The Brilliance of the Blues Brothers…

Cover of Briefcase Full of Blues

The other day I was driving and heard “Soul Man” by the Blues Brothers on the radio.  Now, I have heard this song, both the Blues Brothers version and Sam and Dave’s original, about a hundred times in my life, but for some reason this time it sparked a different feeling in me.  Idon’t know, maybe it’s middle age setting in.  Nah, can’t be that.  I still feel and act as though I’m 16.

Anyway, as I was listening to the song I hearkened back to the first time I saw and heard the Blues Brothers on Saturday Night Live in 1978.  I was all of 11 years old at the time.  You may be asking, what the hell was an 11 year old doing up at midnight?  Well, my parents were only 29 and 30 years old at the time.  So you know, they were pretty cool in that regard.  But I digress.  Back to my first viewing of the Blues Brothers.  I remember my first reaction was laughter.  Seeing John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd’s spastic dance routine as the band whipped into “Soul Man” had me giggling, but the music was what hit me.

Now, I should preface this by saying that my parents were very much into rock ‘n roll music.  I grew up listening to the Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Sly, Jimi, etc.  And my dad loved the old R&B, Stax Records, Motown stuff.  But like I said, I was 11 at the time.  My favorite bands were Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Devo, The Cars, you know more contemporary stuff at the time.  And I liked the Stones, Beatles, and Zep.  But it was the Blues Brothers that REALLY turned me on to rhythm and blues.

And THAT’S what I mean when I say THE BRILLIANCE of the blues brothers.  Because behind the comedic element of Belushi and Ackroyd was a deep, deep knowledge and appreciation of the music.  And sure Dan Ackroyd’s gyrations on the stage appealed to my 11 year old comedic sensibilities, but again, it was the music that really got me.  From the intro of  Otis Redding’s “ICan’t Turn You Loose” to Delbert Mclinton’s “B Movie Box Car Blues” and the goofy, Ackroyd rendition of “Rubber Biscuit”  Breifcase Full of Blues was and still is a high energy traipse through the history of 1950’s and 60’s rhythm and blues.

Much like the British invasion of the early to mid ’60’s introduced a new generation of music listeners to American blues, the Blues Brothers introduced my generation (Generation X) to the likes of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Junior Wells.  And the Blues Brother did authentically by employing the likes of Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Steve Cropper, Lou Marini, and Tom Scott, the VERY guys who appeared on these songs in their original incarnations.

So, in addition to my parents, I owe a debt of gratitude to Jake and Elwood Blues for opening my musical horizons.

If you’ve never heard the album in it’s entirety do yourself a favor.  Dedicate an hour or so of your life and just sit and listen to it.  And if you have heard it, listen to it again.  It’s a masterfully performed work of art.  And you’ll get some laughs as well.

Proving once again that we do more than just show you the best deals in the Phoenix real estate market; we show you how to get the most out of living in Arizona, and try to help you get the most out of what you are listening to.

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October 1969: The Beatles’ Abbey Road Hits #1 on the UK Chart

41 Years ago this week, Abbey Road hit number 1 on the UK charts, and although released prior to the Let it Be album, it would be, technically, the Beatles last studio recordings released.  What is really amazing about the album is that, though the band wasn’t really functioning as a band at that point, they put many of their differences behind them, and in a number of ways, used to the album to make light of those differences. 

The album cover itself fueled speculation that there was truth to the “Paul is dead” rumor that gained some traction around the time the album was released.  Perhaps this is a topic for another post, but briefly, John Lennon’s white suit was said to symbolize a clergyman; Ringo Starr’s black suit, an undertaker; George Harrison’s blue jeans and denim shirt, a grave-digger; and the fact that Paul McCartney is walking out of step with the band and has no shoes all ‘proved’ the rumor to be true.  However you take the album cover, it is an iconic image in the world of pop and rock music.

In the UK, the album debuted at number 1 and spent 11 consecutive weeks there, and then was bumped for 1 week by The Rolling Stones’ Let it Bleed album before returning to number 1 for 6 more weeks.  In all it spent nearly 2 years in the UK top 75 and then reached number 30 when the album was released on CD in 1987.

