Tag Archives: Blues

A Swanky 2012: Part One

21 Dec

[For an Introduction to A Swanky 2012, go here.]


The Bowl:  Las Vegas Bowl – Washington v. Boise State 

The Pick:  UW (+5)

The Album:  Blunderbuss by Jack White

Considering he was the predominant musical decision-maker in The White Stripes, it wasn’t too surprising that Jack White continued the musical themes of later Stripes’ albums on his first official solo release, Blunderbuss.  As the Stripes progressed through their discography, they moved from a messy, primitive version of blues-rock to more layered and polished songs that brought in instruments like pianos and xylophones to round out the sound and take things in new directions.  Blunderbuss is an extension of that well-rounded approach to rock and roll.

On Blunderbuss, Jack still has his signature guitar wail jumping around on tracks, but he also relies heavily on touches like pianos, fiddles, and slide guitars.  The result is an album that traffics in lush country and blues sounds, with more progressive and swelling musical moments than sporadic and frenetic ones.

Not that there’s a total lack of the sneering and balls-out electric attack that White made his name on – “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom at 21” in particular offer up a pure rock attitude that few other releases this year could consistently rival.  On the whole, Blunderbuss lives up to its name, with its emphasis on grandiose, powerful, and vintage musical touches.  What makes it a great record is that it also maintains an immediate and contemporary feeling – the deep emotions and energy pulsing underneath the music make an impact even if you don’t happen to be listening on your vintage record player.


The Bowl:  Pinstripe Bowl – West Virginia v. Syracuse

The Pick:  WVU (-4)

The Album:  good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar

Defining a ‘hip-hop album of the year’ is a trickier proposition than a lot of other musical genres.  The criteria that a ‘best album’ must meet depends on what side a listener comes down on a variety of different aesthetic arguments – the value of an independent release versus one from a major label, the value of lyrical content versus lyrical flow, the value of the beats’ production versus the value of the artists’ wordplay over said beats.  Different value decisions on arguments like these can greatly affect how someone perceives the overall strength or weakness of a particular hip-hop record.

Taking many of these value arguments into account, Kendrick’s good kid is the rare record that is an album of the year contender across the board.  Facing improbably high expectations as the supposed savior of West Coast hip-hop, especially after a public co-sign by the good Dr. Dre himself, Kendrick rose to the occasion by doing something many others before him had failed to do – he expanded his sound and opened his music to a wider audience without compromising the unique and singular artistic voice inside him.

Make that voices, actually.  Borrowing a page from Biggie’s book, Kendrick stretches his vocals all over good kid, delivering a wordy, mesmerizing lyrical flow in several different registers and time signatures.  The result is a breathlessly talented vocal performance, and one that backs up all the flash of the style with actual substance.  Kendrick pinwheels between entertaining tales of street life and haunting inner dialogues, pondering where he can find a compromise between an enlightened social consciousness and the hard-edged street mentality that’s glorified by his peers.

There’s not really a dull or uninspired moment on the record, with Kendrick indulging his jazz influences by taking songs in entirely unexpected yet brilliant new sonic directions.  And in the end, he manages to embrace, deconstruct, and elevate the West Coast hip-hop legacy that he was tasked to salvage.  On that front in particular, all you need to do is listen to “m.A.A.d city” – all the way through the insanely great 6-second instrumental coda that pours a 40 out in Eazy-E’s memory – and you know that the West Coast, and hip-hop as a whole, is in good hands.


The Bowl:  Alamo Bowl – Texas v. Oregon State

The Pick:  OSU (-2)

The Albumchannel ORANGE by Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean’s major-label debut was surrounded by a heady buzz before its release, due in large part to his public honesty about a past relationship with a man.  Once channel ORANGE dropped however, the music itself pushed everything aside as the only discussion point worth mentioning.  The album is a lush, seductive, and compulsively listenable showcase of Frank’s considerable talents.

Frank’s voice and accompanying production can sound a lot like Stevie Wonder at times, and ORANGE also sounds a lot like vintage Stevie at several points when it finds the sweet spot between getting spiritual and getting weird.  There are the earnest odes to past, current, and hopefully future lovers, and then there are esoteric excursions into whatever universal headspace Frank is concerned with at the time.

The soundscape of ORANGE is constantly shifting, and just when something like the proggy R&B of “Pyramids” starts to get too close to self-indulgent territory, a tightly wound piece of funky soul like “Lost” will get things moving forward again.  The most striking aspect of ORANGE  is arguably Frank’s gift for crafting and delivering vocal hooks, and when those hooks are put together with his voice, it’s a lethal combination.  “Thinking About You” is a perfect example of the rest of the record – it slinks into your head and doesn’t leave until you’ve heard it enough times to be convinced that Franks’ falsetto is your own.


The Bowl:  Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl – TCU v. Michigan State

The Pick:  TCU (-2.5)

The Album:  Fear Fun by Father John Misty

Hearing a beautifully melodic voice over a quietly strumming guitar deliver an opening lyric of “Pour me another drink / and punch me in the face / you can call me Nancy” was one of the most pleasurable listening experiences in 2012.  That piece of music and subsequent response can accurately sum up the rest of Father John Misty’s debut album, Fear Fun. 

FJM frontman Josh Tillman was introduced to the music world as the drummer of the Fleet Foxes, and he brings some of that group’s musical aesthetic choices to his new project.  There’s some of that vintage, folksy sound, the powerful yet delicate vocals, the use of choral-esqe harmonizing.  Outside of those similarities, however, the music of FJM takes a hard left from the classical, introspective, and straight-faced earnestness of Fleet Foxes.  Instead, we get a wicked sense of humor and dry, gleeful tales of overindulgent debauchery.

