Monthly Archives: July 2011

Rebirth Brass Band – latest brass band to blow me away


I recently made a trip to Waterloo Records and grabbed the first thing that jumped out at me: Rebirth of New Orleans, by the Rebirth Brass Band. It pretty much blows me away. I discovered them last Mardi Gras, when I was digging through Youtube, looking for music from New Orleans.

They remind me a bit of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a group I got to see in Austin a few years ago. It’s a great jazzy mixture of New Orleans second line, funk and hip hop. Great horn playing. It’s also an interesting segue from the last batch of CD purchases I made, featuring Balkan brass band music, much of it created by European Gypsies.

In both cases, you have extremely skilled musicians from cultures that know what it’s like to go through bad times — yet they still know how to enjoy life and spread that joy to others. In short, they have passion.

This isn’t on the latest album, but it’s awesome — The Rebirth Brass Band in the French Quarter, in 2008:

Now check this out:

Kinda different, but kinda the same too, don’t you think?

3 Comments

Filed under funk, music, roots, world music

Hard rocking yet ethereal, short-lived Levitation touched Heaven

When you hear something perfect, you want it to last forever. It doesn’t work that way. The most beautiful things in life are ephemeral. Levitation was a perfect example. It was formed Terry Bickers, the emotionally fragile but brilliant guitarist from House of Love. Levitation didn’t last long, but during its brief existence, the band created some incredible music.

Mysterious and powerful, their music was a combination of Madchester, psych and progressive rock. From all acounts, and a few Youtube vids, they had a hell of a live show. I wish I could’ve been there in person.

I discovered Levitation in a box of mixtapes and other cassettes a friend passed along as he made the move to the compact disk and decided to free up some space.

Coterie was the first to grab my attention. It completely captivated me. My friend had recorded it on one side of a cassette, with House of Love’s Babe Rainbow on the other side (another very good album). I remember thinking as I played it on my Walkman for the third or fourth time, “This blows Dark Side of the Moon out of the water!” I’ve backed off a little bit since then — I will always love Pink Floyd, and DSOTM is a classic — but Coterie and Need for Not are also classics in my book. And they all the more powerful because they were hidden from me for so long.

Interesting that I instantly thought of Coterie as a classic album, because it isn’t exactly a proper album. It contains songs from the band’s first EP, plus some live songs and B sides. Yet in my mind it almost comes across as a concept album, very coherent.

Need for Not took a little longer to get my attention, but when it did, it was like being struck by lightning. I suddenly couldn’t get enough of it. Because it’s fully a studio album it is at the same time less intimate but more intense than Coterie. It feels a lot more like a rock ‘n’ roll album. Both albums are out of print but affordable used CDs can be found via private sellers on Amazon and sometimes turn up in used CD stores as well. Definitely worth purchasing.

I love every song on the Need for Not, but I think “Pieces of Mary” really demonstrates Levitation’s sound. It just keeps rising and rising, like an out of body experience.

 

Levitation released another album, Meanwhile Gardens, after Bickers left. There’s another version of the album with some of Bickers’ work on it. The official version was only released in Australia and is a collectors item that I coveted for years. I finally got hold of an mp3 version from a hardcore Levitation fan and frankly was glad I didn’t pay top dollar for the physical copy. It has a few bright spots — a couple of good psych-prog songs and some experiments with ambient — but isn’t in the same league as Need for Not or Coterie. The magic was there for a time, then it went away.

Terry Bickers later made up with Guy Chadwick and rejoined the House of Love. The other members of Levitation went on to form a band called Dark Star. Haven’t heard them yet, but I’ve read enough good reviews to make me curious. I will at some point.

Other post-Levitation projects include:

Dragons, featuring drummer Dave Francolini.

Mikrokosmos, solo project of guitarist Christian (Bic) Hayes who was tour guitarist for Pet Shop Boys for a while.

Milk and Honey Band, featuyring Levitation keyboard player Robert White.

Bassist Laurence O’Keefe has toured with Martina Topley-Bird

In addition to recording and touring with House of Love, Bickers formed a group with Caroline Tree called Cradle.

