zone hoping my critiques were meaningful and/or valid. By the way, I was really impressed by 19-year old Taylor Alexander who was one of three finalists who advanced to the next round.
Switching gears from country to the other side of the country…..let’s talk ANDREW JOSLYN. A passing request by Andrew for some good new music via Facebook spawned a Mix CD mailed to Seattle by yours truly. Andrew is a REAL musician. Like totally legit. Classically trained violinist, he has made his mark arranging and playing strings for more modern outfits like roots rock’s Handful of Luvin’, rapper Macklemore, singer-songwriter Kris Orlowski & The Passenger String Quartet, etc. A young fella, his music plays me like a fiddle.
Every time I make a Mix CD for someone (one of my favorite pasttimes), I always ask for feedback on their personal preferences. What I got back from Andrew was a full-fledged review that way waaaaay above my capability. Btw, please look out for more reviews on my site from Andrew. (he’s the shit) So here’s a REAL review from a REAL musician:
1. The Helio Sequence – “Hallelujah” (Keep Your Eyes Ahead)
I particularly liked this track, but only because it was very easy to have it in the background, and relax to it. The lead singer’s vocal line during the verses was a little too monotone and none dynamic, which worked well for the track, and its electro-pop-indie groove, but just because the lead vocals were non-invasive, is what made the track a little bit unremarkable. My favorite bit though was the swelling synth rhythm in the back which was consistent throughout the track. Kind of reminded of a more laid back Mute Math.
2. Lesands – “Pretenders” (Debut EP)
This track was pretty sweet. Once again, like the Hallelujah track, there was a consistent electronic synth rhythm line carrying along the song.
I love how Lesands orchestrated this track – the first verse had a good groove, but by the time the track hit the 2md verse at 1:13, it was a nice payoff for the listener, since little subtle changes were brought in (more rhythmic elements, plus the catchy ‘yelping’ backup vocal line.).
The ethereal piano arp. section towards the end of the song is also a nice touch!
3. The Black Angels – “Telephone” (Phosphene Dream)
A nice taste of retro rock – a definite 1960’s throwback track, that I could have sworn was a cover, since it was pulled off so well. But unfortunately it is a track that doesn’t cover any new territory, or differentiates The Black Angels from actual 1960’s bands —- it just feels like a fuzzy bass, swirling organ, jangly guitar dosage of the British Invasion. Despite my shortcomings about the track, I still loved it, since I’m a sucker for 1960’s rock… so maybe The Black Angels have the right idea? Why try and reinvent the wheel?
4. Fresh Millions – “Forever” (Fresh Millions)
A raging groove instrumental track. Reminded me of Moby plus Galactic mixed together into a fine potpourri. This track was good for a first listen, but started to lose value after re-listen, only because the emotional connection just wasn’t there. Just a good jam, not much else ;P
5. Andrew Belle – “The Ladder” (The Ladder)
My absolute favorite track on the playlist. I’m not sure if I just have a thing for artists named Andrew (ie Andrew Bird, etc.), but this track struck a nice chord with me. Andrew Belle’s gentle effected vocals over the top of guitar, pianos, celeste, banjo, and drums was a beautiful mixture – a nice baroque pop gem. Definitely in rotation in my normal playlist now!
6. Hightide Blues – “Dreamin’ Alone) (Love Come Easy)
The lead singers raspy vocals with Hightide Blues was incredibly distinct and appealing. The shuffle beat of the drums carried the track nicely, and when the harmonica kicks in at 1:55, It is a nice pinnacle for the song. I liked this track – a good solid song about love and heartache in an Americana style pop song.
7. The Tallest Man on Earth – “The Drying of the Lawns” (The Wild Hunt)
This track reminded me a lot of Devendra Banhart (lo fi recording, grainy vocals, simple guitar plus foot stomping.) This was also one of the more poetic tracks of the playlist, and I particularly liked the lyrics for the song:
“Well I said I’ve sailed the frozen corners
of the Dark Atlantic Sea
And I drifted on the waves and the mirage beneath
And never have I felt such numb and pointless searchin’ true
As when I set my eyes on torched up lands of the mark of you.”
8. Vortex Park – “Through a Hole” (Follow the Elephant)
This Gypsy rocker track had a nice seductive appeal to it, in a Bohemian, Eastern European revolution sort of way, mixed with solid rock esthetics. I’m always a sucker for violins and strings in songs, and the playing in this track is solid and dynamic. Once the track got to the last build at 4:07 to the end, the Bohemian revolt was in full effect. Great track.
9. Cadillac Sky – “Human Cannonball” (Letters in the Deep)
I have the utmost respect for the fiddle player in Cadillac Sky. Handful of Luvin’ opened up for them in Bellingham, WA a couple of years back, and the guy was an incredible player and performer. (I recall he also a couple of endorsements under his belt). Cadillac Sky is a straight up solid and tight blue grass band, and of all the material I heard their fast songs are really impressive. However getting to hear a slower and more sentimental song like Human Cannonball was also a nice twist.
10. Calexico – “Victor Jara’s Hands” (Carried to Dust)
Ah a tinge of the Latin. The Hispanic influences abound on this atmospheric track (complete with maracas, bright horns, Spanish lyrics, and more); but keep in mind that this isn’t cliché in the least – and is a fitting tribute to the Chilean Musician/Poet/Political activist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%ADctor_Jara) which is the name sake of the song. A nice little bit of music trivia: Victor Jara has been mentioned by artists as far ranging as The Clash, U2, Arlo Gutherie, and Simple Minds.)
