MAYER HAWTHORNE + NEW HOLIDAYS: NEW AND OLD


I was at the Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champain this past Tuesday and met Invincible, a Detroit rapper/activist whose awareness-raising around gentrification and urban (un)planning highlights one of the most pressing social issues of our era. (Peep out the “Locusts” video included on her Shapeshifters CD).

We shared a flight from Champaign back to Chicago (turbulence-free, thankfully) as she was putting me up on the Detroit hip-hop scene, she asked, “do you know Mayer Hawthorne?” I replied “sure,” and the moment seemed apropos since I had just been listening to his new sampler the night before (thanks Eric).

Invincible chuckled affectionately, sharing that the two of them grew up in Ann Arbor, having met through Jewish summer camps, and as we were talking about some of his new songs, she described how “Mayer Hawthorne” (the artist, not the man) was a persona developed in the wake of the unexpected success of his first 7″, “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out.” We both marveled at how one song can help shape a career, or least the start of one.

(By the way, there’s a new video for “Just Ain’t” that prominently features the heart-shaped 7″ that it was released on).

The sampler I’ve heard has two songs from the single – “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” and “When I Said Goodbye” – plus a remix of “Just Ain’t” and two new songs: “Maybe So, Maybe No” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”

That first new song had caught my attention months ago when Mayer first shared it with me; “Maybe So, Maybe No” has become one of my favorite songs ever in the last two years since I was first put up on it by my man Hua. Originally recorded by Detroit’s New Holidays and enough of a success that Westbound picked it up from the local Soulhawk imprint, “Maybe So, Maybe No” exemplifies the kind of composition that is so incredibly fragile that it’s a miracle it even works at all yet the very fact that it does come together (what Hua likes to call a “lightning in a bottle song”) is what makes it so extraordinary.

New Holidays: Maybe So, Maybe No
From 7″ (Soulhawk, 1969)

I’m tempted to enumerate all the parts of this song that shouldn’t work but it’s easier for you to just listen to it, soak in all the small touches that balance precariously together here, all the unexpected layers of music and vocals and how, despite it teetering on the edge of collapse, comes together beautifully.

It’s those qualities that make this song pretty much impossible to cover – you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice – and Mayer, as admirable an effort he makes, isn’t immune to this either. His isn’t a bad cover by any means – it’s just not the OG and in this case, it’s hard to settle for anything less.[1] I’ll let you decide:

However, another song on Mayer’s sampler really caught my ear: “I Wish It Would Rain” (this is apparently the B-side to the next single).

This is not a cover of the Temptations’ song by the same name though, lyrically, the two do share a resemblance (namely around the idea of raindrops masking tears). But that similarity aside, this really sounds like a “Mayer Hawthorne song” which I suppose is strange to say given that he’s only had two songs before this. But the aesthetic he created on “Just Ain’t” is evident here – the purity and simplicity of the arrangement, the plaintive tone of his falsetto, the way in which the song invokes a mood more than just a style. (The use of back-up singing on this track is what really makes this work as well as it does. Brilliant choice).

Philaflava has yet another song (not on this sampler) available to peep: “Green Eyed Love.” I first heard it when Mayer came to DJ at Boogaloo[LA] in January and I thought it sounded great then and I still do now.

[1] I will make one exception for the “you can’t cover this song” rule but it’s for purely selfish and personal reasons. “Maybe So, Maybe No” also happens to be one of my daughter’s favorite songs; one she learned at age 3 and still continues to spontaneously break out into. Sure, she only knows the chorus and sure, she kind of gets it wrong (it should be “could it be that your love, is meant for me?” instead of “could it be that my love, is meant for me?”) but I see it as an act of self-affirmation. Or something like that.

Ms. Mizang: Maybe So, Maybe No (acapella)
From: Back of the car, driving home from daycare, 2009

TEARS ON YOUR PILLOW

(originally written for Side Dishes)

Don’t say I’m not romantic or anything but as we’re about to get buried underneath an avalanche of saccharin lovey-dovey-ness because of Valentine’s Day, I thought it was fair to point out that, really, the best love songs are about falling out of love, not into it. New love is great and blah blah blah but nothing says passion and desperation like heartache does. That’s why, for V-Day, I threw together a special Tears On Your Pillow set of songs for those who know that no love is so sweet as that which you no longer have.

William Bell: I Forgot To Be Your Lover
From Bound to Happen (Stax, 1968).