Here is a song from the unreleased version of Meanwhile Gardens featuring Terry Bickers. Gives you an idea what could’ve been if things had held together for a bit longer:

There is a nice long thread about Levitation in the Spiritualized forum. It’s informative and makes a nice read. I got some of my info from the thread.

5 Comments

Filed under music, one you might've missed, progressive rock, psych, rock, Uncategorized, video

The Casualty Process debut EP available for free download

The Casualty Process, my favorite indie rockers from Iran, just released their debut, a 5-song EP called (Un)even. Right now you can download it for free on their website. There’s also a donation button in case you’d like to send a little love their way. Their music, in case you haven’t heard it before, is edgy electronic rock, influenced by the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. Apparently the new EP has been quite popular — so popular in fact that the site got overloaded for a while yesterday. Everything seems to be working fine today.

Check out my previous article about The Casualty Process and the related band, The Plastic Wave: Great indie rock from Iran (You didn’t think Iran had any of that did you?)

Also, the Casualty Process is currently on tour in the U.S. (I hope they stop off in Austin at some point). You can see some of their live performances on their Vimeo page.

Here’s a performance featuring Saeid Nadjafi (aka Natch), Shayan Amini, and Shirley Ho in the role previously filled by Iranian female vocalist Maral Afsharian in The Plastic Wave.

The Casualty Process – My Clothes On Other Bodies from The Casualty Process on Vimeo.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under indie, indie rock, music, rock, Uncategorized

John Pointer entertains fans & patrons with funny song about hookers

I respect a twisted sense of humor almost as much as I do musical talent. I saw John Pointer for the second time last Thursday at Quoffer’s in Elgin, Texas and he had both of those qualities on full display. He put on a great show, just like the first time I saw him. He showed off his unconventional guitar picking technique, his sense of ryhthm and his beatboxing talent.

He sang his awesome version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” originals like “Abraham’s Disciple” (at my request — it’s my favorite Pointer song so far) and “Annalisa.” But as he predicted, the most memorable song of the night was the one he wrote earlier that day, a hilarious song with a jaunty melody that sounded like something you might hear on Sesame Street except for the lyrics: “These Are the Hookers I Know.”

The song has been playing in my head ever since. Some of the parts I remember: “These are the hookers I know, watch ’em walk up and down to and fro on the corner, slingin’ ass aplenty. You may ask yourself, why does he know so many? Well I don’t know, but there’s Anna, she can take a banana, turn it into a split, you won’t believe that shit. Then there’s Florence, she used to be Lawrence, he had a sex change — I think it went pretty well. Not like Sandy, who used to be Andy. It didn’t go so well. But at least she’s freaky.” And lots of other verses along those lines. That’s the kind of song he can riff on endlessly and throw in a new hooker and a new verse at every show.

That might be enough to get me to sign up as a John Pointer patron at Patronism.com. At least two people at Thursday night’s concert already have. They knew his back catalog like the backs of their hands. It was amazing.

As I said in my last post, Pointer has come up with a model for compensating artists that might just save music (and might be yet another nail in the coffin of the music industry). It’s basically a return to the patronage system that supported great artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance. Instead of buying a product like a CD or a T-shirt, you become a patron (starts as low as $2 per month) and get access to whatever the musician creates and shares. It’s about building relationships rather than buying and selling.

Check out my interview from last month where Pointer talked about Patronism. And read more about the concept at Patronism.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Listening Room – a great way to share music with friends (without stealing it)

I spent countless hours as a teenager listening to music with friends. “Have you heard this?” “Pretty cool, now check this out…” It was a neat social activity and a great way to discover new favorites. Nothing in the digital age has ever quite captured that feeling. I just discovered something that comes close: The Listening Room.

A friend introduced me to the site last night. It’s innovative in one way, but in another, it’s almost old-fashioned. It lets you have that shared musical experience with people you can’t hang out with in person, yet it still feels personal.

Basically, someone starts a listening room and invites people in, who can in turn invite others in. Each person can then upload an mp3 out of his or her collection and it will play once it comes up in the queue. The site makes a little player that looks like a 45 rpm vinyl player. If it can find the album art, that goes on your record as it spins around. Beside the player, there’s a little chat room.

