LxListening: Odds and Ends Pt. 3

LxListening: Odds and Ends

As we finish up the first week of the last month of 2013, we are getting close to shifting to year end lists, and all that was 2013 in music (and a few other areas). For now, I will release one last list that is not related to best-of-2013 lists, and just give five classic tracks I have more or less discovered recently. I have previously done odds and ends playlists here and here.
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Mo’ Meta Blues Review

Mo’ Meta Blues

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman

Mo' Meta Blues Book Review

One of the most admirable acts of the last 20 years has to be the Roots, a hip hop band that is really the last of its kind remaining, that sticks true to its convictions even though they now have a cushy gig on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Arguably the brains behind the operation, drummer and producer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, not only has piloted the group to gradual greater and greater successes, but has taken on a variety of other notable projects over the years, from producing D’Angelo’s modern touchstones like Voodoo and Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Pt. 1 and 2 to musical director on the Chappelle Show. Questlove’s new memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues, is a refreshingly creative memoir that not only gives great insight into who Questlove is but also tells numerous insider stories that are fascinating and humorous.
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Elvis Costello & The Roots Review: Wise Up Ghost

Elvis Costello and The Roots
Wise Up Ghost
Elvis Costello and The Roots, wise up ghost, Album Cover

Last year we all fell in love with the collaboration efforts of an old legend and a young genius, when David Byrne teamed up with St. Vincent to release Love This Giant. It was one of the better collaboration albums in recent years, and one my favorites of 2012. This year, we are gifted another equally jarring, but equally great combo with the release of Wise Up Ghost, a collaboration between Elvis Costello and The Roots. This is a collaboration that I don’t think many people would have ever predicted would happen, but one that is easy to fall in love with. After meeting each other on the set of Jimmy Fallon, the beloved legend and the hip hopsters from Philly decided to embark on a series of recording sessions, that after a full year of efforts will be released tomorrow. And if you knew what was good for your ears, mind and soul, you would not hesitate to acquire a copy.
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Jim James Review: Regions of Light and Sound of God

Jim James

Regions of Light and Sound of God

Jim James Regions of Light and Sound of God album cover art

Louisville native Jim James has made a name for himself by heading one of the best bands going today in chameleon Southern rockers My Morning Jacket, but that isn’t so say that’s all James has done. James has made himself known throughout the musical landscape, from singing and playing on records for Bright Eyes, Dr. Dog, Laura Veirs, and Preservation Jazz Hall Band, shacking up in supergroups with Conor Oberst and M. Ward for Monsters of Folk and Jay Farrar and others for a Woodie Guthrie project known as New Multitudes, and notoriously showing up as a guest seemingly everywhere, playing with a diverse range of acts from Erykah Badu to the late great Levon Helm. Not only has James made an imprint in music, but he has also made notable appearances in Elizabethtown and I’m Not There. So it’s a bit surprising that it has taken him this long to release a proper full-length solo album, but the wait is over with Regions of Light and Sound of God. The results are mostly positive, with James doing a very different type of record than he is known for with My Morning Jacket; a sweet, restrained, and spiritual 40 minutes of music that doesn’t hit you over the head, but gently ships you off to outer space.

The story behind Regions of Light and Sound of God has already become a bit of folklore, with the album being inspired by a period of time following a freak stage accident James suffered. James ended up in the hospital and was handed a copy of Lynd Ward’s 1929 wordless novel-in-woodcuts, God’s Man. God’s Man is about a young man who seeks redemption while struggling with personal demons, and then figures things out to only have death sneak up on him. Through the book and this time, James reconciled these weighty themes of love, mercy, suffering, art, and death in his life and has now used Regions of Light and Sound of God as a sort of pronounced meditation on these subjects. Often when artists tackle such themes they get a little ambiguous and messy, but for the most part, James shows a surprising amount o restraint to make a quiet and searching album that is still signature quirky James.