If you happen to catch a glimpse of an FJM live performance, you can get a pretty clear image of what Tillman’s getting at with this group.  There’s a serious band dynamic, and a clear love of the music they’re making – the soaring, almost achingly beautiful moments that FJM can hit have some real emotion coursing through them.  And then at the same time, there’s Tillman in the front, slyly smiling and unable to stop from slowly sashaying his hips to the groove as he drops one-liner after one-liner.  It’s rootsy, folkish rock music from a too-smart-for-his-own-good troubadour.  And it’s great enough to stand on its own as much more than just a big band side project.


The Bowl:  Chick-fil-A Bowl – Clemson v. LSU

The Pick:  LSU (-4)

The Album:  Young Hunger by Chad Valley

Chad Valley wears his musical influences loudly and proudly.  R & B and power pop from the 80s and 90s are embraced, dressed up, given beats to play with, and then left loose to dance all over Young Hunger.  The result is an album that sounds vaguely familiar, yet wholly unique at the same time.  Valley’s high-register vocals underscore the sensitive and lovelorn subjects and emotions his lyrics typically cover, and the earnest sentimentality of many tracks may turn off some of the more cynical listeners out there.

Underneath the shiny exterior, however, lay some funky grooves that hit somewhere deeper.  It’s here where Young Hunger becomes more than just a bedroom-produced homage to some music geek’s beloved genre classics.  Valley brings in some of indie music’s more promising new faces, and they help him build hook on top of hook before setting things off on inspired melodic runs.

Young Hunger will lure you in and lull you to a trance on the soft bed of Valley’s vocals and warm production.  Before you realize it, he’s locked you in, and the beats start getting a little more dynamic.  At that point, it’s only a matter of time before you’re out on the dancefloor, professing your love right along with him.


Part Two of A Swanky 2012 Coming Soon…


Personal Soundtrack

14 Aug

The Song

Don’t Owe You A Thang – Gary Clark Jr.

“Don’t Owe You A Thang” is an old-school blues stomp in all the right ways.  It starts with the lyrics, which follow the oft-present blues standard of finding a defiant pride in the midst of emotional and physical poverty.  The narrator may not have love, and may not have a dime, but damn it, he’s surviving.  To add more blues flavor to those defiant lyrics, “Thang” also churns with a lowdown and dirty sexual energy that builds up through searing guitar licks and releases in exultant ‘Whoos’, as if even Gary Clark Jr. can’t believe how hot his groove just got.

Like the great blues artists whose legends he seems to aspire to, Clark uses his vocals and guitar to reach some primitive part of your soul that just can’t help but move to the music he’s laying down.  It puts a little bit of a sneer on your face as the guitar licks burrow down deep.  Clark has only been around the music scene for a couple of years, but if buzz from his live shows and tracks like “Thang” are any indication, he may be packing a classic blues punch for a long time to come.

The Activity

You’re sitting at the bar, kicking back the beer with another Jack.  You’ve lost track of the count on each – the beers and the kickbacks.  It’s been a couple of hours, you know that at least.

It was relatively early in the afternoon when you pulled up to your current position at the end of the bar, and people have been steadily trickling in ever since.  You normally wait until the sun has gone down before heading out to the neon lights, but today was a bit of an exception.

The morning started out fine, but then quickly deteriorated as you got kicked out of your second band in as many months, this time for playing a better guitar line than the easily-threatened lead singer.  Shortly after that, you happened to walk past a sidewalk cafe where your ex-lady was kissing the guy she left you for.  It seemed like the best option after that was to keep walking until you hit the old watering hole, so that’s what you did.

And now here you are, sitting at the bar and developing a decent buzz, when the bartender slides a tall glass of expensive whiskey across the counter, to take the place of your newly-emptied cheap domestic.  You start to say that you didn’t order it, when the ‘keep nods his head towards the other end of the bar and says, Compliments Of The Lady.

You nod, and take a sip of the smooth whiskey before looking down the bar.  You already know who sent it – it was the beautiful blonde with the smoky eyes and short jean shorts, who’s been shooting said smoky eyes in your direction for the past hour.  The same blonde who came in with three rather bulky gentleman who have been getting loudly and obnoxiously drunk for the past hour.

You take another sip, still not looking down the bar, and weigh your options.  These guys are wearing designer jeans, tight-fitting designer shirts (one has some kind of glittery graphic pattern on the back) and shiny new boots.  They don’t look like they’re from around here, and they don’t look like they would take it kindly if someone happened to move in on one of their dates.

But those eyes.  With another sip, you turn your head slowly in the blonde’s direction, and catch her looking directly at you.  With the sort of half-smile that really makes your decision for you.

You tip your chair back, finish the rest of the whiskey in one pull, and stroll down to the other end of the bar.  As you get to the end, you slide right in between the last fellow and your new blonde friend and express your gratitude for the drink.

This introduction goes over quite well with the lady, but doesn’t catch on with the fellows in quite the same way.  The soberest one loudly asks Who The Hell Do You Think You Are, and the drunkest one gives you a hearty shove in the back.  Since this was about what you expected, you’re ready for it, and you manage to take out one of the guys with a right hook before the first beer bottle is swung at your head.

You manage to duck this bottle, and instead of hitting you, it careens into a group of locals at a nearby table who have been anxiously awaiting an excuse just like this one.  With a Whoop, they gratefully accept the invitation to dance, and a full-fledged bar fight quickly breaks out.

As the bottles, fists, and pool cues fly, you make your way to the edge of the fray and locate the blonde with the smoky eyes taking shelter under a table.  Extending your hand, you tell her it’s probably a good time to get out of there.  With a smile, she takes your hand and you both slink out the back door, ready to end the day on a good note.