There’s Nothing Wrong With Norah Jones

Lets talk about Norah Jones.  There are lots of opinions floating around out there about Miss Jones.  Yes, she’s easy to dislike.  Probably because your mom owns Come Away With Me, and you’ve straight up gotten sick of it.  She’s easy to dismiss as elevator jazz, watered down pop, whatever.  But I am here to fight you on this.  And I will do so to the death.  Well, maybe not to the death, but at least until we both get thrown out of whatever venue we are in at the time.

I did not like Come Away With Me.  I don’t know, I just didn’t get it.  And also some family members played it constantly on repeat, which put it out of the question.  In college, while working for the school’s radio station i got a copy of Feels Like Home, and again, I just didn’t get it.  I don’t know, it didn’t really connect with me.  Sure, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band played on a track, but i was not blown away.  This relationship continued for a while.  I tried to keep an open mind, I didn’t actively dislike her, maybe she just seemed like a nice person, I don’t know.  It changed definitively one night when I accidentally saw her perform.

Ryan “I’m Most Likely Completely Out Of My Mind But Have Flashes Of Genius” Adams was doing 3 nights at Town Hall, and I chose the 2nd.  For good old Ry’, this was not the night to attend.  He wore platform moon boots, had a little pony tail on the top of his head, and played strictly recent material.  The surprise of the evening was an unannounced band called The Little Willies.  This group consists of a few New York songwriters, playing old country tunes, notably Willie Nelson songs.  Leading the group was none other than Miss Jones.  I maintained an open mind, thinking maybe things would change…they certainly did.

To say her voice was like an angel coming down and cooking you dinner while giving you a back massage would be putting it lightly. I doubt there has ever been a more beautiful voice on earth.  Town Hall is renown for its beautiful acoustics, you could hear her actual voice, rather than simply the PA recreating the sound, so there was no sonic trickery going on.  As we know, I love for an opening band to surpass the headliner, and this was one such case.  I was hooked from here on out.  This was intensified after I learned the track “The Long Way Home”  on her Feels Like Home record was written and suggested to her by none other than Tom Waits.  They don’t sell cred like that at Wall-Mart.

Again though, her Not Too Late album just didn’t connect with me.  There was a definite Waits inspired track, “Sinkin’ Soon” but it was no “Long Way Home”.  Last year I heard of another group called Puss N Boots, playing the Mercury Lounge, opening for Mikael Jorgenson of Wilco.  This group was just a trio of girls, 2 guitars and a Bass, featuring Norah, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper (who played bass with Crazy Ry Adams.)  So, i figured, why not.  Maybe Town Hall was just all acoustics, and nothing to back it up.  Well, I was proven wrong dear Norah.  They played a few country group vocal covers to start, Jones on electric guitar, not too exciting.  As soon as they broke into “Cry Cry Cry” by Johnny cash, and she took a lead vocal, it was apparent that the business was serious.  If she tried out for American Idol, she would get through the thousands of rounds and win hands down.  (god, I’m sorry for that Idol reference, but its just the truth)  They then covered “Jesus Etc” by Wilco, and my heart was officially won.

Norah Jones at the Mercury Lounge
Norah Jones at the Mercury Lounge

Anyhoo, some word was floating round the ol interwebs about the new Norah Jones album being inspired by Mule Variations- Tom Waits epic masterpiece from the late 90’s.  Now, these are serious accusations being thrown around.  She hired the same engineer and producer, a cast of the same musicians (including my 2 favorite guitar players, ironically mentioned in the last post, Marc Ribot and Smokey Hormel)  In addition to studio ace drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, Air) to even out the crew.  Now Norah, you’re just playing with my emotions.  The real key is….how does it sound?  Well, I just watched this clip from Letterman, thats none other than Smokey Hormel on guitar, and correct me if I’m wrong, but is that Joey Waronker on drums?

Its got some indie sounds happening.  Less pop, more drive, so far….I think our ‘In Person Only’ relationship may be on its way out?  I’m going to buy the album tonight when I get home, and we will continue this discussion further.

