Little River Band – Cool Change

OK, it’s time to go back to a true EARWORM song. This one lives in the annals of most silly songs of all time. It has all the markings of classic cheese: piano, strings, sax solo, overly sensitive lyrics. And when the whole band comes in at the end to sing, “Time For A Cool Change,” and the horns and the guitars and the strings and the drums all grow louder and more urgent, well, it’s hard not to get swept up in the rush of swiss and cheddar and especially gouda, and believe that it IS TIME for a cool change. It is time to get away from society and sail on the cool and bright clear water. Time to stare at the full moon like a lover. And time for this song to get stuck in your head all day long.

If there’s one thing in my life that’s missing
It’s the time that I spend alone
Sailing on the cool and bright clear water
It’s kind of a special feeling

When you’re out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon, like a lover
Time for a cool change
I know that it’s time for a cool change

Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change
Well I was born in the sign of water
And it’s there that I feel my best

The albatross and the whales they are my brothers
There’s lots of those friendly people
And they’re showing me ways to go
And I never want to lose their inspiration

Time for a cool change
I know that it’s time for a cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change

I’ve never been romantic
And sometimes I don’t care
I know it may sound selfish
But let me breathe the air

Let me breathe the air…
Well I was born in the sign of water
And it’s there that I feel my best
The albatross and the whales they are my brothers

It’s kind of a special feeling
When you’re out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon, like a lover
Time for a cool change

Read more: Little River Band – Cool Change Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Childish Gambino – Riot

childishgambinoI like to connect the posts: from Twilight Zone the song to Twilight Zone the TV show to Sly and the Family Stone….from Run the Jewels “Thieves” including a MLK Jr. quote about rioting, to the Sly album (There’s a Riot Goin’ On), now to maybe the funkiest album I’ve heard in quite some time, Awaken, My Love by Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) and the song I chose for today, “Riot.” That’s the thing about music, it connects everything and everyone. Yeah man, that’s like so wild how, like, how without even thinking about it, all those songs lead from one to another, like it was meant to be….(to be read in the voice of Chong from Cheech & Chong.)

Awaken, My Love is clearly an homage or at the bare minimum heavily influenced by mid-70s era Funkadelic. Lots of layers of sound, lots of funk and lots of psychedelic. Most of the songs on the album would fit right in to One Nation Under a Groove or Hardcore Jollies. And the parts that don’t sound like Funkadelic lean heavily toward mid-80s era Prince. The song “Redbone” might best exhibit the blend between the two, with the slow-jammy bass-heavy groove of George Clinton and the falsetto vocal stylings of Prince. I listen to this and can’t believe it was made in 2016.

Childish Gambino, if you don’t know is the musical stage-name for the actor Donald Glover, best known for his roles in Community, Atlanta, Girls and other TV shows and movies. His previous albums have been hit and miss, and have hewn close to the hip hop genre for the most part. So, I was pleasantly surprised that he has taken a step back into the past to bring it into the present. I can’t help but be awed and jealous of Mr. Glover. Acting, Writing, Directing, Rapping, Singing, stand-up comedian. He’s got to have something he can’t do, right? Maybe he is a terrible cook.

Soundbreaking – A Must See

There’s an 8 part TV series exploring the art of music recording that was released near the end of 2016 on PBS that is a must see. And I’m enthusiastically recommending it after watching only two of the episodes so far. That’s how good it is. Each segment covers a different aspect of the record making process. The first one was all about the great producers, more of an overview, then the others get into more specifics. It’s on Hulu and probably on the PBS site or PBS Roku channel.

The first episode features Sly Stone a bit — talking about his innovative and groundbreaking approach to funk and soul music and the recording studio. I hope he and the band reappear in later episodes.

One of my favorite songs of Sly and the Family Stone has always been “If You Want Me to Stay,” from the 1973 Fresh album. It’s got one of the most gut-rumbling bass lines in all of musical history, and the groove is thick and so deep in the pocket that you can lose an arm in it. The below video of the band performing the song live on Soul Train is so good…it’s rare to see actual live performing back in the mid-70s, lip synching was so prevalent at the time. The band changes up the song quite a bit, but keeps the essence of the song intact. The way the greats are able to do. Reinterpreting on the fly. On the Sly.