The Listening Room hasn’t been around long and it’s still a bit buggy. It wouldn’t let me upload songs from Rekonq browser (in other ways a very good browser), though Opera worked just fine. Some songs also wouldn’t upload for my friend. It did let us put up some very obscure tracks though. Overall it was definitely worth it. I am impressed.

Give it a spin now so you can be all hip later and say you remember it before it got huge.

1 Comment

Filed under music, Uncategorized

Can Austin’s music scene survive in a ‘family friendly’ Entertainment District?

Keep Austin Austin (Gentrification makes Stevie Ray cry)

Progress is inevitable and it’s better than decay. I guess… But I can’t help but feel a bit of melancholy after walking around Austin’s entertainment district last night. Everything is starting to look way too nice.

My brother and I spent a couple of hours looking around for some hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in the Warehouse district around 4th Street and instead we found upscale steakhouses and whatnot, places with valets standing in front. We passed “rustic” looking restaurants with outdoor seating and fans with mist-sprayers, blaring awful pop punk music, full of frat boy types, the kind of places you find on Padre Island during Spring Break. We passed a family with small children and had to interrupt our conversation because we were afraid they might get offended. That’s when it really sunk in how much Austin is changing.

I understand the city of Austin is planning a facelift on part of 6th Street. They refer to the section as East Sixth, but locals refer to it as “Dirty Sixth.” To me East Sixth starts on the east side of I-35. They’re going to take away one lane of traffic, expand the sidewalk and take away a bunch of parking spaces, leaving a few for valet parking. It’s part of an effort by downtown businesses to make 6th Street more of an “all ages” area.

Anytime I hear terms like “all ages” and “family friendly” associated with 6th Street, my heart sinks a little.  I would rather play around in the dirt and mess than have a bunch of “family” types wandering around down there, pressuring the city to get rid of the noise (music) and riff raff (freaks, hippies, etc.).

I like families and I like kids, but Austin is supposedly the Live Music Capital of the World. That requires a lot of venues and most of those venues are bars. Not a kid-friendly environment. I’m afraid they’re going to “clean up” the Entertainment District and kill the proverbial Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.

I don’t know why we have to turn the place into Disneyland. That’s boring boring boring!

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, Uncategorized

Lee County Line – a young country band that’s going places

My latest discovery is a country band by the name of Lee County Line, now based in Cedar Park, but originally from Lexington, Texas (a place with just over 1,000 people that’s famous for Snow’s BBQ). I heard them on Saturday at the Watermelon Festival in McDade (even smaller than Lexington, but they put on a pretty good shindig.)

A festival is different if you work for a small town newspaper. It’s not just leisure like it is for everyone else. It’s fun, but there’s a job to be done. Even when you’re not working, there’s that thought in the back of your mind, “I can’t keep sitting here forever BS’ing with these folks, eating barbecue, etc. I haven’t taken enough pics yet. Maybe I’ll get some good shots if I go over there?”  But to get through the day you still have to have an attitude like, “I’m going to enjoy this day. Some of this is for my job and some of it is for me.”

One of those parts at any festival that’s always “for me” is the music, especially if it’s good music. Yesterday, as I covered the McDade Watermelon Festival, I was surprised once again by the musical talent to be found out in the rural towns of Texas. As I snapped pictures of cute little kids eating watermelon and competing in the seed spitting contest, it slowly sunk in: The band playing in the pavilion nearby was very very good. Especially surprising given how young all the members are.

They were singing good solid country music. Some of the songs were original. Some were covers. They did a good version of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” and Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” but it was the originals that impressed me most. “Take My Hand” really stood out for me. They have that knack for the turn of a phrase that the best country songs have. The singer has a good strong voice and the guitarist has some mean licks. I think these guys are going places.

Find out more about Lee County Line on their website. Give them a listen and keep track of their concert schedule at their Reverbnation page. And check out their Facebook page.

Leave a comment

Filed under alt-country, country, live show, music, one to watch, Uncategorized