Whole Lotta AC/DC: Highway To Hell Vs Back In Black

What we’re going to discuss here today may offend some of you.  Hell, it may offend all of you.   But I’m not here to worry about how your values are challenged by unconventional statements.  No, I’m here to listen to things, and write about them.  So lets get right into it.

About 2 years ago i had an auditory awakening.  For the majority of my life, I was aware of AC/DC.  Anyone familiar with rock music most likely is as well.  I would go as far as saying I was a fan.  But it stopped there.  We had a good working relationship.  When we passed each other in the halls, we would say hello, and perhaps even discuss the weekend, but we did not eat lunch together.  As a young guitar player, I learned Back In Black, and appreciated it as one of the great riffs of all time, yet it did not truly connect with my soul.  The band was just a casual fling, some I could live without.  Until one night in the Mediterranean.  (the music just went dramatic in the underscore)

In Greece, they love rock and roll.  This is just a general statement, I don’t really know if its true.  I didn’t hear too much music while there except while in one particular bar.  The group I traveled with had a local scary Greek woman taking us around.  She assumed we just wanted to hear Rock music in some American type bar, which was false.  We were after some psycho Bazouki, some Lute jams, some Pan flute explosions….but we did not find such things.  The bar we landed in seemed like something in Tribecca, a little bit forced lo fi.  We had played earlier in the evening and were significantly tired, and I was trying to drink a significant amount, hoping to wake up- which was not helping.  My eyelids were on the way down, it was a losing battle.  There is a picture of me at this precise moment, the 3 guys in the group all look like we’re about to die, the 4 girls look excited to be alive and are wide awake.

Just before my view on AC/DC permanently changed.
Just before my view on AC/DC permanently changed.

Just as I thought I had been defeated, the song changed.  I don’t know what it was before, I’m going to say Whitesnake.  But as the instantly recognizable guitar sound emanated from the speakers, everything was suddenly ok.  We barrelled on into the night, into the wee hours.  The song was none other than “Whole Lotta Rosie”  of the Let There Be Rock album, with the original vocalist Bon Scott.   I was not aware before this event, but this is without a doubt, the finest AC/DC song ever recorded.  I will fight you to the death on this one.  “You can keep You Shook Me All Night Long”.   As the once great, since fallen, blogger Jason Mulgrew wrote  (I’m paraphrasing here)   “I put this song on, and instantly impregnated 3 women within my zip code”  The energy of the song is unstoppable.  The tempo isn’t even that fast, I’m gonna say maybe around 132bpm.  But in this mid tempo drive, it maintains a confidence that a faster song just doesn’t have.  Bon Scott and Angus Young just don’t need to rush through anything, they’ve got time.  Time to talk about their love of big women (hence, there is in fact a whole-lot of Rosie).  He begins the song with a spoken intro, letting you know whats going to happen.  You will be told a story about a woman he knows, not exactly pretty, not exactly small.  But you better be prepared to rock out, because the contrast of the heavy guitars to Bon’s voice clue you in to whats about to happen.  Then there’s an odd tempo shift, he yells “YOU CAN SAY SHE GOT IT ALLLLLLLLL”, and your tray table better be up.

I believe thats Rosie on the stage
I believe thats Rosie on the stage
Angus, during this very solo.
Angus, during this very solo.

The verse is just straight up swagger, there is not a drum fill in sight, the bass is on the 8th note groove that AC/DC is famous for, the guitars just chug along.   The chorus is short and to the point, “Shes A Whole Lotta Woman, A Whole Lotta Woman, A Whole Lotta Rosie”   Then a few chord changes, and BAM!  We’re in Solo world.  There are in fact 2 guitar solos in this song.  Now, I’m not a fan of the guitar solo.  Unless you’re Marc Ribot or Smokey Hormel, I really don’t want to hear you wank out on some tired ass blues lick.  But in this case, something else has arisen.  Angus just pulls out pure emotion.  He’s writhing around the stage, gyrating uncontrolably, doing his signature kick step move, its all in there.  It doesnt make sense, hes just jamming in as many notes as he can, ending with a fantastic descending whole note section….but its just fucking perfect.  After hearing this song, I am ready to destroy not only the day, but the week.  I am ready to eat a cheesesteak so large it negates its own very existance.  But lo my dear reader, that is not what we’re here to discuss today.  We’re here to discuss Brian Johnson, and his contribution to the AC/DC catalog Vs Bon Scott.  Get your hemet on.