I watch a video like this and I think, I’m watching, I’m listening to history. This is the music that will change lives. This is music that has changed lives. I got to see The Family Stone perform back in the mid 90s at the old Yoshi’s location when it was in the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland. I think most of the original band was there (minus Sly of course). Watching Larry Graham play those iconic bass lines from 10 feet away was something I’ll never forget.

 

Thieves! – Run the Jewels

This past Christmas Day — or the 2nd night of Chanukah, or day before Kwanzaa or non-demoninationally, the 25th of December — Run the Jewels, one of the most innovative and important Hip-Hop duos in modern music released their long-awaited third album. For free (as a download). A month or more before it was expected in stores. I downloaded it yesterday and immediately played it from start to finish in my backyard studio, fulfilling my New Years’ resolution to listen to entire albums, not just single songs, in one sitting (or standing, or ideally, dancing) and without headphones.

I grew up listening to records. I spent hundreds of teenage hours hanging out in record shops like Licorice Pizza and Wherehouse and Tower and Record Trader and Moby Disc. Scouring the used shelves for hidden gems. I’d hurry home, arms filled with bags of albums, then spread them out on the shag carpet in my bedroom and carefully decide what to play first. I’d gently set the chosen record onto my Technics SL-23 turntable, making sure to keep my fingers to the vinyl’s edges. As the music played, I’d follow along with the liner notes or lyrics, interspersed with airdrumming/guitaring/saxophoning, and singing (once I knew the words, or knew them well enough) in full tuneless voice. And as soon as side A had finished it’s last note and before the stylus and needle could return back to the cradle, I’d already have the album flipped over, side B blasting away through my 36″ Yamaha speakers.

30 plus years later, I find myself listening, more often than not, to fairly compressed mp3 tracks, stored on a smartphone, through tiny, tinny earbuds. I know headphone technology has improved of late, but I’d already lost some of my attention to fidelity (surely some hearing loss as well), not to mention having allowed the power of “the album” fade away from my musical repertoire. I’d never let music fall by the wayside, but I’ve found that when I put on music nowadays, I’m always doing some other thing or things at the same time. Multitasking. Diluting my attention. Sending emails, tapping out texts, sitting at my desk at work, working out at the gym. Writing blog posts like this.

So, Run the Jewels 3, an album I’ve been eagerly anticipating, would represent the first of my 2017 musical promises. A self-prescribed form of therapy. Music had gotten me through so many awkward, jubilant, confusing, sad, celebratory moments in my life for as long as I can remember, and I decided it was time to up the dosage.

RTJ3 gobsmacked me right from the start. The layers of guitar samples, the bass-heavy beats, EL-P and Killer Mike’s dextrous, syncopated wordflow. It sounded as urgent as early Public Enemy and as sonically experimental. I am not a big fan of most modern rap; I find most of it overproduced, filled with macho braggadocio, and lazy. I grew up with old-school hip hop. Kurtis Blow, Tribe Called Quest, Run DMC, Beastie Boys. Sure there was plenty of bragging, but it was (almost) always tongue in cheek and never mean. And there was often an impassioned political edge behind many of those hip hop classics. They didn’t shy away from the dark realities that these artists saw ripping apart their communities. Run the Jewels doesn’t necessarily sound “old school.” Though it’s clear they are influenced by artists like Chuck D. and KRS One, maybe Jay-Z. Their sound is not one of nostalgia. They are innovators and agitators, educators and instigators. It’s music that requires repeated listenings, not just to catch up with the lyrics but also because of the impeccable production of EL-P. I’ve listened to the entire thing twice now and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

With the 8th song on the album, “Thieves,” beginning with a sample from one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, the eerily prescient “The Obsolete Man,” I knew this was gonna be the song for me to Warble. Watch the clip above and tell me it doesn’t send a chill down your spine. The parallels are eerie.Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio guests on the track, adding his vocals near the end. It’s not a conventional verse/chorus song, there’s some innovative playing around with form in “Thieves.” The song is an unflinching look at what African Americans have had to deal with in terms of police violence, systemic racism, and inner city struggle. It’s heavy but not heavy handed, it’s urgent but with perspective. It opens, like I said, with a quote from Rod Serling and then, at the end, audio from one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches rises above the beat. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” these last words ring out, giving the song a historical perspective, a context to place it in, as a song for protest.

Perhaps hyperbole, but I think it just might become a song for our times.

