It was never going to be long enough--RIP B.B. King
Prince released a protest song this week, Baltimore, a song dedicated to the memory of Freddie Gray. As with most things prince, the song is melodic and danceable, so much so that I have read and heard some criticism of the legitimacy of a protest song being something that one can dance to?! haters always gonna hate!! I think this song actually is a bit of a departure for Prince. He has done protest before, but usually under the umbrella of wicked funk and spaced out guitars, creating this space where all can come--a funky party where everyone can dance and hear protest with a wink. Not so with Baltimore. This song names the location and the victim(s) Michael Brown and Freddie Gray up front and finds The Purple One being much more direct and even leading a chant in the mid-section, not the "we shall overcome" of the Civil Rights era protests but "no justice, no peace" a much more contemporary and vulnerable comment which emerged in the 1980s. The song gets more intense as it comes to an end, rock and roll joined by gospel-voices, the sunny sound gives way to something a little more fierce--there is statement here, a protest song for 2015.
One word. Blur. Back after a 16-year hiatus and back with a fantastic album of new songs. The album is named after a Chinese brand of firecracker and this album is a bit of a firecracker in that it reminds the listener of the ways in which they captured the essence of the 90s ennui behind Britpop's swagger and became explorers rather than simply affirmers of the surface stuff and continue in that spirit even after such a long break. More than worth a listen whether you liked them in the 90s or not--there's good stuff here.
There has been a bit of a trend wherein rock musicians tackle the musical era that came before pop music. Usually what you wind up with are imitations of old standards, sometimes nicely done, often not so much. So when word came down the pike that none other than Bob Dylan would be releasing a covers album, featuring songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, concerns were voiced. But, as usual, you can't discount the ability of Dylan to surprise. And surprise he does, taking ten songs, all recorded at some point, by Old Blue Eyes, recording them at Capitol Records-Sinatra's recording shrine, and he turns out a unique, bluesy collection of songs and makes them live and breathe in new ways.
Shadows in the Night is revelatory--Rolling Stone's David Fricke, had this to say about the singing on this album,
"The great shock here, then, is Dylan's singing. Dylan's focus and his diction, after years of drowning in sandpaper, evoke his late-Sixties poise and clarity on John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline — also records of deceptive restraint and retrospect — with an eccentric rhythmic patience in the way he holds words and notes across the faint suggestions of tempo. It is not crooning. It is suspense: Dylan, at 73, keeping fate at arm's length as he looks for new lessons, nuance and solace in well-told tales."
I went to see Daniel Lanois play live this past Sunday at the El Rey. Joined by longtime musician friends, Jim Wilson on bass and the incomparable Brian Blade on drums, Lanois took us on a boundary-pushing musical journey, replacing instruments with studio technolgy to create soundscapes. It was ambient music with heavy grooves and sonic landscapes. Lanois is using studio technology as instrumentation, 'pushing the form' as he said at the close of the set to find new sounds and musical horizons. It was pretty amazing to say the least. There were some cool visuals on a screen to give a bit more context and visual stimulation as the on-stage presence was fairly inert-sort of like a dj set, but the music didn't need any help. Lanois has helped shape a lot of the music we hear-he is a searcher and seeker of new sounds and directions and has influenced people across the musical spectrum (Sonic Highways, Dave Grohl's music show on HBO pays homage to Lanois in its most recent LA episode).
Speaking of influencers, Nothing Has Changed, is a newly mastered collection of some of David Bowie's songs. It spans a wide portion of his career (from 1964-2014!!), and throws in a couple of new songs for good measure. It's three cds worth of amazing music--is there anyone like Bowie really? I don't think so and if you don't know bowie then you don't know music!
And then there's Marilyn Manson. I'm not kidding, just when you think you've got him pegged as a late 90s industrial-goth provocateur whose sell-by date has surely run out, he releases a very catchy and equally depressing song bout failed relationships in advance of an upcoming album. Who knew that Manson could find a groove? Well Third Day of a Seven Day Binge, smokes along. It's a free downlaod on his website, more than worth it if you ask me.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are featured on Austin City Limits tonight--appropos perhaps that they are airing the show on the Day of the Dead because Cave's music might form the perfect context for that particular celebration. This version of Stagger Lee not surprisingly isn't going to be on the televised version. Cave has become one of my favourite live performers over the year and I hear this is regarded as one of the best live performances on ACL.