I’m gonna come right out and say it.  Overall Brian Johnson has contributed more to the catalog.  Back in Black is better than Highway To Hell.  Fight me on it if you want, but you will not win.  The sound overall of Back In Black is amazing. Its spacious, yet it slams you in the face with a Dodge Ram filled with football players.  There are no cheesey effects.  Listen to those drums on Back In Black (the song), they’re amazing.  The album just feels more impactful.  Maybe because it was partially recorded and mixed at Electric Lady studios in NY, whereas Highway To Hell was partially recoded and mixed in London.  And everyone knows if you want to do some serious shit, you gotta come to ‘Merica to mix.

Lets talk about songs.   Highway to hell certainly has some great jams.  “Highway To Hell” itself, wonderful.  Night Prowler?  Frikkin Fantastic and suspenseful.  “If You Want Blood”?  Serious as well, although it doesn’t get me as excited as “Whole Lotta Rosie”.  But beyond that, and I really hate to say it, The rest feels like filler.  Yes, I know this is AC/DC, and they’re clearly working within a set format, but some songs are just better than others.   Now lets switch over to Back In Black.  “Hells Bells”  “Shoot To Thrill”  “You Shook Me All Night Long”  “Back In Black”  “Have A Drink On Me”  “Rock and Roll Aint Noise Pollution” Those are all just plain amazing.  Noise Pollution almost approaches Rosie territory.  It makes you want to just do a high kick, throw a glass against a wall, and go on about your business.  These songs alone spread out over several albums would have made a lesser band rock gods in their own right.  But on ONE fucking album?  Are you kidding me?  Thats Beatles Territory.  Yes, they’re songs about much more primitave subjects, but that does not make them any less important. These choruses will be remembered througout history.  The guitar solos launched a generation of lesser players.

The song “Highway To Hell” may be fantastic, but the band seemed to take a turn with “Back In Black” as an album.  Dare I say, they became more melodic?  I’m not suggesting an operatic version of these songs any time soon, but Johnson certainly brought more melody to the verses than Scott.  Scott may be the most badass frontman of all time, I would not question his ability to stab or punch out anyone at any time, but Johnson has done more with the hoarse voice scream than anyone will ever do.  Chris Cornell is just a pale immitation of him.  Its the perfect mix of scream and sing.  Go ahead, listen to the 2 albums back to back. See which one makes you want to go out and conquer the world.  Then, once you’ve made the decision that Back In Black is superior as a complete piece of music, go listen to “Whole Lotta Rosie”.

While sitting in this bar during my religious experience, I cautiously turned to my friend Blasco, a man of great respect musically, and said “Man, sometimes, theres nothing wrong with a little AC/DC”.  He immediately resonded “There is NEVER anything wrong with AC/DC”

Recording Guitars: Logic, Pro Tools, And Apogee Walk Into A Bar.

Recording music outside of a traditional studio is like capturing a wild rhino, using only a laptop.   Its possible, but not easy.   I’ve struggled for years with this issue, moving from ADAT’s to Pro Tools, to Logic Pro…the entire time considering throwing it all out and getting a reel to reel tape machine.

My band has recently begun recording demo’s for our upcoming EP, and budgets being what they are (0$)  We’ve decided to start the process on our own.   I’m a gear whore.  Always have been, always will be.  I am not confined by the finite space of my living quarters….I will find a place to put it all.   But, our modest rehearsal space in Williamsburg does not agree with me on this.   We have about an 8×10 room that we share with 2 other bands, surrounded by others, without proper ventilation, sound treatment, or lighting capabilities.  But still, we will make it work.   Coming from the old school, I prefer everyone to be in the same room at the same time, but sometimes that’s just not practical.   The approach we decided on, was to record drums live with a scratch track of guitar and bass, then overdub said stringed instruments at a later date.

