Music Blog

The Last Waltz and Music Documentaries

Levon Helm

The recent death of The Band's Levon Helm brought back fond memories of watching The Last Waltz. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film documents The Band's final show in 1976 at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom and is considered one of the best concert films ever produced.

Listening recently to his 2007 Fresh Air interview, I learned that Helm wasn't very keen on having a big farewell but went along with it. The concert featured all the major players in the folk, country, and rock scenes of the time including Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison (in a very memorable bedazzled maroon leisure suit giving a passionate rendition of Caravan complete with high kicks).

Nathen Maxwell and the Original Bunny Gang

Cover of the album White Rabbit

Did you know that Nathen Maxwell, also of the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, simultaneously leads this phenomenal reggae group?

Maxwell, evidently a jack of all trades, plays bass in Flogging Molly, but in the Bunny Gang surprises and delights in a different niche as guitarist, melodica player, and vocalist. Meanwhile, his dad, the artist known as maxwellvision [sic], plays drums and percussion, Michael Peralta takes the bass, and Nat Nelson is on guitar and vocals. With this humble arrangement, they manage to create a deep grooving smoothness of sound that's tough to surpass. This is music to dance to at its finest.

The Dance Lane Is Open

Don Cornelius, creator & host of Soul Train

Don Cornelius and Dick Clark had us learning new dance moves beyond shake, rattle and roll.

Soul Train and American Bandstand set styles, pop culture trends, and introduced new artists to teens of all ages! I owe my  f-i-n-e dance skills to Soul Train while my neighbor says he collected 45s for artists appearing on American Bandstand. My friend Nancy remembered Madonna's performance on Clark's show, one of her first television appearances.

Here are a few of my favorite performers appearing on Soul Train:

Volcanos, Elves, and Bjork

Iceland landscape

Beginning May 11th, Icelandair will be offering direct flights from DIA to Iceland's capital, Reykjavík.  A paltry 8 hour flight will get you to this geothermal wonderland where 10% of the population believes in the existence of elves* and phone directories are organized by first names.

While you can always pick up a travel guide, it can be much more interesting and engaging to do some primary source research when visiting a foreign culture.  Whether you are seriously considering a trip to Iceland or just curious about their cultural exports, get started with these items from the library:

Music

Paganini of the Banjo: Remembering Earl Scruggs

Earl Scruggs

This week, bluegrass legend and musical innovator, Earl Scruggs passed away in Nashville at the age of 88.

Scruggs revolutionized string bands and bluegrass music by developing the three-finger banjo picking style and launching the instrument past its traditional use in comedy acts into a prominent musical role. Growing up in the infamous Piedmont region of North Carolina, he supposed started playing banjo at age four and started working on his signature three-finger rolls by age 10.

A Galactic St. Patty's Day

Galactic: Photo by Greg Aiello

This coming Saint Patrick's Day, some may be celebrating the chasing of snakes out of Ireland or simply Irish heritage with some lively fiddle music and colcannon, but if, like many, you're just looking for a big party, head to the Ogden to see New Orleans funk band Galactic.

When I saw Galactic live, I had never heard of them before, and tagged along at the end of an already full day thinking it would be a nice, relaxing evening of New Orleans jazz. I mistakenly thought the opening band was Galactic. Then the real deal came out and the Fillmore filled up to the brim. Sandwiched tightly in the crush of the wild crowd right in front of the stage, I soon learned that Galactic shows are nothing to fool around with.

Turn up the (upright) bass

Avishai Cohen - photo copyright Petra Cvelbar, Jazz Festival Ljubljana, 2009

From old jazz classics to modern marvels of musical fusion, the upright bass enriches the sound that reaches your ears. Bass makes up part of the backbone of an ensemble, along with the drums, but it's capable of so much more as a solo instrument. I love music in which the upright bass, with its unique and velvety resonance, pops out and takes center stage.

The story starts with the classics. Charles Mingus (1922-1979), the old school king of walking bass, played upbeat, funky jazz grooves at a pace that could only have been achieved by a master. His music can still make the drive home in heavy traffic somehow enjoyable, as if those busily bustling rhythms somehow match life in the big city and make it better.

OpenAir - Sample New and Old Music with a bit of Colorado Flavor

Radio image

NEW RADIO STATION??

There’s a new radio station in town, commercial-free and it came in without much fanfare. New since Oct. 31 and part of the Colorado Public Radio (CPR) family, it’s called OpenAir on 1340 AM.

The focus for this new station is new Indie Rock. In the email I received recently CPR said: “Explore new music and new possibilities on OpenAir.” They go on to say that “OpenAir will provide a comprehensive music experience focusing on new and recent music of the past 15 years with a Colorado perspective.”

SBTRKT the mask and you still have the smooth...

SBTRKT album cover

It's pronounced "Subtract" but this Batman of the UK dance scene is making additions to his resume this year...

Up until now, DJs and beat lovers mostly knew this south London producer for some high-profile remixes of the likes of M.I.A., Basement Jaxx and Underworld, but this year the man behind the mask drops his full-length self-titled album "SBTRKT", and it is a smooth journey across genres which definitely brings him into the spotlight.

It's List Season!

My Morning Jacket Circuital album cover

It's List Season! Best-of lists are popping up everywhere, and music lists are my favorite of the best-of lists. Here are some lists and their top choices of 2011. Several of the lists below have Bon Iver and Adele in their top three, but there is some variety in the picks.

Topping Stereogum's list is Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls, followed by Drake's Take Care and the eponymous Bon Iver.

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