It seems safe to accept it as a given that Cathy Fink and her musical partner Marcy Marxer didn’t win GRAMMY Awards because they played it safe. Their latest album takes the same non-traditional path with songs that owe more to Pete Seeger than Pete Townsend as played on the once lowly uke.
“In the old days, people used to laugh at us because we played for kids,” said Fink recently about the duo’s untraditional musical path that led to the recent release of the thirteen-track recording Rockin’ the Uke. “Now they are trying to play for kids. And we have been sprinkling uke cuts [throughout our albums and shows] for years.”
More like decades, to be exact. Fink carved out her initial musical niche in her hometown of Baltimore during the height of the folk revival before moving on to Montreal and beyond. Multi-instrumentalist Marxer has played folk, Celtic fingerpicking, bluegrass, old time and swing for years as a studio musician, performer and producer. Perhaps it was something akin to destiny that these two virtuosos would work their way to the uke.
“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.
On the charts, that is.
In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger—and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards—was probably the one that nobody saw coming.
Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records—even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand—are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.
Time and time again, listeners shy away from instrumental music simply because it usually lacks an immediately relatable trait. It doesn’t have the traditional lyrical hooks and memorable vocal lines that popular music is known for and our modern ears are accustomed to. And, while the proficient composition and performance of instrumental music usually requires a certain level of musical skill, listening to it does not. The genre only asks for open ears and an open mind. Now, there are many ways in which we can approach instrumental music—as a pure, unadulterated representation of emotion, as a chance to fuse musical influences without the restrictions of convention, as background music for a film, slideshow or life, and so forth. The beauty of instrumental music is how open it is to interpretation by the listener. Much like in visual art, instrumental artists can channel a message without telling the audience explicitly what they were trying to convey.
“Somehwere” – Jeff Cochell: First off, something familiar to the ears. Rock and folk musicians have flown the instrumental flag for a while now, and this style of acoustic guitar work has been explored by bands all the way from Pearl Jam to your local singer-songwriter playing at a coffee shop’s open mic night.
“Spirit Of India” – Meir Shitrit: Fusing traditional Indian instruments and scales with western songwriting, a style was popularized in the ’60s by pioneers like John Coltrane and George Harrison, this track shouldn’t feel too far away from home.
“Russian Concertino” – Giancarlo Angioni: The beauty of well-performed flamenco is lost on no one. The passion that goes into the playing and the sensual vibe that surrounds it has been captivating listeners for decades.
“Salsalito” – Level 10 Band: Latin jazz always brings rhythmic energy to any playlist. The danceable power of the clave is undeniable, and rightly so; these ensembles usually feature a large rhythm section with multiple percussion players.
“Mediterranean” – Fahir Atakoglu: Atakoglu is a personal favorite here in Press Shuffle. It’s easy to see why: this level of talent and skill isn’t something you come by too often, and we’re not ones to let it slip through unnoticed.
“Snizzle” – Justin Hellman: Small combo jazz is simply timeless. It’s the right music for so many occasions; from rainy day music while you read a book in your favorite living room nook to a night out to a bar with the guys, they’ve got you covered. The versatility of this music is unmatched.
“Temporarily Destabilized” – CHON: Instrumental metal tends to focus on complex songwriting and technical playing, and this is a perfect example of the outcome when those two. Not only do the gentlemen from CHON knock it out of the park with their musicianship, but they do so time after mind-blowing time. Prepare to have your brain melt out your ears.
Have any tunes in particular that you care to share? Disagree with any of the picks? Want a theme in particular to be Shuffled? Let us know by dropping a comment!
Listen to previous Press Shuffle playlists over at 8tracks.com.
EP stands for Extended Play. The word left off at the end is “Single,” as these were originally all about singles with some bonus material. This list, however, is about the EP as an artistic statement unto itself. Like a great short story, the EP can thrill you in a way that a full-length LP (Long Player) can’t; its succinctness and concentrated power leaving you excited and needing more. On this list, the EPs may or may not be based on an album single, as long as it hangs together as its own listening experience.
8. Jim James (as Yim Yames) – Tribute To…
Shortly after George Harrison’s death in 2001, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James went into the studio and cut a handful of George’s songs, selecting several of the best solo and Beatle compositions (drawing heavily from The White Album and All Things Must Pass). The resulting EP was not released until 2009. James is solo here, with acoustic guitar, multitracked voice,\ and a shitload of reverb; the sum of which lends a lonely, timeless air to Harrison’s already mystical songs. The recordings are pretty true to the original arrangements, but James has such a unique style (particularly in this spare environment) that the songs are reinvented. AMG’s Andrew Leahey puts it well: “‘My Sweet Lord,’ once a communal hymn, is stripped of its choral arrangement and turned into a solitary prayer, while The Beatles’ ‘Love You To’ leaves its Indian homeland in favor of the swampy American backwoods.”