The album is essentially divided into 2 sections–side A being a selection of singles, and side B being comprised of shorter incomplete compositions woven together into a longer musical suite.  Although most of the album was recorded in only about a month’s worth of time, it remains timeless in its appeal.

Various publications throughout the years have placed it on their ‘top’ lists in various slots, it is generally viewed as one of the top 20 albums of all time (I would put it in the top 10).  Like many albums or concerts I’ve recomended to folks over the years, this is one of those pieces of music that deserves your time, and deserves to be listened to in one sitting.  If you don’t own the album, get it–it’s one of those albums that is extremely approachable for those of you who might be less familiar with The Beatles–it is most definitely an album you’ll cherish.

Proving once again that we do more than just show you the best deals in the Phoenix real estate market; we show you how to get the most out of living in Arizona, and try to help you get the most out of what you are listening to.

Album Spotlight of the Week: The Steps

 The Steps

I’ve been listening to this album now for about the last 2 months and simply haven’t had an opportunity to review it, so here goes…finally.

We were asked to take a listen to this one by Ryan Cano, owner of The Loyalty Firm, and since it’s hard for us to turn down free music, how could we resist? …especially when he keeps sending us music like this (thanks Ryan, and keep it coming).

The Steps self-titled debut album sounds like less of a debut and more of an encore.  The songs definitely have a pop-friendly sound without sacrificing either substance or form.  They seem to work from a fairly standard song structure, but overlay some interesting chord changes and progressions that help twist this structure into something that makes them difficult to classify.  There is an edge to their music that is genuine rather than manufactured, and in an age where it has become increasingly difficult to tell whether a band REALLY looks or sounds the way they do, or if they’ve been told they should look and sound that way by some focus group, it is nice to see and hear the real thing.

Rather than just run through the album song by song, I’ll just say that there is plenty here for everyone.  There are lots of different sounds and influences that have been twisted and turned into something that is both current and relevant, and ultimately, something that I would recommend listening to.  It is easy to tell that their touring in Japan and the U.K. have helped to hone them into a very tight bunch in the studio, and that’s important to me –  anyone can sound great in the studio, but if you haven’t been tested on the road, you are just a one-dimensional studio band.  The recording quality, something I’m especially critical of, is also crisp and well-produced with plenty of punch, and it sounds great in the car. 

Enough talk, if you are interested in listening to the album go to The Steps MySpace page, or you can buy it on iTunes.  Give ’em a listen, or go check them out live – when you are on their page, check out their tour schedule.  They sound great in the studio, but I can tell you that I for one will go see them live the next time they’re in town.

Proving once again that we are the guys who talk about more than just Phoenix real estate; we talk about the things we enjoy and the things we have a passion for, and we hope that, at the very least, you can see that.  We invite you to comment or to suggest other topics about which we have perhaps not yet spoken.  Thanks again for listening

Album Spotlight of the Week: Loaded

1970’s “Loaded” by The Velvet Underground represents some firsts and some lasts as it pertains to the band, but the things that give it permanence, those things that I talk about all of the time when it comes to an album, are the things that I would like to focus on. 

“Loaded” was Lou Reed’s last album with VU, and it was the most commercially viable album they had produced and, in fact, by the time it hit the record stores, Reed had already left the band.  It is likely that the circumstances that lead to Reed’s departure may be what make this an album so charged with emotion.

This album works because, rather than being linear and tangentral in its approach, it moves easily between styles and moods and creates such a well-rounded and satisfying album experience.  This one listens like a good story reads with a definite beginning and end and complete with some twists and turns in the middle.

I also appreciate Reed’s approach to the actual writing of the songs as well, and know from my own studies how much his work resembles and mirrors that of the 20th century Modernist poets such as e. e. cummings and William Carlos Williams among others.  Their approach to poetry was to cast-off the old Victorian abstract concepts such as love and replace them with concrete images, often in their less-than-ideal forms.  Their argument was that abstract concepts come loaded with un-conveyable notions that only the writer is privy to and that, by providing concrete or  “crunchy” images, it would allow the reader to have his or her own experience without trying to relive someone else’s or to attempt to see it through their eyes.  For a good, textbook example of 20th century Modernist Imagism, read Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”, or my personal favorite, William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”.

