Twenty years ago, rap icon Nas debuted with his critically acclaimed album Illmatic. Since its release, this album has been considered a classic not just by hip hop heads, but by music lovers of all genres. There’s something about the street poetry from the Queensbridge MC that still still captures not only listeners’ ears, but also their minds.
But how do we celebrate 20 years of a milestone album? A couple ways, beginning with the new documentary Time is Illmatic, which takes us into the thought process of the young Nasir Jones when he made his first album, including interviews with Busta Rhymes, Alicia Keys and Pharrell. The tour in support of the documentary – which includes Nas performing the album in its entirety – comes to The Keswick Theater this weekend.
Another question we must think about is what made Illmatic so great? Why is it that this album is still being praised 20 years later? Continue reading →
Bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding responded to becoming jazz’s “it girl” – she was, after all, the one artist who could nab a Best New Artist Grammy from under Justin Bieber’s tween-dream coif and win one for the jazz team – by going ambitious. On her last two albums, Chamber Music Society and Radio Music Society, Spalding folded all of her multifarious musical interests into two packed albums. Continue reading →
Given the road-tested virtuosity of all three members, hard rock supergroup The Winery Dogs could easily have been overwhelmed by instrumental pyrotechnics. After all, the band consists of guitarist and vocalist Richie Kotzen, a charter member of the shred-centric Shrapnel Records roster in the early ‘90s before stepping in as the replacement for C.C. DeVille in Poison and Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big; bassist Billy Sheehan, who went fret for fret with Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s first solo band and co-founded Mr. Big; and drummer Mike Portnoy, who anchored prog-metal masters Dream Theater for 25 years until his departure from the band in 2010.
When Fourplay released their first album in 1991, there was little doubt that the term “supergroup” was applicable. By that time, keyboardist Bob James had been recording hit albums for nearly two decades, had played a major role in creating the sound that would come to be known as smooth jazz, and had contributed the memorable theme song for the sitcom Taxi. Guitarist Lee Ritenour could boast a fifteen-year career as a leader, increasingly fusing jazz with pop music. And drummer Harvey Mason had been a member of Herbie Hancock’s ground-breaking Headhunters band and played with a who’s who of jazz greats besides releasing a string of funky albums under his own name in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s on Arista Records.
Which just left bassist Nathan East, who didn’t yet have a single recording under his own name – and still didn’t in 2012, when Fourplay released its twelfth studio album, Esprit de Four. But for those who pay attention to liner notes, it was clear that East had earned his place in this heavy-hitting quartet. One of the most in-demand session musicians of the last three decades, East has contributed to countless hit records, including songs and albums by Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Elton John, George Harrison, Anita Baker, Babyface, and B.B. King. He’s been an integral part of Eric Clapton’s sound since 1984, recording and touring with the legendary guitarist, and wrote the music for Phil Collins and Philip Bailey’s 1984 hit “Easy Lover.” This year, he contributed the bassline for Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and performed the song with the robotic duo at the Grammys.
When Fourplay arrives at the Keswick on Wednesday, it will be the first time the band has played in the Philly area since East finally joined his bandmates as a recording artist in his own right, with the release of Nathan East earlier this year. The belated debut is a grab bag of styles performed by a band of top L.A. session musicians with favors returned by a number of artists East has anchored over the years, including Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, and Bob James. Smooth jazz is followed by a funk tune, a Stevie Wonder cover or two, a gauzy ballad, a straightahead bop number, a sunny bossa nova, or a rousing, string-laden solo bass rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
“I programmed the album as if I was programming my iPod, where you get a little bit of this and a bit of that,” East says. “I wanted it to be something that could stand up to repeat listenings, with the fingerprints of the people I’ve been working with.”
East says that the reason it’s taken him so long to finally put out his own CD is simply the obvious fact that he’s been too busy. How many musicians, after all, can boast of a discography that includes Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” Beyoncé’s “Listen,” Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,” and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” just to name a select few. Besides, he’s not the type to chase after the spotlight. “For me, it’s always been exciting to know that you’re part of this big picture, to know that you’re a part of the fabric of music,” East says. “My ego doesn’t really make me wish I was in the front of that. Sometimes if it’s a great record I’ll wish I wrote it, but most times I just enjoy the fact that I played a little bit of a role in this big puzzle called music.”
Blues rocker Jonny Lang drew a large crowd for his Free At Noon performance on World Cafe Live’s stage. Giving a taste of his soul deep within, Lang played a set that drew from his new CD Fight for My Soul and close with the rousing single “Lie To Me,” which got the whole crowd roaring for more. If you missed him today, catch him tonight at The Keswick Theater in Glenside; tickets and details can be found here. Check out the photo gallery above, the set list below and listen to the entire performance here (via the WXPN media player).
Lucinda Williams gave a nearly sold-out crowd at The Keswick Theatre a glorious slice of her musical history on Saturday night. There was the promised retelling of her self-titled third album released 25 years ago to begin the night. Those 12 songs depict Williams’ strengths in the country realm, with hints of rock and blues throughout. Williams and her band, featuring Stuart Mathis on guitar, expertly showcased the album, name-dropping those who covered such classics as “The Night’s Too Long” (Patty Loveless), “Changed the Locks” (Tom Petty), and “Passionate Kisses” (Mary Chapin Carpenter). But this was not a show about hubris; it was about her shifting contexts and fantastic contributions to the world of music. Her last 10 songs certainly had a greater edge of rock. This was seen most dramatically on “Joy” and the title track to her last album, 2011’s Blessed, which was sandwiched between two stunning covers in the encore: J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Beyond the musical genres, though, Williams truly showcased her poetic voice, as found in such works as “Lake Charles” and “Righteously,” where she put down her guitar to focus on the raplike delivery. The hints of her next album in the unreleased “Something Wicked This Way Comes” distilled her essence into three solid minutes, leaving the audience with the knowledge that so much more greatness is on the horizon. And as Williams, Mathis and company jammed within the confines of Young’s masterpiece to close out the night, Williams’ identity crystalized into that of a vessel for hope and courage in the greatest and toughest of times.
Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists just announced that he is embarking on a solo tour. This is the first time he has toured alone in about five years. The ten-date tour has Melow debuting new material, performing tracks from across his career, and showcasing a new EP of covers. Among the stops is suburban Montgomery County, where he will play at The Keswick Theater in Glenside on Novermber 2nd. Tickets for the show go on sale this Friday. In the meantime, get pumped for his solo tour by watching Meloy play all three parts of The Crane Wife below.
PAWS kick-off the free summer concert series at Morgan’s Pier tonight. Hailing from various corners of Scotland, the garage rock trio released their FatCat debut LP Cokefloat! in 2012 and were met with overwhelmingly positive reviews from both sides of the ocean. With a retro nineties sound that brings to mind the best of Stephen Malkmus and J Mascis, PAWS are band best seen live (where their guitars can really squeal). More information about tonight’s free show with We Were Promised Jetpacks can be found here. Watch PAWS perform “Sore Tummy” below.
Blues legend B.B. King performed at Glenside’s Keswick Theater last night with six-piece backing band and his trademark guitar, Lucille. Baton Rouge singer-guitarist Jonathon “Boogie” Long opened the show; check out scenes from both performances in the gallery above.
Touring in support of his latest releases – the Wishbone LP and the Bedroom EP – British singer-songwriter Bobby Long plays World Cafe Live tonight. Mixing downtempo country and rockabilly with a decidedly retro bent, Long has built a growing stateside fan base since his 2009 debut Dirty Pond Songs. Tickets and information on the all-ages show can be found at the WXPN concert calendar. Below, download “Devil Moon” from Wishbone.