You might know Rhiannon Giddems from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their 2010 album Genuine Negro Jig made a big splash with a fiddle-banjo-beatbox cover of “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”
Giddens has been plenty busy since then, releasing two more Chocolate Drops albums, some solo stuff, and a bunch of collaborations. And now she’s teamed up with Sicilian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi and recorded a new album in Dublin.
She recently told the Irish Times, “The way that both of us approach music is very similar because we’re both very educated about where the music is coming from. But when it comes to playing, we’re both just playing what we feel. […] The banjo is my chosen instrument, it’s what I write my music on. I play a replica of a banjo from the 1950s. It was the first commercial-style banjo in the United States so it’s the first one that white people played. Before that there would have been many years of black folks playing home-made plantation instruments: they would have been using gourds as banjos, and then it changed to the hoop and the skin stretched over that, and from then on that’s what all banjos looked like. Mine’s fretless, so it’s a kind of a bridge from the pure black instrument that it used to be to what’s become now – seen as a totally white instrument even though that transition was a lot more grey. There were a lot of black people who played the banjo for a long time into the late ’50s.”
It’s cool to hear how they are combining different backgrounds and instruments and it still comes together sounding like deeply American, spiritual music.
I’ll admit I didn’t want to like this song. I’m still kind of mad at Mr. Batmanglij for quitting Vampire Weekend. I totally realize how juvenile that sounds, but what can you do? Gotta feel your feelings, right? So I was fully prepared to dismiss this out of hand, but I’m a sucker for street views of Paris and this video features our hero riding around La Ville-Lumière (plus Berlin and Copenhagen), so I gave it a chance.
Rostam’s voice comes off as a little too twee at first, but it grows on you and the fact that it sounds like he’s smiling while he sings is ultimately charming.
He told NPR, “The melody and lyrics for this song were originally written over completely different music. At some point I realized it was nearly in the same key as another beat I was working on that had a kind of T-Rex vibe to it. I put them together, and the song came out of marrying those two things. Though I played piano and electric guitar for the song, I used my playing to create measures of music that I could loop and layer with the sound of vinyl crackling. The idea was to reverse engineer the sound you get from sampling an old recording and building new music out of that. […] I don’t want to explain too much about this song lyrically, but I will say it’s about wanting the person you’re with to be two different people, maybe two different kinds of people.”
Two boys, one to kiss your neck
And one to bring you breakfast
Get you out of bed when
You’re sore from the night before
Rostam has also pointed out that “the two boys in the chorus aren’t actually two boys, but two versions of the same person. […] the boyfriend that’s not cool with himself vs the boyfriend that is.”
From Salutations, out now on Nonesuch. We already covered the fact that Oberst’s latest is the full-band version of his previous release. Carrying on…
This video is touching and effective, the story of a little boy trying to follow his dreams after the world lets him down. Directed by Cris Gris who goes for an almost “Stand By Me” vibe with three brothers and their single mom going about their lives, bowling, biking, and stowing away in the back of a pickup to go see Conor Oberst in concert.
When Oberst wrote and recorded the songs on Ruminations, entirely solo—with just voice, piano, guitar and harmonica—he intended to ultimately record them with a full band. In the midst of putting together that band, the passionate responses Oberst was getting to those first solo recordings, from friends and colleagues, encouraged him to release the songs as-is, in their original sparse form, as his seventh solo album: Ruminations, which was released in October 2016. Meanwhile, Oberst simultaneously moved ahead with his plans to record with the band. Salutations includes full-band versions of the ten songs from Ruminations, plus seven additional songs.
So that’s kinda weird, right? Feels like a rip-off. Like maybe they should’ve just held on to the ten demos on Ruminations and included them as a bonus disc with Salutations. Who does Oberst think he is, Ryan Adams?
Then again, who cares anyway since nobody buys music anymore, and we can just stream them together or separately or not at all. The concept of the “album” as a cohesive piece of work is probably antiquated and anachronistic (and rockist!) at this point. Or maybe not. The only scarcity left in the music marketplace is people’s attention, and I’d rather not spend mine on demo collections when your ultimate intention is to put out a full-band album. But that’s just me.
