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April 6 in Music History: Carly Simon and James Taylor meet, Bruce Hornsby releases his first solo album

Bruce Hornsby Harbor Lights

1956 – Capitol Tower, the home of Capitol Records in Hollywood, CA, is dedicated. Resembling a stack of records, it is the first circular office tower designed in America. It is 13 stories tall and 92 feet in diameter, housing three new recording studios where Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Linda Ronstadt, and many other stars will lay down tracks. The building becomes an LA landmark, with the red light at the top flashing “HOLLYWOOD” in Morse Code.

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Just Announced: James Taylor and his All-Star Band headed to Wells Fargo Center with Bonnie Raitt in July

Newport Folk Festival
James Taylor | Photo by Kate McCann | flickr.com/photos/126156760@N07

Legendary singer/songwriter James Taylor and his aptly named backing All-Star Band recently announced his plans for a 13-date US tour to take place this summer with Bonnie Raitt coming along to support. The mostly-east coast dwelling tour kicks off in Jersey on July 6th, only to bless the Wells Fargo Center on July 9th. Releasing his latest album Before This World in 2015, Taylor’s massive hits “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Fire & Rain” keep his die-hards coming back for more, and this tour should be jammed-packed with them.

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Just Announced: James Taylor will perform at Susquehanna Bank Center on 7/22

James Taylor | photo by David Mirkin
James Taylor | photo by David Mirkin
Legendary singer / songwriter James Taylor just announced a tour that brings him to the Susquehanna Bank Center on July 22nd.  Now in the fourth decade of his career, the five-time Grammy Award winner most recently released a live album with Carole King called Live at The Troubadour, recorded in celebration of the Los Angeles venue’s 50th Anniversary and also in tribute to the pair’s first show together in 1970.  Taylor counts singles “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Fire and Rain” among his many hits and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Ticket sales beginning February 10th, more information will be available here.

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Taylor Mac’s 20th century: Twelve hours of song and struggle, solidarity and sex

Taylor Mac | photo courtesy of the artist

As I entered the Merriam Theater on Saturday, June 9th, as the PIFA street festival was slowly whirring into life outside on South Broad street, I braced myself. What I was about to experience, whatever it turned out to be, was definitely going to be way too much. How could it possibly not be? We’re talking about a non-stop, twelve hour long performance; an epic history-inspired drag cabaret-as-endurance feat, featuring upwards of one hundred songs – roughly ten per hour, or per decade since the starting point of 1896. Actually, this was only the second half of what is, in full, a twenty-four hour work, the first twelve hours of which – covering the decades between 1776-1896 – were staged a week prior. (It’s been presented as an uninterrupted 24-hour marathon only once – in Brooklyn two years ago – but the Philadelphia iteration notches a solid runner-up in the insanity stakes.) Still, much too much seemed like a foregone conclusion.

Here’s the funny thing though: it really wasn’t. Not everything in the twelve hours worked, of course, but an astonishing amount of it did. I was engaged more or less instantly – for one thing, I was called onstage twice within the first two hours (first as part of a wave of immigration from “Eastern Europe” – a.k.a. the back of the house – to an increasingly crowded turn-of-the-century “Jewish tenement” represented by the stage; second, along with every other male in the audience between 14 and 40, as a WWI conscriptee.) And I was never bored. I was never turned off, or overwhelmed in an unfavorable way. I only left the auditorium twice, for no more than two minutes (it was all I could bear.) And when I left for good, shortly after midnight, I was fully satisfied and yet still ready for more.

The show, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, is not just a cabaret performance; not merely a concert, but (also) a costume spectacular, a psycho-political identity-poetics deep-dive, an audience-participatory historical re-enactment and re-calibration, a rip-roaring communal performance art party. Or, as described by its mastermind, master of ceremonies, constantly captivating central figure and the singer of all but a handful of those seemingly-innumerable songs – one Taylor Mac – it is a “radical faerie realness ritual…sacrifice.” Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Kacey Musgraves, Alexis Taylor, Gwenno, Baloji, Young Fathers, Mount Eerie and more.

Young Fathers
Young Fathers | photo by Julia Noni | courtesy of the artist

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

Last month I was seeing double; this month I’m going solo.

I spent a probably unreasonable amount of time in the last couple weeks compiling a list of my personal top 25 albums of the past 25 years – a time period which happens to correspond, more or less, with my lifespan as an active, conscious listener to contemporary music – and then discussing/dissecting said list in detail via Facebook comments, which turned out to be a surprisingly emotional process.  (The whole undertaking was inspired by a prompt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Philly-based staple Magnet Magazine, wherein the list will eventually be published.)

One thing that struck me along the way was how astonishingly many acts from this time-frame – even the earliest years of it – remain (or have again become) relatively musically active.  Now, maybe it’s just a factor of my age, but I don’t really remember the musical landscape of the ‘90s, for instance, being quite so well populated by artists who’d been around since the ’70s.  Of the twenty-five artists who made my list, all but four are either still at it or at it again: two have died (Elliott Smith and Aaliyah; three if you count Stereolab’s Mary Hansen), but only two – Rachel Stevens and Aberfeldy – have, to my knowledge, simply stopped making music.   Continue reading →

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Conor Oberst teams up with The Felice Brothers, Jim James, Gillian Welch and more on Salutations

Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers | photo by Julia Brokaw | courtesy of the artist
Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers | photo by Julia Brokaw | courtesy of the artist

Last year, singer-songwriter Conor Oberst spent a winter in Omaha and recorded Ruminations, a stunning and solitary meditation on life and isolation, and his best record in a decade.

This year, he returns to that body of work in a full-band Americana-rock context with longtime friends and collaborators The Felice Brothers. Joining them are an impressive roster of guests including Jim James, Blake Mills, Maria Taylor, M Ward, Gillian Welch, Gus Seyffert, Pearl Charles, Nathaniel Walcott, and Jonathan Wilson. The Salutations collection will come out on Nonesuch Records on March 17th, expanding on the ten songs of Ruminations and unveiling an additional ten songs.

This winter and spring, Oberst will go on tour with The Felice Brothers as his backing band; check out the tour dates below, as well as the album art and track listing. To get a now-and-then view, watch the newly-released video “A Little Uncanny” from Salutations, and compare it alongside the original version on Ruminations. Continue reading →