The Ojai Valley News is Ojai's source of information
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Girls who Rock
Another in an occasional series about some of the best female musicians who don't get the recognition they deserve. This is my small way of paying tribute to their giant talents.
One of the best acoustic set players out there is Rosie Flores, who tours constantly, and has since the late-1970s. Her music has been described as "alternative country meets rockabilly revival." But she goes much deeper than that, having started in a punk band, "Penelope's Children." She's also mastered traditional country, blues and even twangy surf-rock. Youtube clips of her are precious and few, but I encourage people to plug her name into Pandora and go on a musical ride through heartfelt lyrics and fiery guitar solos.
Steve Earle has long been one of my country favorites - mostly because he is so stridently anti-Nashville and anti-Bush - speaking his mind and not caring who he offends. He speaks truth to power with passion and eloquence. Needless to say, you won't be hearing him on any Clear Channel stations in the near future.
Here's a couple of representative samples - Copperhead Road is one of my all-time favorites because it speaks to how the lack of opportunity for the rural poor in this country leads them down a dangerous path. Yet there is great romance and poetry in these lives lived on the fringe. Without moonshine makers we would not have Nascar, for example.
The other song is Steve paired up with another all-time favorite, Emmylou Harris, on "Goodbye."
Though from Mexico, guitarists Rodrigo and Gabriela are chart-topping hitmakers in Ireland, where they emigrated some years ago. The duo met in Mexico City while they were in a thrash metal band, "Tierra Acida," and moved to Ireland because they heard the Irish love buskers and street musicians.
Thank goodness for that. Their eponymous debut album, "Rodrigo y Gabriela" has been out for a year now, and the pair is just now getting noticed in America. The virtuosity of their playing is astounding - as though Yngwie Malmsteen had a mind meld with Christopher Parkening. Check out Gabriela's rasquedos - the finger-flicking right-hand action that so fast it appears to be a blur, but is actually precisely timed and rhythmic. No wonder so many musicians are amazed, and envious.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Fred Schmitt, a prolific singer/songwriter and a musical genius, who lives right here in our little valley. He's the real deal. He's been writing music for 35 years and has traveled some million miles over 46 states playing to anyone who would listen. He has written over 200 songs and finds it hard to keep the muse at bay. And he doesn't have a recording contract. Incredible.
Yoga Matt and I chatted him up over coffee this afternoon at Stir Crazy and turned the mics on to capture a couple of his songs, too. I posted the interview and the music on Radio Ojai. Take a listen - I think you'll feel like I do...like I've just gotten a sneak peak of someone on the verge of great success. Any second now, he'll be in Nashville.
Also on Radio Ojai, I have a track from another Ojai band. Myridian has been featured in the Ojai Valley News before, but now you can hear them on Radio Ojai. They've got a stirring story, which you can read on their website. And this Friday, they are doing a free concert at sunset (at 5:30) in downtown Ojai, in the parking lot across from the Chevron Station. See you there!
Just discovered an intriguing site chock full of slang definitions which will no doubt impress your friends, alarm your co-workers or horrify your teenage kids. You can even add your own. Here are a few I picked out:
Today's Word of the Day: guap Cash money, usually referring to $1000. Here, I'll use it in a sentence: "Hook me up with some guap so I can pay my mortgage."
bracketology The Art and Science of figuring out and filling out NCAA basketball tournament bracket during March Madness. "This month, my husband, Bill, is consumed by all things involving the orange ball and becoming a master of bracketology."
cinemuck the collection of goopy stuff on the movie theater floor "I dropped a Junior Mint on the floor of the Ojai Playhouse, adding to the cinemuck that was already sticking to my shoes."
Bret, there are no less than 55 definitions for the word hipster.
Music and melancholy go together like Britney and paparrazi. Music's ability to manipulate our emotional states is a fascinating phenomenon, one that speaks to both the biochemistry of the brain and the sweeping grandeur of the human condition.
But why is it that so many happy songs come off sappy and sentimental? Why can't they have the same emotional resonance as sad songs?
The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" is, in my not so humble opinion, the greatest happy song ever. The backstory, however, is very interesting.
I came across it by one of those serendipitous accidents that have enriched my life immensely. I rented a video and the wrong video was in the case. It was a long trek back to the store, so I went ahead and watched this documentary about Professor Ernest Theremin, inventor of the eponymous instrument, an early synthesizer that was played by moving your hands through the radio waves through the frequency oscillators on both sides. It was the first truly electronic instrument and the only you can play without it being touched. You would instantly recognize the sound from any sci-fi film of the 1950s, with its eerie vibrato. "Good Vibrations" characteristic shimmery electronica is not actually a theremin, but a synthesizer tuned to sound like one.