7. Mission of Burma – Signals, Calls, and Marches
This EP was originally released (in 1981) with six songs, including the seething “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” then was amended and re-released in 1997 with the anthemic “Academy Fight Song” and “Max Ernst.” Signals, Calls, and Marches is probably the most accessible MoB recording (Roger Miller called it “mild mannered” in comparison with their aggressive live show) and, as such, helped propel into the 80s the gospel of post-punk / underground / college rock / whatever you want to call it (long before “alternative”). Like most of the EPs on this list, it should not be treated by any fans or curious listeners as an afterthought or any less important than their LPs, but instead as an integral part of the Burma catalog.
The EditoriaList is the devious brainchild of one Scott Janovitz, who will use this space to summarize, in convenient list form, the best and worst of whatever occurs to him. Anything related to music, anyway. Janovitz claims to be a Boston-based writer, music producer and award-winning singer and songwriter, but according to the research we can piece together is more likely a petty thief. He is highly opinionated but will begrudgingly listen to those who disagree with him in order to explain to them why they are wrong.
Who in 1987 wasn’t waiting for the Michael J. Fox – Joan Jett big screen pairing? The only question was what the vehicle would be. A rom-com? Sci-fi thriller? A Tango & Cash–esque buddy cop action-comedy? A Back to the Future sequel where Marty meets The Runaways in 1977? To everyone’s surprise, what we got was an unexpectedly gritty family drama, centering on the relationship between brother and sister Joe and Patty (Fox and Jett), who perform together in a struggling E Street-esque bar band called The Barbusters. I have just told you the worst part of the movie. The Barbusters. This blow is softened by the appearance of the great Michael McKean as a band member—one of McKean’s THREE appearances on this list.
Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, wrote and directed this film and in fact commissioned a song by Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen came back with “Born In The U.S.A.” but decided to keep that one for himself. Too bad, it could have been a hit. The Barbusters do a decent job with his alternate effort, the title song “Light of Day.” And, hey, look, Michael J. Fox can sing. This begs the question—what the hell, Robert Zemeckis? The idea it’s Fox’ voice singing “Johnny B. Goode” in Back to the Future is the least credible part of a movie about a time traveling DeLorean that runs on plutonium.
9. 8 Mile (2002)
Everyone said Eminem was basically playing himself in this film about an aspiring rapper from Detroit with a fucked-up mom and few prospects aside from an innate and unique lyrical flow. But it’s a mistake to go into this thinking it’s the Eminem Story. Em and director Curtis Hanson wisely keep Em’s character B-Rabbit sullen and low-key. The rapper is not a great actor, but he plays this one just right, with visibly crippling insecurity and remarkably restrained rage. The cleverness of the impromptu rhymes staged on street corners and at club battles are just short of believable, but (spoiler alert) at the end, when B-Rabbit destroys all comers with Eminem’s signature delivery, disbelief is easily suspended. Eminem won an Oscar for the great lead song “Lose Yourself.”
All great artists require some form of inspiration, a spark that drives their work. Inspiration can be found everywhere and, of course, a lot of guys find their inspiration in girls. Let’s take a look at a few of rock’s most notable muses, the women who inspired the songs we love.
Friday, February 25th marked the unfortunate passing of Suze Rotolo. Even if you aren’t sure who she was, you should probably be thanking her for some of the best music of the 20th century. If you care at all about folk music or Dylan’s early recordings then you’ve almost certainly seen her. Rotolo is the young woman locking arms with Bob Dylan on the iconic cover of The Freewheelin Bob Dylan. Rotolo was not some cover model or even a little fling for the young Dylan, mind you. Dylan describes his initial attraction and infatuation with Rotolo in colorful terms, with Suze leaving “his head spinning” and her reminding the young Dylan of a, “Rodin sculpture come to life… a libertine heroine.”
During their courtship, Rotolo is credited with introducing Dylan to the Civil Rights movement and is cited as the inspiration for classics such as “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. Rotolo and Dylan stayed together for four years before they eventually split, their relationship both passionate and tempestuous. Rotolo rarely talked about her relationship with Dylan after their split. Instead, she focused her energies on Civil Rights, social activism and her own works as an artist for the remainder of her life.
Pattie Boyd is another notable rock muse but she gets extra points for both quality and quantity—Boyd was married to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton for nearly a decade each. Not at the same time, of course. Boyd and Harrison met on the set of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night when Boyd was cast as a schoolgirl fan in March of 1964. By January of 1966 the pair were married. Not unlike Rotolo, Boyd was an influence on the trajectory her beau’s career. It was her interest in Eastern religions that helped motivate the band to meet with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. However, Boyd and Harrison’s courtship was quite rocky; Boyd, a model, reportedly attracted the attentions of John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood before her marriage with Harrison crumbled and they divorced in 1974.
Before their marriage ended, George Harrison befriended Eric Clapton and despite the close association they had with one another, Clapton fell in love with and made many advances towards Boyd during this time. Clapton even famously shacked up with Boyd’s younger sister for a time, allegedly using her as a substitute for Pattie. Eventually Clapton and Boyd would wed in 1979 but their relationship was even more rocky due to Clapton’s infidelity and drug addictions. The couple eventually split in 1989 but it’s worth noting that Boyd stayed close with both of her rock star former husbands after their marriages ended. To top it all off, Boyd can also state that she’s the inspiration for songs by both Harrison and Clapton, most notably “Layla” which is regarded as one of the great rock love songs of all time.