We took advantage of this long holiday weekend, tracking drums last week, guitars on the day off Friday, and bass this weekend.   Now, just for a second, lets discuss sounds.   When I lived in LA for one hot minute, I was lucky enough to work on a few sessions in an all analog studio called Rotund Rascal.  I’m not sure if its still there, but it was fantastic.  Weeks earlier, Jenny Lewis, my future jewish wife, recorded parts of Rabbit Fur Coat there, and the place was alive with vibes of wonderfulness.   The artist on the session, a singer named Jay Nash, brought in 2 cd’s to demonstrate the bass sound he wanted, and it pretty much changed my life.   The first was Jackson Browne’s first album- Leland Sklar on bass, and Ray Lamontagne- Ethan Johns on bass.   This was the first time I had heard Ray, and it was just plain religious.  But the point is, these are the greatest bass sounds ever recorded.  Go listen to them, and tell me you don’t start weeping instantly.  Go ahead, do it, i’ll wait here….

This is Actually Leland Sklat
This is Actually Leland Sklar

OK.  Now that you see my point, lets discuss getting these sounds.   Every day we hear how awesome modern technology is.  The Internet, Cell Phones, Global Warming, its all just fantastic.  But the one place we have genuinely not advanced up until very very recently, is the sound of modern recordings.  They just don’t sound as good, its a simple fact.  Maybe we’re getting there, maybe we’re not, who knows.  For a long time, i’ve recorded many instruments onto many hard drives.  And I can honestly say, it never really stuck.  It was never a solid hit, the bass sounds didn’t even approach the above recordings by a long shot…Until this very moment.  I think I unlocked some magic door to the unknown, and i’m afraid to ever close it.  This door is called “Using A Fucking Awesome Converter and Pre Amp”  I recently invested in a new recording rig, for a new archive project happening.  This includes

1.  Logic Pro- software by apple
2.  Apogee Rosetta 800 Converters
3.  Apogee Symphony Mobile system- running on its own cards, there is no Firewire or USB BS involved here

This is really the secret.  Most home studios use an “all in one” interface.  This may be practical, but it just puts too much stress on one ingredient.  The external converter, thats where it’s at.

The Rig In Action:  Recording Guitars At Our Rehearsal Space
The Rig In Action: Recording Guitars At Our Rehearsal Space

We recorded at what’s known as 96k, which has come a long way in recent years.  This means a sound is being sampled 96,000 times per second when being recorded.  The first experience i’ve had with this technological wonder was an extreme failure.   Web Master Eric Tarn and myself did time in a Ska band for several years.  Our first album was recorded in a matter of days, to 2″ analog 16 track tape, was painless, and sounded pretty good.   Our 2nd album took years to complete, cost many thousands of dollars, and really didnt sound that great.  It was also recorded in 96k, and in 2003, that shit was just not up to snuff.  Everything sounded muddy, it just wasnt working.  This could be due to 3 factors:

1.  Our engineer sucked.
2.  We were not that good as players (eh, we were pretty good)
3.  Digital Recording Technology in 2003 was not that great.

This sort of blows my mind, because I can honestly say that I’ve seen an improvement in recent years.  This was also my first personal project recorded on Logic Pro, after being stuck in Pro Tools land for the last 7 years.  Really Pro Tools, WATCH YOUR BACK.  Logic is coming for you, bitch.  But let me just say this, to any perspective recording engineer out there, and i’m going to do it in all caps, on its own line, just to make a point (like that scene in Kill Bill where Lucy Liu speaks in english after she cuts off that guys head in front of the mobsters)

WHEN YOU’RE SETTING UP A STUDIO, USE AN AWESOME EXTERNAL CONVERTER AND A SOLID DIGITAL CLOCK.

Without this, its just fucking bush league psyche out shit man.  You just won’t do it.  OK, this has been my sunday night rant, I hope you all enjoyed the long weekend, now get back to work, you’re making us look bad.

Banjo Time, All The Time.  Apogee In The Background.
Banjo Time, All The Time. Apogee In The Background.

