Paul Den Heyer – Everything So Far

Paul Den Heyer deserves to be more widely known. He made his first splash with Fishmonkeyman in the 90’s – who’s If I’ve Told You Once was a memorable Britpop hit in the early 90’s. From there he’s played with and produced many memorable bands – two of them very dear to my heart. I’m talking about the summer drenched tunes of Sunstack Jones and John Lever’s project The Red-Sided Garter Snakes – whose two albums showcased several artists influenced and inspired by John and his work with The Chameleons and The Sun and the Moon. It was a last influx of creativity before John passed away and it left me wondering what would come next from these artists, chief among them Paul Den Heyer. I didn’t have to wait long, as Paul’s been in touch with me letting me know about his solo work and sharing snippets over the “world wide web”. And now that it is here, how does it stack up? Does it live up to everything I had hoped?

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Bruno Mars – Count On Me

Count On Me (Bruno Mars)

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

A few days ago I found myself at a life celebration for a little girl in my community who had been stricken down by a rare form of cancer at age 7. There were over 1000 people in attendance and it was a beautiful show of solidarity, strength, and love. The little girl’s older sister played a beautiful song accompanied by acoustic guitar, dedicated to her sister. Me being me, I’d never heard it before. The song (if you haven’t guessed) was Count On Me by Bruno Mars. The songs played at the life service were songs that the little girl had enjoyed during her too brief life. In that context, I had to evaluate how I perceive things just a bit. I imagined kids singing and laughing along to this song, life’s realities far from mind. So, when I got home from the life celebration, I sought out the song that had been played. And what I found was a joy to listen to. Life affirming lyrics that espoused loyalty, a catchy melody, and perfect acoustic guitar. “If you’re tossin‘ and you’re turnin‘ / And you just can’t fall asleep / I’ll sing a song beside you / And if you ever forget how much you really mean to me / Every day I will remind you”. The song was the 5th single released from the 2010 album Doo-Wops & Hooligans and was a bigger hit in New Zealand and Australia. I should probably explore more of what Bruno Mars has done, though I’ve shied away since he seems to be everywhere. I’ll tell you what though – as great as the original version is (embedded below), it is only the 2nd best version I’ve ever heard. The best was at the life celebration a few days ago, a sister lamenting the loss of her younger sister singing her heart out. It is a moment I’ll never forget.

Jewel – Picking Up The Pieces

Jewel

In the mid 90’s I’d often buy a CD based on a gut feeling or based on the cover art. It wasn’t an exact science, but in early 1995 I picked up the debut album by Jewel called Pieces Of You. Hipster alert – that was a full 18 months before the album started to become a huge hit. Anyway, at the time Jewel seemed to be marketed to the Lilith Fair alternative crowd which was (and still is) something I quite like. In all honesty, I don’t think the record company had any idea what to do with her. An album full of acoustic songs that hinted at pop but bathed in ultra personal lyrics. I didn’t (and still don’t) think it was a masterpiece, but there are 7 or 8 songs from that record that I’ve played over and over throughout the last 20 years. The tracks played live or cut as b-sides during that era were also very strong, leaving open the possibility of an entire alternate album made up of non album tracks. Sad to say, but I have had a hard time relating to anything else Jewel has released in the same way as that debut album. When I happened to see something promoting her latest record as a sequel of sorts to her debut, I couldn’t help but get a tad excited to give it a spin (or shuffle, as it were). Picking Up The Pieces more than meets the high points of her debut – it just may be the finest record Jewel has released to date.

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Lay Low Moon – One Winter

LayLowMoon

Winters in the Pacific Northwest are a different beast compared to the snowy winters of my youth in Southeast Pennsylvania. The rain lingers, the grey skies seem omnipresent. From mid October until April, the outlook can be a little bleak. For me, I’m counting down the days until the sun returns in fully glory and I can skimboard on Puget Sound and Pacific Ocean beaches again. While I’m dreaming of the sun, I look towards wintry type music, those albums imbued with wistful longing and nostalgia. Boston’s Lay Low Moon fit the bill perfectly.

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Natalie Merchant – Natalie Merchant

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Natalie Merchant straddles multiple genres, never comfortably fitting in any scene. With the 10,000 Maniacs she veered from post-punk / folk to jangle pop. With her solo works she found even wider acceptance with her radio ready, alternative pop sound. Personally, seeing Natalie Merchant in concert in 2001 for the Motherland tour was a highlight among the hundreds of shows I’ve been fortunate to catch. She owned the stage and made her audience feel the depth of the words she was singing so passionately. Motherland was her last record of original material for over a decade – 2003’s The House Carpenter’s Daughter was a covers album, and 2010’s Leave Your Sleep was an album of lullabies dedicated to her daughter. Finally, we have a new album of original material – 13 years after the last album of original material (and that one happens to be my personal favorite solo record from Ms. Merchant). So, how’s the new record stack up? Read on…

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Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine

bill withers

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

You might know Bill Withers from his hit songs Lean on Me and Just the Two of Us (the latter sampled by The Fresh Prince in 1998). Those songs gave the listener a positive vibe, the feeling that everything will be OK. 1971’s hit single Ain’t No Sunshine delivers the exact opposite vibe – depression & hopelessness. The song appears on Withers’ debut album, Just As I Am and was also the b-side to the single Harlem. Disc jockeys preferred Ain’t No Sunshine and played it repeatedly in ’71 and ’72, sending it to #6 on the charts along with over 1 million units sold. The song features the most soul baring vocal performance of all time, the lyrics exploring the depths of the narrator’s despair since his woman left him. Check out these lyrics: “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone / Only darkness every day”. The middle section of the song features Withers’ saying “I know” 26 times in different vocal affectations. He originally had planned on adding in lyrics to that section, but all the musicians loved it the way it was. Musicians on the record? They included Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, CSNY), Donald “Duck” Dunn (Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Neil Young, Elvis Presley, many more), Booker T. Jones (Booker T. & the M.G.’s), Jim Keltner (John Lennon among many others), along with other accomplished session musicians. The band isn’t overbearing or showy – they lock into a groove that never overwhelms Bill Withers’ vocals. This is without a doubt, a perfect song.

Coffee Thoughts – An Interview With Heyward Howkins

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A few months ago, I received a nice surprise in my email – a promo copy of the new Heyward Howkins album, about a year after the debut. An unexpectedly quick follow-up, it quickly became one of my favorite records of the year. I reviewed it right around the release date here, and still have it in my regular rotation. I recently had the chance to catch up with Heyward and we had the chance to talk about music, Philadelphia, and you guessed it…coffee.

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