I don’t know if you can properly call this single “unsung” considering that it appeared on two different William Bell albums and was covered by Jaheim a few years back but to me, it’s always a bit of a sleeper song, certainly nowhere near as well-known as Bell’s early hit, “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Regardless, it has one of the most memorable opening guitar lines I’ve ever heard, ringing with a melancholy that suffuses the entire song as Bell bemoans his lack of attention and affection.

Darondo: Didn’t I
From Let My People Go (Ubiquity, 2006)

An erstwhile singer turned pimp turned talk show host, the Bay Area’s Darondo was an enigma until recently, when aficionados of his early ’70s sweet soul and funk singles rediscovered him living in Sacramento and helped to resurrect his career. “Didn’t I” is the crown jewel of the handful of singles he recorded back in the day, a super-stripped down yet incredibly powerful ballad of wistfulness with just a hint of desperation. Makes you wonder how anyone could have left someone who could sing with that kind of intimacy and intensity.

Lezli Valentine: Love on a Two Way Street
From 7″ single (All Platinum, 1968).

Long before Sylvia Robinson put together “Rapper’s Delight” in the late 1970s, she was a successful singer and songwriter in the ’60s, creating a massive R&B empire in New Jersey. She helped pen “Love on a Two Way Street,” a memorable ballad which makes good use of its transportation metaphors (how often does one get to say that?). It was a decent hit for the Moments but originally recorded by Lezli Valentine, a little-known singer signed to Robinson’s All Platinum imprint. The two versions are very similar, musically, but while the Moments’ falsetto approach works well enough, it’s different hearing an actual woman’s voice tackle it, especially one as rich and nuanced as Valentine’s.

Binky Griptite: You’re Gonna Cry
From 7″ single (Daptone, 2008)

Just to show you that soul artists today can still knock out a good tearjerker in the tradition of the classic R&B troubadours, the Dap-Kings’ guitarist, announcer and emerging vocalist Binky Griptite turns in a beautiful, slow burner of a break-up tune. Make sure to listen to the end as Griptite delivers a coup de grace of a line. Brrrr…it’s chilly!

The Kaldirons: To Love Someone (That Don’t Love You)
From Twinight’s Lunar Rotation (Numero Group, 2007)

One of the rarest singles ever released on Chicago’s incredible R&B label Twinight, “To Love Someone” is one of those songs that deserved to have gotten much more shine that it did in its day. It’s a masterful, midtempo arrangement of strings and hints of piano, meshing perfectly with the soaring, falsetto voices of the Kaldirons who lament the impossibility of unrequited love. I have to admit – the song feels surprisingly uplifting despite its dour subject matter and it’s one of the few “love lost” songs that I can honestly describe as “feel good.”

Nancy Holloway: Hurts So Bad
From Hello Dolly (Concert Hall, 1967)

To close out, I went with the hammer blow that French singer Nancy Holloway delivers on her cover of Little Anthony and the Imperials’ 1965 hit, “Hurts So Bad.” Producer Daniel Janin gives the tune a slight funk makeover with those dramatic basslines and brass section but it’s Holloway who is the undeniable force of nature here, pouring what feels like a lifetime of desperation into a little less than four minutes.

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE PLEASURES

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Johnny Johnson: Love Is Blue
Taken from the album Soul Survivor on Bell (1970)

Third Guitar: Lovin’ Lies
Taken from the 7″ on Rojac

The Parliaments: Your Goodies Are Gone
Taken from the 7″ on Revilot

Eddie Holman: Four Walls
Taken from the album I Love You on ABC (1969)

O, wracked wail of heartache. O, plaintive moan of sorrow. How the heart strains!

The selections today are born of the kind anguish that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The kind where the knees buckle and the heart cramps. The kind that can reduce a grown man to pathetic teary desperation. The kind of abject grief that can drive a guy to the loony bin… or, if fortune prevails, to the recording booth.

Here, we get lucky with the latter.

Leading off with the Johnny Johnson track: um, I mean, WOW. How about this joint. Forget about the folk guitar that gives way to the meanest orchestral onslaught since Beethoven’s Fifth. Forget about the Ghostface sample. Forget that this track has been recorded by a bunch of heads. THIS IS THE VERSION. Listen to ol’ boy holding that note in the last bar of the song. That, my friends, is suffering.

