I’ve got to say that one of my favorite things about the current music industry is this strong resurgence of jam band music and culture that’s been going on for the past several years. As someone who wishes they had been alive to witness the explosion of psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and the jam band scene in the ’60s and ’70s, I am extremely happy about the genre’s relatively unimpeded longevity. After the Grateful Dead’s disbandment in 1995 as a result of guitarist and frontman Jerry Garcia’s death, the band Phish stepped in to fill the gap. Although they never achieved quite the amount of success and popularity that the Dead had, they certainly helped to keep the scene alive for the next decade. They were also an integral part of the rise of large-scale music festivals in the modern era. If you think about all of the festivals that host yearly events now – Bonnaroo, Coachella, Camp Bisco, Rootwire, Lightning in a Bottle, All Good, Wakarusa – the list goes on and on.
Dopapod is a group that is quickly rising to the forefront of the jam band scene. Born in 2007, they recently released their third studio album, Redivider, on 12/21/12. The entire record was recorded in a barn at Tyrone Farm, a solar powered farm in Pomfret, Connecticut. Despite the fact that it was released less than a year after their previous album, Drawn Onward (side note: if you haven’t picked up on this yet, the band really likes palindromes), there is nothing about Redivider that gives away any sense of rushed preparation. As a matter of fact, the entire thing is pure, musical gold.
Brian Setzer has always been a bit of an old soul. He got his big break in the early 1980s as the frontman of a group called the Stray Cats, which gained popularity as a rockabilly revival band. With the music industry having moved on from its Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly days three decades earlier, their music was a nostalgic kick that helped to revitalize the genre. After four years with the group, Setzer began to pursue a career as a solo artist, releasing The Knife Feels Like Justice in 1986, which marked a shift towards a more roots rock type of sound. Then, in 1990, the Brian Setzer Orchestra was formed. As a 17-piece ensemble with a full trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and rhythm section, it was easily his most ambitious project yet. Despite early struggles to keep the extensive group financially supported, they soon signed with Interscope Records and released their landmark album The Dirty Boogie in 1998. The release broke through into the top ten on the US charts, and quickly came to define the retro swing revival throughout the next decade.
Brian Setzer doesn’t just echo the voices of swing band stars like Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington from ages past; he redefines the genre and makes it his own. As the frontman, main vocalist, and guitarist, Setzer commands his handpicked troupe of musicians with gusto. The energy captured in the recordings on The Dirty Boogie are absolutely unreal. By doing nothing more than closing your eyes, you can be transported to the hottest swingin’ jazz club of the ’40s. With a voice that channels equal parts Presley and Sinatra, he is versatile enough to either bring the house down with a fast, raunchy number or lull them to sleep with sweet, dulcet tones.
So this is now the second album I’ve featured in the past week that was made over thirty years ago. As a matter of fact, this very first album from the soon-to-be iconic group Santana, was released forty-four years ago in August of 1969. Think about that for a second. You may not have even been alive when this album came out – I certainly wasn’t. To put this in a bit of context for you, The Beatles would release their swan song record, Abbey Road, about a month after Santana debuted. Led Zeppelin would release Led Zeppelin II about a month after that, and Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma would hit record stores the following month, November. All of those classic rock records your parents listen to? Yeah, this album precedes most of those (not quite all of them, though). The question is, why am I going so far back in time with these album reviews? Why not focus more on the newest releases?
Well first of all, over half of my posts feature albums from the past two years, so I certainly wouldn’t say I neglect the newer material. As a matter of fact, I pride myself on keeping up with the latest and (hopefully) greatest from each and every artist I follow. That being said, it’s simply impossible to fully appreciate the extent of how far we’ve come as a musical society without acknowledging our heritage. We’ve all come to accept this as fact – it’s why we always want to know the origin story of all our beloved superheroes, or why we study history in school. By learning from the past, we can understand much more about the present, and we can use such knowledge to better prepare for the future.