The Twilight Zone (We Have Entered)

twlightzonegifWe entered the twilight zone several months ago really, but 2017 appears primed to become the most surreal, insane, bat-shit crazy year in our collective history. How wonderful would it be to be completely wrong and be posting here in the Warbler 365 days from now, writing about how dull the previous year had been. How all our fears were unfounded and unnecessarily apocalyptic.

And with the start of a new year come new resolutions. One of mine is to attempt to write about a different song each day, or at least three times a week. Feel free to use tough love on me; I respond well to a swift (literal or figurative) kick in the ass when I start to slack off.

Rush released a 2-CD/1-DVD remastered reissue of their 1976 landmark album, 2112, a couple weeks ago, in honor of the 40th anniversary of its initial release. It includes (as explained in this unboxing video above) a bunch of extras, such as a never-before-released live concert of the entire 2112 album during that first tour. This, to me, is the best way to hear this being performed live, as Geddy Lee was able to hit the high notes back then.

But as much as I used to play side one of 2112 religiously back in my early teenage years, air-drumming along with complete abandon (setting up pillows as couch cushions in my youthful attempt to emulate Neil Peart’s massive drum kit), I played side two even more. And on the rare occasions that I play this album today, I usually skip to side two, which, to me, is far more musically rich and diverse than the 23 minute prog-rock self-titled side-one epic. None of the 5 songs are longer than 4 minutes, which no subsequent album ever matched in terms of brevity. It just might be the most un-proggy rock-n-roll album side in their discography. And the most diverse. There is a “world-music” song (“Train to Bangkok”), a ballad (“Tears”), an acoustic guitar featured mid-tempo track (“Lessons”), a hard-rocking anthem (“Something for Nothing”), and finally, the song that this post is named after, the moody, creepy tune “The Twilight Zone.”

4 of these 5 songs get interesting cover treatments on disc 2 of the reissue. Billy Talent (who I hadn’t heard of before this) performs my favorite of the interpretations, infusing “Train to Bangkok” with a post-punk Green Day-esque energy. Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson gives “Twilight Zone” a jazzy, delicate touch. And Alice in Chains does an admirable job with the quieter “Tears.” The only cover that doesn’t work so well is Jacob Moon’s “Something for Nothing” which turns the epic rocker into a lazy grunge cliche. It sounds more dated than the original.

So, I do think this reissue is worth purchasing for true Rush fans. For the rest of you, you probably stopped reading a couple paragraphs ago. You were probably thinking that I was going to write about Golden Earring’s 1984 hit song “Twilight Zone” which is surely a more relevant song to today’s current climate. Also, a more ear-wormy song. And there it goes – it’s now embedded like the bugs in BrainDead.

I love how popular this song became back in 1984, especially since Golden Earring had been around for almost 20 years already at the time. They broke into the New Wave scene old enough to be the fathers of the new New Wave generation. Were we simply more open minded back then? We did buy albums by other “dinosaur” bands like Asia and Yes (see my earlier posts on this concept) so maybe we were less caught up in “image” and “youth” back in the mid-80s. I think it probably had more to do with MTV and the heavy rotation of some videos. Or maybe it was the fantastic bass-line in this song. I could listen to that riff all day. Or perhaps it was the paranoia laced imagery in the lyrics.

Whatever it was or is, whether you prefer the proggy-stylings of Rush or the New Romantic tinged swagger of Golden Earring, it is undebatable that we have two classic songs to choose from to represent the Rod Serling-hosted TV series (which I still watch regularly) of the same name.

Or maybe it’s this song by Manhattan Transfer that turns you on. It is a new year and we need to accept all of our unique differences….

Best Music of 2016 – International

bestworldmusicof2015

I just couldn’t use the word “World” to represent the music of non-north American or British lands. I know International is no better, perhaps I should have chosen “Global.” I dunno. Either way, to limit the best music of the year to 5 songs, covering 90 percent of the globe is silly in its own right. Not to mention the fact that I have hardly even listened to a fraction of a percent of the world music released in 2016. But I did listen to some of it, mostly from Latin America & Africa; really this post should be titled, Best Music of 2016 – mostly Latin America & West Africa. But I’m not gonna do that, because then I’d have to cut out this entire paragraph. And I need to finish this post by tonight so I can move on to songs by Tony Orlando & Dawn and Barry Manilow and how they have their own special ear-worm craters in my brain. Get ready 2017!