Top 5 For The Weather: Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Bob Dylan, battle John Coltrane

On this date in 2009, around 5:00 EST in Manhattan, the weather was a mess.  I was returning from a Logic workshop at the Apple store, which was exactly a 5 on a scale of 1-10, when the sky did not really open, it just kind of went “Meh”  and shot out a bit of mist.   At this exact moment, my ipod on shuffle mode played the perfect song for the occasion.  This led me to the creation of a list.  Not in any particular order, so lets call it a grouping.  Here are the 5 greatest songs for when its not completley raining, and you’re on the verge or needing an umbrella, post 5pm on November 25th.

Tom Waits- The Earth Died Screaming- Bone Machine There is no better song for darkness of all kinds.  You can almost feel the dust settling all around you from some post apocolyptic battle.  The sky rained Macrel and Trout, the 3 Headed Lion sheds his skin, and you’re drinking water from a skull.   Somehow these lyrics don’t come out like some Iron Maiden record.  The chorus of what sounds like sticks banging against the ground behind the vocal march ahead into this freaky ass world of Waits creation, which i’d imagine looks nothing like the street I was walking on in Chelsea.  The entire Bone Machine album could be on this list, but lets leave it here for now.

Bob Dylan- Love Sick- Time Out Of Mind Again, nearly then entire Time Out of Mind album could go on this list.  Its dark as hell.  This may be some western preconception we have about musical tonality….but thats a discussion for people more intellectual than you and I.  That reverb in there, that Distortion on Dylan’s voice, you’re hanging out in a sketchy alleyway, and everything around you smells like mildew. Your shoes are wet, but you cant do a thing about it.

Medeski Martin Wood- Beeah- Last Chance to Dance Trance Yes, I went there.  We bring in the MMW.  This works particularly well on many levels.  There are no lyrics to distract, that bass sounds like a junkyard, and the organ over the top makes you feel like you’re in a 1930’s horror movie.  One time many years ago while driving home from Boston very late at night, this song came on, and I hallucinated several vampires.

John Coltrane- Part 2 Resolution- A love Supreme–  We go to a classic album, but skip the opening track.  Forget that mystical yet mysterious beautiful opening piece, lets move onto the second.  Things get a little more ugly here.  The wash of that ride cymbal is like this crappy mist reigning down upon you, its not a full on storm, but its moving that way, you may need to pull out the umbrella by the end of it.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Red Right Hand- Let Love In–  Oh man, I nearly forgot this one, and that would just be a shame.  Its telling you something is coming, so you should probably be prepared dude, you don’t want to just be sitting there, kickin it, playing wii, not prepared for the incredible evil lurking in the shadows and whatnot, you get the idea.  Again, we have the appearance of a scary movie organ sound, with some brush work on the drums, all glued together by the eeriest of instruments, The Theremin, appearing on the 2nd verse.  Cave is some sketchy old man on the corner of Times Square Past, in front of a strip club or something, but he’s not yelling at you, merely informing.  In this case, you have forgotton your umbrella, and wish you hadn’t.

Any ideas for others?  I dont care, I’m not even going to listen to them.   Of course I’m kidding.  Comment it up.

The Dirty Projectors with Tuneyards, David Byrne, and The Roots @ Bowery Ballroom, NYC

OH HEY INTERNET!    So lovely to see you again, I’ve truly, madly, deeply, missed you oh so much.  Especially since that falling out we had in ’06.  For that, I accept complete fault, and I promise it will never happen again (unless Dee Snyder and Sammy Hagar try to mess with me again, those damn frizzy haired front men…but I digress.)

The title and mission statement of this blog are fairly self explanatory, I will blog what I hear.  And all things relating to music.  So sometimes it will be blogging what I see, or what I play, or what I find in the trash and then play.   But hey, you’re not here to hear me blabber.  Well, maybe you are, but lets get down to it.