11. Fallulah – “I Lay My Head” (The Black Cat Neighborhood)
A good sassy track with a lot of attitude from the Danish lead singer – almost had the same appeal and stylings of the Welsh artist JEM. This is a nice little indie pop track; and the “oohh – ohh” hooks are incredibly catchy.
12. Throwback – “Misconceptions” (Border Crossing)
This ex-Canadian band (Montreal natives, which broke up back in 2006), seems like the Canadian response to America’s own folk/rock/jam bands like Dispatch, Dave Matthews and OAR. On the track, Erik Lind (lead vocals), drifts along listlessly over the hand percussion, bass, and laid back guitar groove. For me, the most interesting part was Mike Libis’ guitar solo at 3:15 – however the track didn’t grip me deeply, even though it was pleasant listen; it just seemed to sound like too many other groups in the same vein, and not unique enough to stand out on its own.
13. Nizlopi – “Helen” (Extraordinary)
This playful track from the English duet Luke Concannon and John Parker is a light-hearted melody. The rootsy, acoustic, folk hip hop style that the band is known for abounds on this track… but the thing is, I didn’t feel like there was any stand out moments, or anything which catapulted this song from mediocrity into remarkable. For a first time listen through, it is a nice track, but it tends to wear thin after time.
14. Ponderosa – “I Don’t Mind” (Moonlight Revival)
In a review of the band Ponderosa, Performer Magazine stated, “Ponderosa naturally caries the type of swagger that most bands spend years rehearsing.” Just listening to this track, I can understand the sentiment that this reviewer has for the band. A nice laid back southern rock anthem, with the lead singer’s golden voice with bits of whiskey soaked in, soaring over the top. Definitely in my playlist now.
15. The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow” (Barton Hollow)
A broody, heavier track, which recalls strongly the duet ‘alternative country’ style of Allison Krauss and Robert Plant… imagine the soundtracks of ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’ slammed together with Shawshank Redemption, and you’ll get a solid idea of the atmospheric quality of this Civil Wars track.
16. Joshua James – “Coal War” (Build Me This)
Was a little surprised to hear a track like this on the Rizk playlist – since it had a very southern gospel spiritual quality to it. The track really takes off at 2:00 with the fuzzed out guitar pad, and the huge stadium filling drums, which emotionally pushes Joshua James yearning vocals over the top.
17. The Wood Brothers – “Get Out My Life Woman” (Up Above My Head)
I really liked the way this modern folk bluesy track sounded – like the recording of the song sounded so natural it almost jettisons you right into the middle of the recording studio. Along with the natural feeling of the recording, comes the raw emotion of the Wood Brothers vocals which make you definitely pay attention.
18. Dan Sartain – “Walk Among the Cobras – Part 4” (Lives)
This brief rockabilly track (clocking in at 2:08) is a whole lot of ruckus, and a whole lot of unadulterated passion. This my first listen to Dan Sartain, and it reminds me a little bit of the raw edge of the Stray Cats (Brian Setzer’s old band), which I used to be totally into!
19. The Dig – “For All Your Sins” (Electric Toys)
A very atmospheric track from the young New York band The Dig (not to be confused with the 90’s band ‘Dig’ from Los Angeles.) I think one of my favorite parts about this track, and the sound of The Dig overall is David Baldwin’s (lead singer/guitar) vocals, which sound very akin to Fran Healy, of the post-britpop band Travis.
20. ks. Rhoads – “Dead Language” (Dead Language)
This track instantly recalled the pop singer/songwriter styling’s of artists like Aqualung, Mat Kearney, and Rufus Wainwright. The main thing that stuck out to me in the track was the lush orchestral arrangements during the choruses and weaving throughout the verses, and the vocal range of Rhoads. As a debut listen, I was instantly sucked into his songwriting, and checked out other songs on his album – such as the upbeat ‘Wanna Be Your Lover,” and The Bayonet and the Cigarette (which almost has a Cage the Elephant edge!) All-in-all a nice music discovery, well worth at least a single listen.
21. Melody Gardot – “Goodnite” (Worrisome Heart)
A beautiful jazz singer with strong influences ranging from Stan Getz, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, to George Gershwin. One thing that instantly struck me about her background as a musician is finding out that she is physically disabled – this excerpt is from wikipedia:
“There are many variables that make performing nearly impossible for the young songstress. Still in her early twenties, Melody Gardot carries a cane and must wear dark glasses. She often has a little black box tied to her waist; called a TENS unit, it is used to alleviate neuralgic pain/muscle pain. She sits on a specialized chair while performing due to pelvic fractures sustained in the accident. Her pelvis remains misaligned, and she also suffers from an autonomic nervous system dysfunction, causing hypersensitivity to noise and sound.”
“Her ability to overcome her physical limitations and her ability to write and perform despite her pain, makes her an inspiration.”
As for the song, despite Melody’s physical limitations, it does not impact her soul or power as a songwriter and singer, and is a real treat for the ears. One last quote to leave you with:
“. . . in a place where Billie Holiday meets Tom Waits . . . has moments that recall pieces of Nina Simone, early Rickie Lee Jones, and even the sophistication of Cole Porter. “ – Business Week