Professor Theremin was a fascinating genius, who was snatched off the streets of New York by Soviet agents and shanghaied into their nuclear program.
But in this movie, the filmmakers interviewed Brian Wilson, one of the world's greatest artists, who talked about his first encounter with a theremin at friends of his parents when he was about 5, who played the instrument and scared the bejeesus out of him. The sound haunted him for years, until he composed "Good Vibrations" as a way to exorcise his childhood demons. Well done, Brian.
Ohio musician Joseph Arthur - with his skilled guitar playing, driving beats and hyper-literate lyrics with uplifting and poignant messages, is one of those artists who doesn't get nearly the fame and acclaim he deserves, though the fans he does have, which includes me, are fanatical.
His live shows are particularly noteworthy, so to speak, because he performs solo with impressive technical backup - loops and beats and a vast array of effects pedals that give his music the incredible range and depth of a symphony orchestra. Wish I could find more videos from his latest effort, "Nuclear Daydream," which is his finest work yet. If you're looking for a positive message to get you through the day, check out "Don't Give Up on People."
Arthur is still maturing as an artist and it gives me great pleasure to listen as his talent deepens and broadens. He now performs with a band, but still retains his characteristic sound.
Paul Westerberg talked his way into the lead singer role with The Replacements when he was the janitor and was walking home from work one day and happened to overhear a punk band rehearsing. He supposedly convinced the singer that the other members of the band were about to fire him, and so created the vacancy for himself to fill.
For the next 10 years, they created some of the most authentic, stripped down, power-chord and pricelessly lyrical music in the world. Westerberg still tours regularly. The Replacements married punk ethos of self-reliance and defiance to actually being able to play instruments and write songs. It hasn't been a totally lucrative move, but plenty of talented people have found the price of selling out is often higher than the dollar signs on the recording contracts. My own tastes don't run to punk - I love music too much, but I appreciate a good snarl at The Man as much as the next person.
Here's a recognizably prototypical Replacements song - "Alex Chilton." Apologize for the poor recording quality from this live performance, but it's good enough to give you an idea.
Today marks this year's inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.. No surprises, all worthy — R.E.M., Grandmaster Flash, Van Halen, The Ronettes and Patti Smith.
So many great bands aren't in the hall, though, the exclusions topped in my mind, anyway, by the Paul Westerberg's Replacements. Another unjustly overlooked band is Dire Straits. And what about Neil Diamond? Come on, you stodgy old snobs - the guy can belt 'em with the best of 'em. To steal a line from "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," get off your high horse, or get off your horse high.
Came across an interesting and funny blog about the entertainment business - That Little Round Headed Boy - with its list of the top 30 overlooked bands. A lot of fun to be had for your cyberloafing pleasure.
Here's a video from the criminally neglected British invasion band, The Hollies, "Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)." Takes you back, doesn't it?
Not that my yard would ever merit a mention from the Ojai Garden Club anyway, but the freeze that came our way in January is still pretty evident at my house. I think the bougainvillea will come back, but whatever this was is probably good and dead.
Spring is just around the corner, but this year it's going to feel like it's coming sooner. Thanks to a law passed by Congress in 2005, Daylight Saving's time is several weeks earlier, occurring this Sunday. So don't forget to set your clocks ahead an hour! No, it doesn't mean we get more daylight (I love when people say that), it just means we're moving the clock around!
P.S. There's new content on Radio Ojai - an interview with Ojai native Tara Jeffery of Ojai Pilates & Wellness Center.
Lambchop, the Nashville-based group once called the "most f--cked up band in country music" has now been cranking out music for 20 years. Not many acts can claim that longevity, especially in the Music Row meatgrinder. Led by frontman Kurt Wagner, these guys are famously cranky and confrontational.
For example, how can you not love a band that recorded an album called "Pet Sounds Sucks"? (FTR, that's for the record for the internet shorthand impaired, I worship at the shrine of Brian Wilson.)
Wagner and crew define easy characterization, and that's a good thing. Here's a review I came across: "Whatever the style, the characteristic mood of Lambchop's music is evoked by Wagner's distinctive songwriting - lyrically subtle and ambiguous, the vocals melodic but understated. Setting this apart from other minimalist songwriters is the large group of backing musicians, with the range of instruments and styles that it brings. Wagner's songwriting bears similarities with soul musicians such as Barry White, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye as much as with country and folk music, and can be seen to embody Kris Kristofferson’s dictum that “country music is the white man’s soul”.
4 skinless salmon fillets about 6 oz. each 2 tomatoes (medium size) finely chopped 1/2 onion, diced 12 black olives 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped 3 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar Salt & pepper Parchment paper or thin foil
Preparation: Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Mix together the tomatoes, parsley, olive onion, vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Season with salt & pepper. Cut 4 pieces of parchment or foil about 12-13 inches square. Oil lightly, and place a salmon fillet on each one. Next divide the tomato mixture evenly on top of each. Fold the parchment or foil over the fish, and seal well on each side by folding the edges over several times. Place the packages on a baking sheet. Bake until the salmon is cooked, about 15 minutes. Slide the packages onto a plate and serve.