In terms of music, James plays every instrument on the record beside some of the orchestral arrangements, and covers a wide array of music genres but stays within a unified record sound. “A.E.I.O.U. (State of the Art)” builds around a serene jazz piano line and the stillness of James’ voice before slowly picking up steam to form one of Regions’ best tracks. The spacey shuffle of “Know Till Now” sounds like a disco taking place only in James’ mind or on a rocketship to the moon, but still sounds romantic even if it’s a bit dazed out. “Dear One” follows a pattern of My Morning Jacket tracks “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 1” and “Day Is Coming”: elementary, hypnotic pop songs that build off one mid-tempo yet entrancing melody. Second single “A New Life” is as good as Regions gets, with James doing his best hiccupy Buddy Holly impression singing a sweet and innocent love song about starting anew. It’s a not-so-distant cousin to classic love song Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”, and sounds instantly just as classic.

Not only are all the lyrics spiritual in nature, but the music itself lays steeped in sounds from the otherside. One of James’ biggest musical heroes is my favorite Beatle, George Harrison (James even has a Harrison tribute EP called Tribute To), who was also famous for spiritually searching music, pulling influence from Ravi Shankar and Hindustani classical music, gospel music, and folk spirituals. James does much the same here, pulling New Age sounds for “Of The Mother Again”, Middle-Eastern sounds on “All Is Forgiven”, soul and gospel on “Actress”, and airy meditative folk on “God’s Love To Deliver”.  While across the board spiritually, the album doesn’t feel jumbled or messy but rather wholly cathartic.

Probably my biggest issue with Regions of Light and Sound of God is not the concept or overall sound of the record, but rather the songs themselves. Every My Morning Jacket record usually delivers at least 3-4 gripping and instantly epic songs that I will play for years, and outside “A New Life” and maybe “A.E.I.O.U. (State of the Art)”, the songs are pleasant and moving but not stuff I feel like continually retreating back to. James is usually not one for restraint, and he uses it here which I think helped with dealing with huge themes, but I think it also removed some of his oddball personality which is one of the most endearing features to James’ music.

Regions of Light and Sound of God is definitely worth a listen, but isn’t guaranteed to warrant repeated listens the way much of James’ other work does.


Can’t Miss: “A.E.I.O.U. (State of the Art)”, “A New Life”, “Know Till Now”

Can’t Hit: “Exploding”, “Actress”

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LxListening: The Win from the Willow

Willow Smith, Radiohead, samples, sampling

Last week brought about one of the more peculiar, but interesting pairings I have heard in terms of artist sampling. 12 year old Willow Smith (famous for her 2010 single “Whip My Hair” and also for being the daughter of the GREATEST actor alive, Will Smith) dropped her new single which samples Radiohead’s bleak but beautiful tune “Codex”, from their King of Limbs album. That’s right; Willow shocked everyone, from her tween fans to Radiohead geeks far and wide, with her song, “Sugar and Spice”. The kicker is, it is actually not a bad song! Musically, it is just “Codex” in its entirety. Lyrically, it’s a surprisingly long and very emotional song written by a 12 year old. Willow went from having one of the biggest pop singles in the world, drawing in a fan base of millions of tweens by being bouncy, loud, and hilarious, to dropping a melancholic introspective of an emotionally wrecked teenager set to the music of a band unknown to most kids her age. This is not only an incredibly ballsy move, but at its core value, a brilliant song for a young girl to put together.

Despite what the trolls of YouTube may say, this is not a “travesty” or a “misuse of Radiohead”; rather a young girl who was inspired by a great band and released a raw and poignant song about her struggles. You may not agree with this statement, but if more people in the music industry took chances like Willow has, the industry might be worth a bit more of a damn these days. But I digress; I was inspired to listen to many other Radiohead samples this week, in search of what makes these samples more socially acceptable than Willow’s. The answer? Nothing, really. It’s merely the fact that she is only 12, which apparently makes her inexperienced and unqualified to turn an existing song into her own original piece of art, which everyone else is doing these days. I could talk about this forever, but I will just list what I have been listening to lately … a bunch of songs that sample Radiohead, including Willow’s.

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LxL Fest: 3 Days, 33 Acts, 1 Stage

lxl fest, little by listen festival, music festival, lineup
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Final Thoughts: Bonnaroo 2012

To finalize our week de la Bonnaroo, we give you our final breakdown of the festival written by the third member of our 2012 Roo-Crew and very good friend Riley Johnson. This was Riley’s second year at Bonnaroo and is a great addition to the group, even if I did get him sick halfway through the weekend. So here you have it, our final installment and our most expansive breakdown yet, summarizing everything we saw. Enjoy:

Bonnaroo crowd entrance bands lineup
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