Third Guitar are best known for making a highly noteworthy appearance on Shadow & Chemist’s Brainfreeze, but listen to these cats digging deep on “Lovin’ Lies”. When was the last time heard such ballistic hand drums, breaks and heavy emoting crammed into a track that clocks in at under two minutes?

Then there’s George Clinton in his pre-Funkadelic days cranking out a hard-hitting soul number with the Parliaments (drop the “s”, add acid, and you’ve got one loked out 70 year old with technicolor dreadlocks). A recent flea market find that I can’t seem to get enough of.

And lastly, a repeat of one of the first posts put up on this blog. A song that I have ADORED since the moment it entered my life and will likely continue to adore until the day I die. What a shame that Eddie Holman will only ever be remembered for “Hey, There Lonely Girl” because, as far as I’m concerned this is as good as it gets. Wail on, brother man. Wail on.

My Kind Of Disco, Part 1

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Golden Flamingo Orchestra feat. Margo Williams: The Guardian Angel Is Watching Over Us
Taken from the compilation Disco Juice 2 on Counterpoint (2007)

Zafra Bros: Can I See You Tonight
Taken from the 12″ on Eastbourne (1981)

Evelyn “Champagne” King: Love Come Down 
Taken from the 12″ on RCA (1982)

Wild Sugar: Bring It Here
Taken from the 12″ on TSOB (1980)

Charanga 76: No Nos Parran
Taken from the 12″ on TR Records (1979)

Milton Wright: Get No Loving Tonight
Taken from the album Friends and Buddies on Alston 1975

The perfect disco set is a difficult amalgam. It requires just the right proportions beat, cheese, strings, handclaps, obscurity, populist appeal, introspective build-up and anthemic deliverance . The old wedding day maxim could almost be jacked verbatim for application in regards to the necessary elements for a proper disco party-rock: Something old, something new… you get the idea. In this case we’ll tweak the ‘borrowed’ to mean a cover song and ‘something blue’ in the musical sense. Enjoy.

MAMBO MONDAY CON LA PLAYA


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La Playa Sextet : Hong Kong, Hunca Munca, Olaya & El Chico Boogaloo
taken from the album
Bailando El Boogaloo on Musicor (1967)

La Playa Sextet : Le-Lo-Lai & Sugar’s Delight
taken from the album
Vaya Means Go! on United Artists (196?)

La Playa Sextet : Coco Seco/Anabacca & Mambo Inn
taken from the album
The Exciting New La Playa Sound
on United Artists (196?)

I felt inspired to give La Playa (even THEY have a myspace page!) their due respect for several reasons. The first is selfish: I’ve been carrying these records in my crate consistently, week-in week-out, for probably a year now, and before I wear out the grooves on my favorite tunes, I wanted to retire the vinyl properly and let the music itself live on forever in digitally-preserved mp3/serato heaven. The second reason is because I’d also like to start doing a regular feature on somewhat overlooked latin groups. “Dura Obscura” or something like that. If I highlight a big name artist like Tito Puente or Eddie Palmieri, I’ll pick out something that is a bit lesser-known from their catalogue. La Playa seemed like as good a place as any to start. Chronologically, they rose to popularity on the Latin tidal wave that crashed in 1968 with the death of the Boogaloo and the subsequent birth of “Salsa” superpower Fania. Cha-cha, Charanga, Mambo, Bomba, Bolero all got branded conveniently under one banner, and La Playa somehow didn’t make the grade.

Most of what little I know about La Playa I picked up here and here. But without knowing about all the players and particulars, one of the major aspects of the group’s sound that stood out to me from the start, and caused me to seek out other titles, is the killer electric guitar playing by Payo Alicea. Beyond simply taking over the montuno parts traditionally played on piano, Payo really steered the sound of the group in a latin-rock direction (pre-Santana). “Hunca Munca” has that classic bluesy rock progression that sounds pretty dated today (maybe even tacky to some), but back then I imagine this was some pretty progressive stuff. I’m not sure what happened to the group after “Bailando..” was released, but their music is still heating up dancefloors here in Brooklyn on a weekly basis.

