Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Not Your Mama’s Rockers

Bands that explore the definition of rock and roll, breaking down genre and expectation.

Nick Urata, left, lead singer of the gypsy-rock band DeVotchKa

Think of a rock song. Any rock song. I’m going to guess that the song you chose has certain elements. It has at least one guitarist, an electric bassist, a drummer who’s locking down the beat, and a singer with a soulful voice singing about love, lost or won.

And while there’s nothing wrong with that, today we’re going to delve into some bands that incorporate novel instruments and  ideas into their music.

A Young Bob Dylan

One of the first artists to bridge the gap between rock and another genre is someone most Peak listeners know well. I’m talking about Robert Allen Zimmerman a.k.a. Bob Dylan. From the time he dropped out from the University of Minnesota in 1961 until his electric debut in 1965, Bob Dylan played solely folk music, aiming to be a disciple of his idol, folk legend Woody Gurthrie. But as Dylan matured, so did his music, and he began to incorporate more rock themes into his work. The best example of this is definitely his most famous electric song “Like A Rolling Stone”, released in 1965. There’s a very prominent drum track on the song, thanks to Bobby Gregg, especially towards the end of the song, and of course you can’t omit Al Kooper’s impromptu position as session organist. “All Along the Watchtower” (1968) and “Hurricane” off 1971’s Desire are two more songs that feature a great folk/rock sound. To sweeten the deal, here’s an electric version of Dylan’s famous “House of the Rising Sun”:

Now, there’s someone I mistakenly neglected to mention when I was talking about some of my favorite drummers two weeks ago. Who? Billy Cobham, the Panamanian maniac. But what band does he play for? He played with Mahavishnu Orcestra, a jazz-fusion band that took a lot of rhythmic influence from Indian classical music. Take a look at this video, first of all to see how incredibly skilled Cobham is, and secondly to get a glimpse into the diverse nature of their music:

I don’t know why McLaughlin is talking so oddly, because while most of the band was from around the world he came from plain old Yorkshire, England. There’s some rock in there, some funk and a lot of violin, to boot. The Indian influence came from guitarist John McLaughlin’s studies with Indian guru Sri Chinmoy. It was Chinmoy who bestowed McLaughlin with the name “Mahavishnu” which means “divine compassion, power and justice”. Here’s a track that’s a little more accessible, but equally as awe-inspiring:

Nickel Creek, from Left to Right: Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins

Switching gears now, we’re going to tone back the volume just a tad, as we get acquainted with the “progressive acoustic” (read: cool bluegrass) band Nickel Creek. Here’s their “Smoothie Song” performed live – the only one of their songs that to my knowledge has been played on the Peak:

You can already feel the rock vibe in their music. They’ve been getting steadily more progressive since their second to last release, This Side (2002). They’ve even gone so far as to include drums making them the most badass bluegrass band ever. Check out this song from their most recent album Why Should the Fire Die?

Helena

Chris Thile, who sings and was the primary mandolinist for Nickel Creek now carries on the progressive acoustic banner, releasing a fairly rock-oriented album, called deceiver, features this track:

On Ice

But despite all of the variations in rock music that we’ve seen so far, there is one rock genre that really strays from its counterparts – electronic rock. The eighties was championed by both good electronica artists like Depeche Mode and bad ones like Erasure (if you can watch this without smirking, you are a superhero). The nineties saw great bands like Moby and the Chemical Brothers. The torch was held through the aughts by some forward thinking bands like the Flaming Lips, TV on the Radio, and Ratatat.

One artist who deserves a lot of credit for his exquisitely layered songs is Martin Dosh, who by day drums for violin virtuoso Andrew Bird and by night beeps, boops and loops his way to some fantastic music. Here’s a video of him at work in his at home studio:

It’s really incredibly to watch him move from instrument to instrument, adding and removing layers as he goes.

That’s all I wanted to talk about for today, but here are some other of my favorites to whet your appetites so you’ll explore what else is out there:

Roderigo y Gabriela – Two of the most accomplished guitarists I have seen, from Mexico City – mixing insane flamenco rhythms with rock music. They’ve covered Metallica, Led Zeppelin and others. Check out some of their music in “Other Music”.

The Cat Empire – From Melbourne, Australia, these guys have managed to tame reggae and jazz and make them work together in their five piece rock band.

DeVotchKa (Russian for “Young Girl”) – from Denver is probably best known for scoring the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, but they’ve got some great music, adding Romani, Slavic and Greek facets to a solid rock sound.

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens – This artist gets enough weird points for embarking on a series of concept albums about the 50 United States (a project that’s currently on hold). But he’s known to throw some great instruments in his mix, from glockenspiels to horns and lots of strings.

Beat Circus – out of Boston comes this great folk-rock band. They cover such a range of styles that it’s hard to pin point what you’re listening to, but definitely worth a listen.

Owen Pallett – The artist formerly known as Final Fantasy, who I harbor a grudge against for saying in the Times Magazine, “[d]rummers ruin bands”. He goes on to say “If you’re in a mediocre band, just fire the drummer, and chances are you’ll have the best band in the world.” Other than that, he’s a fantastic artist who also uses a lot of strings, being a violinist himself, and writes songs with well thought out and elaborate orchestrations.