My favorite musicians are those with voracious ears, who take in everything they hear and translate back into their own craft and art.
John Lennon, of course, was the master - redefining everything from Indian raga to Texas rockabilly. Right behind him, imho, is David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, who continues to explore and assimilate great music wherever he finds it, anywhere on earth.
My latest favorites is Calexico, a bunch of art school music geeks from Tucson. Superb musicians, you can hear the sounds of the border in their music, with touches of cumbia, rumba, samba, Ennio Morricone, folk, blues and even a bit of rock and roll - just such a fascinating amalgam of sounds. Now, not everything works, and it is usually quite lo-fi, as they pride themselves on recording with real instruments in real environments, but some of their stuff just shimmers in way that you can hear how the whole of their approach is greater than the sum of their parts.
Here's a good sample of their work, "Crystal Frontier:"
The Next Big Thing Who Vanished, But Was There All Along
Singer-songwriter Ben Kweller was anointed the next big thing by no less authority than The New Yorker at the tender age of 14. The long profile talked at length about the prodigy's prodigious talents, and how he was on the verge of superstardom, then we've heard nothing from him since.
Call him a victim of unreasonable expectations. But a funny thing happened on the way to no-hit obscurity. Kweller continued to work on his craft, writing songs soft and hard, playing against genres, finding his voice. He's still only 22 years old, but those eight years are a lifetime in the music industry. '" Am Wasted, But I'm Ready" could his theme song - a line like "running as fast I can" says it all, doesn't it?
We may not ever hear from him again, but I am now sure that the ephemeral rewards of the pop music marketplace matter little to this young maestro. He will be playing somewhere, even if it's only to friends and family. Good music will find an appreciative audience, and the size of that audience matters much less than the pleasures they receive. As Kant said, "Number not voices, but weigh them." Good advice for young Kweller, good advice for us all.
Vancouver-based New Pornographers were/are a collective of great musicians who put out some great recordings throughout the past half decade or so, including my favorite, "Twin Cinema," from 2005. Often called a "supergroup," because so many members have side or primary projects, none of them were really well known outside Canada before this group came along.
As with most everything involving New Pornographers, the name is an ironic play, this particular one on Jimmy Swaggart's frequent sermons condemning the music business, calling it the "new pornography." For another delicious layer of irony, Jerry Lee Lewis is Swaggart's first cousin.
While Neko Case's lovely voice is one of the most distinctive in the business, Carl Newman's songwriting is peerless, except for perhaps that of bandmate Daniel Bejar, whose band Destroyer has come out with some lovely records, including my favorite song of the year past, "Rubies."
Here's "Sing Me Spanish Techno" humbly submitted for your listening pleasure:
The J.B. White produced O Canada! tribute show is returning next weekend for a two-night engagement at Zalk Theater. If everyone who tried to get into the Theater 150 shows and failed shows up for these encore shows it will be a good turnout. But don't wait, get tickets now! Call 646-4300 or go to theater150.org. It really is something.
Anyway, I have started an informal compilation of my favorite acts that didn't make the playlist. Somewhere near the top is this group out of Toronto - Broken Social Scene. Their live shows are legendary.
Bret likes to blog about music, so I have to wonder if he watches the most popular show on TV, American Idol, but I fear it's too fluff for him. I have a shocking confession, I watch a lot of TV. I'm not kidding, a lot. Yep, I'm an American idle. They ought to give me a Neilsen box. On Tuesday and Wednesday alone, I watched 4 hours of American Idol. I'm hooked. I get sucked in every season, pointing and laughing at the tone deaf hopefuls looking for their big break, all stealing the same line from Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, "I got nowhere else to go!" But I've never voted. That's where I draw the line. Right now, I'm quietly rooting for this guy:
1 (12-ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes 6 tbs, olive oil (or extra virgin olive oil if possible) 4 cloves garlic. chopped 2 bunches basil, chopped 4 cups of vegetable broth
Preparation: Heat 4 tbs. olive oil, 3 cloves of garlic and half the chopped basil in a saucepan over a low heat. Do not brown the garlic. Add the tomatoes, the vegetable broth, salt & pepper cook for 20 minutes and set aside. Meanwhile, mix 1 tbs. olive oil, the rest of the garlic with the bread cubes in a baking pan. Add salt & pepper to taste, and bake until golden, Add stewed tomatoes to the bread, cook for 10 more minutes. Serve into single soup bowls adding the rest of the basil and a dash of extra virgin olive oil.