I first read about the new Dr. John record in Rolling Stone a few months back. I’ve always been a fan of Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John), so I was intrigued. Rebennack has been on the scene since the late 60s, and with over 20 albums under his belt his influence is widespread.
With Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys producing, I knew it was going to be interesting. Then NPR Music streamed the first single from the album, “Bigshot”. Rolling Stone streamed “Revolution” soon after. Both these songs opened my ears to what an Auerbach/Rebennack pairing could produce. All of this got me pretty excited about the album.
Fortune had it that my copy arrived at lunch on a sunny, early spring afternoon. I took it for a spin in the car, listening to the first half of the record on my way back to the office. It was swampy, funky, and gritty, and it rocked. It’s the most rock and roll album I’ve heard from Dr. John. Auerbach’s music nerd sensibility combined with Dr. John’s New Orleans gumbo makes for an amazing listen.
You can get a sense of why by checking out the promo video for the album, “Dr. John – Locked Down [Teaser].” It shows Rebennack in the studio, working with Auerbach and the rest of the band at the heart of Locked Down – another guitar player, Ben Olive, plus a drummer and a bass player. Just a small, tight band working closely together in a small studio environment. Bringing a brilliant batch of Dr. John songs to life in a way that I haven’t heard before.
I don’t think the rock and roll edge to the record would be there if Dan Auerbach didn’t produce the record, and if he didn’t have Rebennack’s complete trust. It’s an example of how a great producer can really help pull great musical ideas out of the artist and present the artist’s work in a fresh and vital way.
Rebennack is playing vintage equipment throughout – real, old school electric pianos and organs. You can hear an electric piano power “Getaway”, a big rocker with a huge guitar solo in the middle of the album. “Kingdom of Izzness” has a Farfisa combo organ. The band steps through a range of other genres, too. “Ice Age” starts with an Afrobeat guitar riff, and keeps the theme going through the song. “Eleggua” is straight up Funkadelic-style funk with a hint of that voodoo flair you hear in early Dr. John material. “God’s Sure Good” is a big, joyous gospel tune that ends the album, a sort of thank you from Dr. John for the good fortune he has had as a musician and songwriter.
So when I first started reviewing albums for Glorious Noise, I asked myself, what would constitute a perfect rating of five out of five stars for a record? I decided that the first criteria for me would be that each song on the album must be good, meaning that it could stand up under repeated listening and still remain enjoyable. And some of them would have to be great – songs that somehow just got better after repeated listenings, and beg to be played loudly. The second criteria is that the album has to retain that luster over time. If it’s five star worthy, it can’t sound dated in five years.
Which means any brand new album isn’t going to attain five star status from me upon initial release. But Locked Down does meet the first criterion. All the songs are good, and a whole bunch of them are great. I can’t say if it will stand the test of time and move from four to five, but I can say this: Locked Down will be getting a lot of airplay in my car and at my barbecues this summer. I think you’ll like it.
I’ve always considered The Magnetic Fields somewhere halfway between The Cure and Belle and Sebastian. After all, Stephen Merritt has made a pretty successful career out of balancing pristine low-fidelity pop and folk songs with cut electronic loops, forming albums not distinctly pointed towards digital or analog, but using the most beautiful elements of both genres to create music more timeless then most material pointed specifically in one direction or the other.
i, his latest album, has abandoned the breezy qualities of his previous work for a more polished hi-fi sound that almost entirely rids itself of any semblance of the electronic pieces that gave his other albums their flavor. The results are mixed and sometimes downright boring—with nothing to spice up his arrangements, some of Merritt’s songs resemble a blank-faced reflection in the mirror. His ear for melody and arrangement—still evident here—saves the album from being entirely useless, but unfortunately isn’t enough on its own to hold i up to the standards we’ve previously held Merritt to.
That his latest album is mired in gimmick (like his previous, 69 Love Songs—every song on his latest begins with the titular letter) doesn’t make things easier to swallow, and that he focuses on the most egocentric letter in the alphabet (“I Wish I Had an Evil Twin,” “I Die”) might lead the listener into, simply, not giving a shit after a while. Merritt claims that he hasn’t run out of gas, that the more standard sound on his latest was truly his inspiration. Well, to steal the title from one of the tracks found here, “I Don’t Believe You.”