Here’s a beautifully complete song called “Tryst With Mephistopheles” off his album, Heartland, which came out this year:

…and if you listen closely to the track you can hear the sound of… are those drums?! It’s surprising how well they complement the song.

OK, that’s really it. Check back next week for what great concerts are happening in New York’s backyard in March.

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD:  MAHAVISHNU

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Reasons to Pay Attention to Canada Besides the Olymipcs

Most of the time, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what our northern neighbor is up to…. until the Olympics, that is. Suddenly I’m seeing more advertisements for whale-watching in the Canadian outback than commercials featuring creepily mature babies talking about their stock options. And for me, that’s a problem. That, and getting whooped by both the British and the Canadians in curling. (Full disclosure: I’m watching curling right now, and the match is not going so well.)

The point I’m trying to slowly meandering towards is that Canada has great music, and the Canadian music scene is something definitely worth paying attention to.

The Band, on a beach near Robertson's house in Malibu in 1975

There are the big names in Canadian music. Perhaps the biggest being The Band, from Toronto, which was four-fifths Canadian, with legends Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson (fun fact: Roberstson just masterminded the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese psychological thriller Shutter Island). The one non-Canadian in the band was “the only drummer that could make you cry” – America’s own Levon Helm.

Also from Toronto was a band I talked about last week, the prog rock gods, Rush. Their last album, Snakes and Arrows, came out in 2007 but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. The Sports Network (TSN), Canada’s ESPN, was looking for a way to add some pizazz to their outdated “The Hockey Theme”, originally composed in 1968. The solution? The theme, which plays before all NHL games on the network, would be re-recorded by Mr. Peart which means many, many drum fills. Oh, so many drum fills. Check it out:

The new theme is set to play for the rest of the season, and hopefully will last longer than a previous tongue in cheek version recorded by the Barenaked Ladies, who also happen to be from Toronto.

Back to music that is actually written by the artists themselves: From Midland, Ontario comes one of my favorite bands, The Born Ruffians. Formed by Luke Lalonde, Mitch Derosier and Steven Hamelin, the band makes some great music that is sparse and erratic yet wonderfully rich. Take a listen to this song, and be warned that it gets a little gory towards the end:

Luke’s unique voice is what sets the band apart from other small-time indie bands, and in terms of classic vocalists he can doo wop with the best of them. In preparation for the release of their upcoming album, Say It, the band will be playing in March at the SXSW music festival but they’ll be stopping by New York before then for two private shows, one at Colgate University and the other at NYU, for the lucky students who attend those schools.

We head back to Montreal for the so-called “trip rock” band, Beast, consisting of just two members: Betty Bonifassi, and Jean-Phi Goncalves. They’ve been growing in popularity because in addition to their main single “Mr. Hurricane” being a free download on iTunes, it was nominated at the Grammys for Best Short Form Video. Despite Bonifassi’s annoying tendency to add unnecessary syllables to words (“me-a”, “safety-a”, “sea-a” etc.), the song’s really fun to listen to thanks to a fantastic drum and bass section and some spiffy production courtesy of Goncalves. And the video has some pretty cool special effects, done at a discount by Joshua Sherrett who worked on 300. But the song is the best part, and if you don’t like bees, don’t watch this:

But no Canadian group has been so prominent in recent years as The Arcade Fire, indie-rock superstars. Husband and wife duo Win Bulter and Régine Chassange have led the band to incredible fame. They have been all over the place: possibly working with Owen Pallett (the indie-violinist who formerly released solo works under the name Final Fantasy) on the soundtrack for Richard Kelley’s (who directed Donnie Darko) upcoming film The Box (incidentally, The Box is also a Canadian new-wave band from the eighties); re-recording their song “Wake Up” for the Where the Wild Things Are trailer; and licensing that same song for this past Superbowl – all the while coming in and out of the studios so they can release their third LP sometime later this year. Wow that was a mouthful.

Some of the members of The Arcade Fire, with Butler and Chassange and their duplicates in the center

For the ardent Arcade Fire fans, here’s something at least I hadn’t heard about until this week: Three other members of The Arcade Fire, Sarah Neufeld, Kelly Pratt and Pietro Amato, play in the six person instrumental band Bell Orchestre. Here’s a sample of what their hauntingly beautiful music sounds like:

I’ll come back to Bell Orchestre and Owen Pallett  as well as the progressive bluegrass band, Nickel Creek, and others next Monday as I take a look at some bands that have been pushing the boundaries of rock and roll.

Well, we lost our match against Britain, effectively dashing our (my – and his) hopes at a curling medal. Canada is 6-0 at the time of this post… I guess they know what the sport is all aboot.

Shoot. I promised myself that I would contain my Canadian accent… but no one’s gonna take it to heart, eh? OKAY, I’ll stop. As long as Canada keeps turning out great tunes, I’ll leave them alone. I can take solace in good music. That, and the fact that we beat them in hockey. USA!