 

Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil – Tres Palabras 

I wasn’t going to include a live album, but when you have a release, Dois Amigos, Um Secolo de Musica, featuring two of the most influential and important musicians of all the world, not just in their native Brazil, it warrants inclusion on a list such as this. I had the pleasure of seeing both of them in concert during the past 5-10 years, but never together, and I still kick myself for missing their local performance earlier this year. But now I get to hear it whenever I want, and the recording sounds great, capturing their genial, passionate spirit.

Orkesta Mendoza – Caramelos

This probably shouldn’t qualify, as Orkesta Mendoza is from Tucson, Arizona. But I only learned that today, and if I had been told they were from Cuba, I would have believed it. In fact, band leader Sergio Mendoza had been the main force behind a tribute band honoring Cuban mambo king Perez Prado before forming before Orkesta. So, the resume holds up. “Caramelos” is definitely more rockin’ than most of the other songs on their 2016 release Vamos A Guarachar, but it does capture their unique energy quite well.

Rokia Traore – Ilè

Rokia Traore is an international treasure. She’s soulful, graceful, funky, sleek, raw and 100 other descriptors all in one. I stupidly didn’t go see her perform at the SFJazz this fall, as I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, but that’s about as lame an excuse as there is. I guess, since I’d seen her at the tiny Ashkenaz club in Berkeley a few years ago for 12 dollars, paying 55 to see her at a much further distance was less appealing. But she’s so good, she can captivate a stadium. My bad. Her 2016 album, Ne So, was a bit quieter than her previous releases, but her take on Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” brought back the original’s chilling power. It’s one of 2016’s best albums.

Konono No. 1 – Kinsumba

I chose this song from their 2016 album, Meets Batida, mainly because it is has some more experimental touches than usual. It captures their organic, hypnotic sound but adds some interesting production touches by Batida. If you like this, get the entire album. In fact, get all their albums. Everyone of them is fantastic.

Baaba Maal – Fulani Rock

Baaba Maal has been making music since the 1980s and is a bonafide World music superstar, especially in his native Senegal. He could easily rest on his laurels and put out generic, pleasing records for the rest of his life and go down as one of the greats. But, thankfully, Baaba didn’t do that on his 2016 album, The Traveller. Though clearly more modern sounding than most of his earlier music, with electronic touches, the songwriting has a distinctively grounded, primal quality. It feels vital and from the heart, even if not bound by a unified sound. “Fulani Rock” is the first track, and easily the most upbeat song on the album, maybe the most “cross-over” but that’s not a bad thing. A great song is a great song no matter the clear influences.

Best of 2016 – Country(ish)

cowboyhat

In country music, it’s all about the songwriting and THE VOICE. And in 2016, the ladies ruled the Country roost. Margo Price is the newbie in the list, having released her excellent debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter in 2016. She’s got THE VOICE, the perfect blend of grit, twang and feeling. It’s one of those things that’s hard to quantify but you know it when you hear it. It’s a sound that Elizabeth Cook has in spades. To quote the inestimable Randy Jackson: I can listen to her sing the phonebook. Hopefully her next album is a little less over produced. Miranda Lambert has never really been my cup of tea. Until now. She’s sounded more like New Country to me, a bit too slick and unrelatable. But maybe her divorce from Blake Shelton awoke her old-country spirit, as she sounds rejuvenated here. Shovels & Rope are the perfect blend of The White Stripes and June and Johnny Cash. The married duo’s voices blend into a singular whole, the stripped down drums and fuzzed guitar instrumentation, especially on songs like “Botched Execution,” perfectly bring these songs to organic life. The entire 2016 album Little Seeds is strong. Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones I wrote about here, so I won’t repeat myself, but their new classics on their debut album are all great, but “Better at Lying” was the “country-est” of the lot, so I picked this one.

I had to leave out a couple of Hall-of-Famers to keep it to top 5, but I wanted to mention that both Loretta Lynn and John Doe both released excellent albums in 2016. (Update: had to add Loretta in at #6)

 

Margo Price – About to Find Out

Elizabeth Cook – Exodus of Venus

Miranda Lambert – Highway Vagabond

Shovels & Rope – Johnny Come Outside

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones – Better at Lying

honorable mention: (I couldn’t leave LL out)

Loretta Lynn – Whispering Sea