REMEMBERING THE FUTURE


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Santogold : Shove It
taken from her
self-titled alum on Downtown (2008)

MGMT : Electric Feel
taken from the album
Oracular Spectacular on Sony (2007)

Plantlife : Rollerskate Jam & Fool For You
taken from the album
Time Traveller on Decon (2008)

As a person who spends perhaps too much time digging into the past, it’s important to be reminded that there’s still just as much life being lived now as there ever was back in the day. For anyone who finds themselves waxing nostalgia over a lost golden era of greatness, I recommend going out to some live concerts and picking up an album or two by artists, like the ones I’m posting today, who remind us all that music history is happening right now and we still have a very bright future to look forward to. THESE ALBUMS ARE FREAKING UNBELIEVABLY GREAT, so stop asking why you don’t like what’s on the radio and start spending your loot on the good stuff.

I won’t act like I had too much of a role in Santi’s recent explosive exposure, but me and my bandmate buddies can at least take credit for putting her on for her first solo show in NYC, so we’re helping the cause. This girl deserves every bit of shine she gets. In addition to being a suuuper mellow, down-to-earth, and incredibly talented person, she has crafted a broad-reaching, unique sound (read- NOT an M.I.A. imitation like some fools may claim) on her new album that warns the villagers of the oncoming flash-flood of more that is sure to come. Her voice slashes through the punchy, punky, electro-funky, reggae-bottomed beats like a blazing light saber. When I listen to her record, I hear the demolition of an invisible wall that separates CBGB’s (R.I.P.) from a big bass club like Brooklyn’s Studio B, where the mosh pit reaches a new fervor with the introduction of the sub-woofer and the multicolored mohawks get a glitter treatment from the disco ball overhead. I picked “Shove It” just because it’s getting hotter each day now as summer draws nigh, and there’s a nice little guest appearance from the one MC Spank Rock on here too, and the beat was produced by the late great Disco D (R.I.P.). Now go SUPPORT THIS ARTIST and get yourself the goods.

Now I’ve spent almost all my precious little writing time on Santi, but you need to check out MGMT who are more of that next shit out of Brooklyn! Psychedelic, dance-inducing, electro-rock with a catchy factor that is devastating. Don’t sleep and then feel bad later when your little brother tells you, “I told you so” – PICK UP THE ALBUM NOW.

And it’s the return of PLANTLIFE! Here’s an album that brings more falsetto and funk than all the funky falsetto records of the past few years combined (since the release of the first Plantlife album). Jack Splash gives us 19 tracks worth of casio party beats, quasimoto-styled chipmunk raps, dirty samples, and raw unabashed SOUL. There’s so many tracks I could have highlighted on this one to show you a different reason why you need the whole record, but isn’t “Fool For U” enough? This is quite possibly the sweetest soul tune I’ve heard a young man sing since the Chi-Lites stopped recording. Time traveller indeed. Get it while it’s hot.

BONUS BEAT- Mark Ronson ft. Santogold : Pretty Green
(originally by The Jam)
taken from the album
Version on Columbia (2007)

FULL-FLEDGED RECORD NERD

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Etoile De Dakar : Tolou Badou Ndiaye

taken from their self-titled album on SACEM (1980)

Elias Rahbani : From The Moon

taken from the 12″ single on EMI (1978)

Formula 7 : Trouble

taken from their self-titled album on Castelinho (1970)

Erick Cosaque Et Les Voltages 8 : Decere Nou De Maye

taken from the album “Chene A Kunta Kinte” on SACEM (197?)

In case you didn’t already know by now, I get more geeked off vinyl than your average DJ. Moreso even than your run-of-the-mill skinny-necked record nerd. I even have nightmares that I will oneday join the ranks of those golem-esque record-fiending freaks who stop bathing and lose all social skills in the sole pursuit of posessing the holy plastic grail. If you see me start to get like that, please intervene.

However, in the meantime what that means for you all is that I’ve been hoarding some serious monsters for a special occaision. As a frequenter of the Soulstrut.com forums, I found my occaision in the form of what we strutters call an “ISH”. This ISH business provides a place for similarly crazed crate-diggers to show off some of their favorite obscurities to fellow record nerds. Being the geek that I am, I went for it. Today’s tunes are culled from the same stash that made it into my ISH. For those that are new to this website, I highly recommend hanging out for a little while. Amid the flurry of non-record-related bullshwank, there’s the occaisional nuggets of real-world knowledge- not to mention a whole lot of music sharing. Without further ado, onto the music…

READ MY “ISH” TO GET THE INFO

TIME FOR SOME 12"S

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Paul Simon : Late… (Edit De DJ Spun)

taken from the 12″ on Editions Disco

LTJ Xperience Ft. Joe Bataan : Ordinary Guy (Latin Club Edit)

taken from the 12″ on Irma (also available on this CD)