Album artwork for Introducing Thrills (And The Chase)
Let it not be said that rock & roll is dead. The current generation of youth may have transferred much of their rebellious energy to be channeled through electronic dance music instead, but by no means does that warrant the abandonment of such an integral part of modern culture. After all, rock & roll was the first genre that rocketed the electric guitar into the mainstream world. It was the genre that gave us our first taste of the true power of modern musical instrument technology. The second half of the 20th century in popular music was without a doubt a golden age in music history. That being said, there has been an unfortunate decline in the amount of classic rock music that continues to be produced today. It’s understandable – the music industry is in a constant state of transition – but the truth will always remain: there is simply no substitute for some good ol’ rock & roll.
It’s in times like these, however, that the true believers in the genre shine through. Today, I have the pleasure of presenting to you Thrills & The Chase, a four-piece band from São Paulo, Brazil. Back in March of 2012, they released their debut EP, entitled Introducing Thrills (And The Chase). Having gained a following in their home nation, they have begun expanding their musical mission across the globe. Now, as a self-appointed representative of the aforementioned globe, I would like to personally thank Thrills & The Chase for doing so. To put it bluntly, this is music that deserves to be heard. This is rock & roll at its finest; music that is unique and draws inspiration from many different influences, yet somehow still presents itself with an air of nostalgia and familiarity.
I’ve always thought of the term “music blogger” as being somewhat restrictive. It seems like such an unimaginative term for an overlooked cornucopia of enlightenment. It is, unfortunately, far too easy to become numb to the everyday processes of searching for new music, weighed down by the sheer banality of it all. On the other hand, I have witnessed an uncomfortable number of music bloggers fall victim to the competitive, quasi-political nature of the cutthroat world they live in. I believe it is essential to leave both of these attitudes behind. Rather than a “music blogger,” I think the term “aural adventurer” might be more appropriate, or perhaps even “sonic expeditioner.” Why do I remain passionate about finding new music? It’s about the journey, not the destination. This is a core philosophy that applies to the world of music as much as it applies to life itself. The other night, I walked out the door with nothing but my iPod and a pair of Sennheiser headphones, eager to embark on such a journey. As my legs took me across the beautiful campus of the University of Miami, I retreated into my mental space – my inner theater – and embraced the sonic landscape that was beginning to form.
The album of choice for the night was Square Pegs Round Holes by Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, a band which I had never heard of before. I stumbled upon them quite by happenstance, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. The first words used to describe the group that I read were “improvisational progressive rock band.” Boy, did that get me excited. I knew from that moment on that I owed it to myself to at least check out some of their music. Approximately 67 minutes later, I found myself in a state of amazement as the full splendor of Square Pegs Round Holes sank in.
Album artwork for Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3
Perhaps it would be unwise to say that Kevin Coelho is one of the best jazz organists this world has ever seen. To make such a bold statement, given the genre’s rich and expansive history, would surely step on many people’s toes. The boy is only seventeen, after all. For all we know, he may not even be allowed to legally drive anything, let alone a B3. Why is it, then, that I can feel him channeling that same energy that we hear from all the jazz and blues superstars we’ve come to love? As a rising star himself, Coelho is a living embodiment of the power of music; it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, as long as you create honest, impassioned music. This is certainly the case with his debut album, Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3.
Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that Kevin Coelho truly is basking in “the joy of driving a B3.” The record starts off by immediately throwing you into the swing of the title track, “Funkengruven.” Coelho teams up with guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson to form one of the most tightly-knit trios I’ve heard in quite some time. It quickly becomes evident that all three of them are instrumental masters in their own right, and the chemistry between them shines through. As the group starts off by running through the head of the first tune, we are lured in by a relatively calm, modest opening. And then, before you can say “jivin’ jitterbugs,” Coelho kicks it up a notch with his first organ solo on the album. This is one it starts to get real. Although he starts out soft, he continues to escalate more and more, until you suddenly find yourself wondering how such creative ingenuity is even possible. Definitely a fantastic way to kick off the record.