How do go from the 20th century Moderns to Lou Reed and, more importantly “Loaded”?  Well, Reed similarly was working to break out of the conventional pop-music mold to create something concrete, raw and different, but for me, the real acheivement was that he was able to accomplish what he wanted while still working to create something approachable – It is the difference between being on the cutting edge and going over it altogether.

It is this simple, raw set of recordings that has influenced many musicians through the years and arguably sewed the seeds of punk music in the 70’s and 80’s and the alternative scene that developed afterward.  It represented a departure from contemporary recordings and showed a clear shift not only in its approach to the music but to the subject itself.

“Loaded” is many things, but it is certainly not a recording that you listen to once and put back on the shelf – it is a recording that has much to offer and one that gets better every time you listen to it.  If you don’t have it, get it, and keep it in the rotation.  Enjoy.

Proving once again that we do more than just show you the best deals in the Phoenix real estate market; we show you how to get the most out of living in Arizona, and try to help you get the most out of what you are listening to.

Album Spotlight of the Week: Wild Streaks and Windy Days

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Sometimes there are things that you are asked to do that, initially you think are a great idea, and then you realize that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.  The task of reviewing Wild Streaks and Windy Days by The Boxing Lesson was one of those such situations.  I’ve resolved myself to go through with this, but in order for it to work you’ll have to understand that I’ll be reviewing this album as a listener – a fan of music – and not as a critic.

Where do I start?  Well, very generally, Wild Streaks and Windy Days is not an album that can be reviewed in one or two listens, and that means something to me.  There is a complexity to this album that is derived through the intricate layering of the music, and though there is so much going on, there is a spaciousness to the music.  I’ve often said that, for me, good music is much like a room and the instruments should be like the furniture in the room – able to stand-up on their own and able to be appreciated singularly; this album passes that important test.

The Boxing Lesson has also achieved something that many bands fail miserably at, and that is to provide an approachable album.  What they DON’T do here is make an album that trades essential musical qualities for artistic expression.  I think that over the last decade or so, the word ‘pop’ as it relates to music has developed a bad connotation because so much of what pop music has come to mean involves a sound that is artificial in either its sentiment or its production.  WS&WD is authentic, well-arranged, and technically well-crafted and it certainly doesn’t sound like it’s been put together by judges on a reality show.

One of the other ways this album works is that it is able to juxtapose light and dark, slow and fast, major and minor in a way that even the classical Greeks understood created a universal tension and release – a complicating action followed by a resolution that manages to cast aside the meaninglessness of the last decade of pop music and replace it with something that is both difficult and rewarding.

For me, highlights include the frenetic Brighter and its segue into the haunting undulation of Lower.  Hanging With The Wrong Crowd rocks and the energy feels more like a live setting – something that I’m much more accustomed to.  The introspective Muerta and Scoundrel combination are followed by the driving Freedom which picks you back up again and tells you that there is more in store.  Wild Streaks and Windy Days (the song) stretches out and pulls all of the elements together and resolves this album nicely.

The Boxing Lesson scores high marks here with Wild Streaks and Windy Days and though I might not understand all of it, I can’t help but marvel at the beauty and the texture of these musical tapestries that they create.  There’s a mystery to the music that keeps the listener on his or her toes and keeps you from thinking you’ve got it all figured out.  I’ll continue to listen to this one on my own and would suggest that you go out and listen to it too.

If you are interested in learning about The Boxing Lesson and finding out when they might be in your town, visit their MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/theboxinglesson or you can check them out on Wikipedia.  If you are interested in purchasing the music you can go to ITunes, Amazon mp3, or CDBaby

Proving once again that we do more than just show you the best deals in the Phoenix real estate market; we show you how to get the most out of living in Arizona, and try to help you get the most out of what you are listening to.  If you have heard the music, please comment and let us know what you think.  Enjoy