Oreja vs. Plenafro : Julieta

taken from the 12″ on Candela

Schoolly D : Skool’s Out (Les Rythmes Digitales Remix)

taken from the 12″ on Wall Of Sound

Last week Spring burst into the city with a palpable gush of long-dormant virility. The mere site of magnolia blossoms stirring in the sun evoked more artistic appreciation and divine wellness in the collective heart of New York City than all it’s art museums, galleries and theaters combined throughout the entire rest of the year. In every direction you could find someone smiling and taking a long-deserved deep breath of rebirth. Looking out on the dancefloor, the stink of fermented pheromones was spilling out in bucketloads as party people remembered why they live in the land of Gotham. This music is as close as I can get right now to expressing the communal kinetic release I see in my neighbors and friends and feel in the warmest part of myself. Enjoy these true treasures of bombasticism and use them to shake loose whatever cantankerous crust you created over winter.

LOVER’S ROCK, SUMMER’S RETURN

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Estelle: Come Over
Taken from the forthcoming album Shine on Homeschool (2008)

Here’s the deal: I’m only going to post one song from this album because you need to buy the whole damn thing when it comes out on domestic release in two weeks. (If you know what’s good for you you’ll cough up the extra few bucks for an import and get the jump on all the cats who are gonna be on Estelle’s jock come May.) Seriously. It’s not terribly often that I’m introduced to a new record and can almost immediately forget about the other 35 gazillion songs on my Ipod and 46 bazillion LP’s cluttering up my house… but this one did it for me.

This is an album that bears well its title. Tight production, well-selected and executed guest appearances, pop value and heady appeal, all anchored by the voice of a truly talented vocalist… If I sound gushy, it’s because I am. I could have pulled virtually any one of these meticulously crafted twelve songs and felt pretty good about sharing it. But as it happens this particular tune has carried me on its lover’s-rock-anthemic wings through an LA weekend that, in part because of the temperature outside (blazing) and in part because of the tone and quality of this track (blazing), seemed to usher Summer into the City one fell swoop. I had this song bumping at the beach, on the Los Feliz 3 Par, cruising late night on the balmy deserted freeways, at more than a couple BBQ’s… and everywhere I went cats seemed to fall into lock step with the loping shimmering summery bounce. Oo-oh, oo-oh, oo-oh. So so sweet.

Check out tour dates and artist information here. Estelle’s coming. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya’.

Loving Planet Earth

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Demon Fuzz: Hymn To Mother Earth
Taken from the album Afreaka on Janus (1972)

The Great White Cane: Mother Earth
Taken from the self-titled LP on Lion (1973)

Gil Scott Heron: We Almost Lost Detroit
Taken from the album Bridges on (1977)

Wayne McGhie: I Can See Mother Nature
Taken from the album Wayne McGhie and The Sounds of Joy on Birchmount (1970)

Okay. So I know I’m a bit early on the Earth Day love, but why not get a jump. Start spreading the good word a few weeks early and maybe by the time April 22nd rolls around you’ll already have installed your new energy-efficient fridge and traded your H3 (heinous!) for a snazzy new Prius… or one of these. Bottom line is it’s never too soon to celebrate GAIA!

Here are a few tracks from the vanguard of geo-social consciousness.

The Demon Fuzz record is pretty well-known on the nerd-circuit, but always a joy to introduce to people who may not yet have heard the bounty of this U.K.-based Cymande-esque outfit… A truly wonderful song with bass lines, organs and funky changes for days. To say nothing of the album art. Zinger!

Where did Rick James cultivate his inner super freak? Why, with The Great White Cane, of course, where he fronted the band for their mostly unmemorable sole record. This meandering 8-minute anthem, however, stands as a salient exception to the mediocrity of the rest of the record. Redeem me Rick!

G.S.H. surely needs no introduction, though this selection comes off an oft slept on record of his, and one of his first great collabo’s with Brian Jackson in a synthier late-70’s vein. This song along with the devastating “Delta Man” off the same album have been late night driving staples for me for years… A discerning listener might also notice a very tasty Blackstar sample tucked in there…

Lastly, Mr. McGhie, a West-Indian bywayof Canada, who made an appearance on this blog a few years back and returns now with this delicately loping sweetness. Drive on Earth Mother. Drive on.