Happy listening,

~Josh

[If I missed your favorite Canadian band, please feel free to let me and the rest of the readers know by leaving a comment down below!]

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PEAK KEYWORD: JINGOISM

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Attack of the Supergroups!

While actress Milla Jovovich may be trying to draw in your attention with talk of extraterrestrial owls and an imminent fear of the fourth kind, there’s a phenomenon that has been slowly gaining momentum in the music world….

Bands and musicians have been switching members and pairing up like Xenon Octa-Flouride (XeF8) would, if it ever is going to be invented (thanks Wikipedia!). In layman’s terms, we’ve been getting a lot of new supergroups, side projects, and collaborations – some that could have been foreseen, and others that seem to have appeared out of nowhere.

The Almanac Singers... singing

The Almanac Singers seen here with Bess Hawes, Arthur Stern and Sis Cunningham

Now, the idea of a supergroup is not a recent innovation by any stretch of the imagination – the supergroup goes all the way back to the Almanac Singers – a combination of Millard Lampell, Lee Hayes, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie that got its start in 1940. From the 60’s until today, we have been given plenty more supergroups, such as in 1969 which brought us both The Plastic Ono Band (which included the likes of Eric Clapton, both George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Alan White – just to name a few) as well as Blind Faith (which also featured Mr. Clapton, but had Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech to boot). 1988 brought us the Traveling Wilburys, which was the tour de force of George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. And although they Wilburys only stuck together for about a year after Orbison’s death, that cosmic aligning is something that has not met it’s match… yet.

monsters-of-folk

The Monsters of Folk

Among the recent crop of supergroups is a group I mentioned last week – The Monsters of Folk, which consists of folk songsters Connor Oberst and  Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes, M. Ward of She & Him, and Jim James from My Morning Jacket. They’ve been associated under the Monsters name since 2004, but have all been so busy with their respective main attractions that they weren’t able to release their self-titled first album until this year. You’ve definitely heard their track “Say Please” on the Peak – and both M. Ward and Connor Oberst gave free concerts in NYC this summer!

Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar

Moving down the line from most folky to least, next up is the recent pairing of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard with Jay Farrar, member of Uncle Tupelo and frontman for Son Volt, the two bands that he played with throughout the 90’s before he launched his solo career in 2001. Gibbard and Farrar first got together in 2007 to record the soundtrack for One Fast Move and I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur. Both the movie and the album came out on October 20th, the day before the 40th anniversary of the prolific author’s death. You can see the music video for “San Fransisco”, the last track on the album, here. And you can expect to see more from them in the future.

Taking a detour into the realm of electronica, at the end of September, Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, slipped this little surprise into his blog:

hi
in the past couple of weeks i’ve been getting a band together for fun to play the eraser stuff live and the new songs etc.. to see if it could work!
here’s a photo.. its me, joey waronker, mauro refosco, flea and nigel godrich.
at the beginning of october the 4th and 5th we are going to do a couple of shows at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles.
we don’t really have a name and the set will not be very long cuz ..well …we haven’t got that much material yet!
Thom Yorke and Flea at the Oprheum show on Oct. 5

Thom Yorke and Flea

Of course, those shows were sold out in 20 minutes. Flea, as you know, is the Red Hot Chili Peppers Bassist – and he seemed to be ecstatic to be on stage with Yorke, playing cuts from Yorke’s solo album The Eraser (2006). There hasn’t been a follow-up to the October concerts, but that’s something you should keep an eye out for as well.

Jack White and Alison Mosshart sharing the mike at Glastonbury this year

Next up come two really driving groups. First is The Dead Weather, whose song “Hang You Up From the Heavens” I featured in my first week of blog-writing. The Dead Weather was formed by Jack White who’s been extremely active – leaping from the White Stripes, to the Raconteurs, to the recent release of “It Might Get Loud” – a documentary featuring White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page. The band also features Alison Mosshart of the Kills on lead vocals, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Jack Lawrence, who played with White in the Raconteurs. And to sweeten the deal, they just announced a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on November 17th! Tickets for that are going on Sale this friday, so get ’em quick.

them-crooked-vultures

The "Them Crooked Vultures" teaser photo from earlier this fall

And finally, we come to Them Crooked Vultures, or TCV as they call themselves. TCV is big news. On drums is Dave Grohl, from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. On vocals and guitar is Josh Homme, from the Queens of the Stone Age. The kicker is that John Paul Jones comes soaring in on bass. They’ve got a really great sound, full and rocking, but what remains to be seen is whether TCV will be able to stay afloat once their star power has worn off. Their self-titled first record is due out on Sony in a week, which should be an insta-grab for all hard rock fans. But for now, check out the full album on the band’s website!

So, I apologize about all the name dropping – it’s not something I routinely do. If you think a supergroup has been left out, please let me know. Or if you feel the need to justify the Tinted Windows‘ existence, by all means, please try. But if you do, I’ll kindly remind you that their lead singer is from Hanson, and we’ll go our separate ways. Wikipedia to the rescue once again!

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Peak Keyword: MMBOP

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