Sunday night is not a usual night for a show.  The weekend is winding down, you have to get yourself together for Monday, you might want to just hang at home and catch up on Hulu.  But this particular sunday was different.  I did not have to work until noon Monday…so it was fair game for some live music.   I received an invite to see The Dirty Projectors at The Bowery Ballroom, my all time favorite New York Venue, possibly one of the best on the planet.  The Dirty Projectors have gained a lot of notoriety recently, being on the cover of New York Magazine and all…but beneath all the fame, glory, drugs, hedge funds, and child labor, there is a pretty good band.

They have this African thing going on, kind of like Paul Simon, if he wasnt a theiving little bastard who ripped off Los Lobos and many many african musicians.   I saw them previously at the Williamsburg Waterfront Jelly Pool Party…well, I heard them…the stage was not viewable, that place is just set up terribly.  They did sound great though, so I figured another viewing was in order.

This was the end of a 4 night NYC run for The Projectors, I had heard great things about the previous nights, particualarly the opening band.   Now, I LIVE to be blown away by an opening band.  As cynical and jewish as I am,  I want to be proven wrong in all aspects of life.  I want to say a band sucks for years, then have them create the greatest album ever.   I want to be pissed that I have to sit through 2 bands I dont know before a headliner, and be impressed beyond belief.  This is exactly what happened, and David Byrne agrees with me (i’ll get more into that later)

My Friend said to me “Steve, The Dirty Projectors are great, but this band Tuneyards will destroy everything in sight, and you will want to leave afterwards, and shatter all of your hard drives containing stolen music beause they are so good, and resort back to using gramaphone technology, because there is no hope for the future”  I am not paraphrasing, thats exactly what happened, only with more explatives (this is a family blog, we keep it clean).   Lo and Behold, he was so fucking right.   This band Tuneyards was comprised of one girl on Vocals, Ukulele, Floor Tom and Snare Drum, using a looping sampler to record and play over herself live,  as well as a bass player.   Now, whenever someone hypes a band that much, I’m skeptical, as we all should be.  But from the opening notes, there was no messing around.  The entire crowd agreed, we all ate it up right away.  From the opening notes, people were freaking out.  The vocals were these exotic chants, constantly looping, sounding like african melodies you’d hear in a national geographic documentary. Then all of a sudden, some big ass Floor Tom Beats come in, and you suddenly realize that you are cured of all your illnesses, you’ve grown a foot taller, and there is a cheesesteak on a plate in front of you.  Her ukulele playing was amplified in a strange way, distorting it just a bit, making it kind of sound like a thumb piano (another african origin instrument.)

In my many years of shows, I have never seen a crowd react in such a way to an opening band.  The room was filled with joy, people were screaming throughout the songs, dancing it up, standing in awe.  You know who else was dancing?  David Byrne.  We spotted him early on in the crowd, and even an unstoppable genius such as the Byrne himself could not helped but be moved by a performance such as this.  My friend spotted him at the merch booth between sets buying the Tuneyards CD.   Respect, Byrne.

I feel like seeing David Bryne around town is kind of like a NY right of passage.  That guy is  everywhere.  I’ve seriously walked past him randomly more times than anyone I actually know.

Other Recognizable faces in the cowd were The Roots.  Its hard to miss a Fro the size of Questlove’s, and surrounding him were Captain Kirk and the bass player who’s name I do not know.  So immediately, seeing an entire rhythm section of a band in attendance aroused suspicion.  What also aroused suspicion was the 2nd drum kit set up on stage, the same configuration as Questloves.  So, we assumed there would be some Roots Sit-Inage.  Which there was.   They collaborated on the new jam “No Intentions” which is a fairly serious song.  Interesting melody, nice straight ahead rhythm, weird guitar.  All things I enjoy.

For the encore, another mic was ser up, and it seemed fairly obvious that Byrne would pull a sit in, since he’s recorded a few tracks with The Projectors in the past, and he did.   But in all honesty, that was pretty uneventful.  The song was no more than 3 min, he flubbed a few vocals, and didnt sound that great.   Its cool Byrne, you get a pass on this one, I still love you.

Overall, a wonderful show, but not really because of the Dirty Projectors.  Tuneyards took the cake this evening, I advise you to take a listen, maybe go see them live.  You will thank me later, and possibly owe me a cheesesteak.