Every Man Should Know – Harry Connick, Jr. (2013)

Harry Connick, Jr.

Album artwork for Every Man Should Know

There’s always something incredibly nostalgic and heartwarming about the classic jazz crooner.  For someone like me, who was never alive to experience the golden days of artists like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and the rest of the gang, I can still draw nostalgia from my memories of sitting by the fire in my family home, listening to such tunes from my father’s (and grandmother’s) record collection.  Today, the vocal tradition is carried on by notable greats such as Josh Groban and Michael Bublé, but the man who kicked off the modern era of contemporary vocal music surely has to be Harry Connick, Jr.

Harry Connick, Jr. is a man of many talents, or voices, rather.  He has just released his latest album, Every Man Should Know, and he takes on the personality of many different characters throughout the record.  Granted, all of these characters are the same person – himself – but they represent his person in different situations and stages of life.  When talking about the meaning behind the album, Connick says, “I used to be more comfortable writing in a fantasy-style concept, using ideas that intrigued me but didn’t necessarily come from personal experience.  It’s one thing to assume the role of a storyteller – it’s quite another when the story is your own.  I felt ready to explore some of my personal experiences in some of the songs this time around.”

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Redivider – Dopapod (2012)

Dopapod

Album artwork for Redivider

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.

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Thrust – Herbie Hancock (1974)

Herbie Hancock

Album artwork for Thrust

I’d say it’s about time I dig into the archives of music released earlier than just the past few years.  As soon as I made that decision, one specific artist popped into my head almost immediately: Herbie Hancock.  And why not?  He’s only one of the most influential musicians ever to exist in the jazz fusion world.  I would bet money that a large majority of the artists that I’ve featured previously on the site were influenced either directly or indirectly in some form by Herbie Hancock.  He was a man who extended his creative genius far beyond the world of jazz.  He was a musical innovator that made breakthroughs in the use of electronic synthesizers and freeform improvisation.  He combined stylistic elements of jazz, blues, funk, and modern classical music into a totally unique fusion of genres.  The legacy which he has created will last for many long years to come and influence many new generations of musicians.  Anyone who claims that Hancock was “before their time” deserves to be slapped senseless.

The album that I’m focusing on in particular today is one of his 1974 releases, Thrust.  As the followup to his ’73 release Headhunters, Hancock was now firmly entrenched in the widely popular, highly competitive funk-jazz-fusion game of the era.  But Herbie is never one to be outshined or assimilated into a much greater collection of mediocre artists.  No, he has always been the one to push the limits past the point where anyone thought they could go.  In order to accomplish such a gargantuan undertaking, he’s assembled a legendary cast of characters to accompany him.  On bass guitar is his main man, Paul Jackson, who went on to play on nine of Hancock’s subsequent releases.  Bernie Maupin, a master multireedist, takes care of all the lead woodwind parts.  Aside from his work with Herbie, he is most well known for his performance on the seminal Miles Davis album Bitches Brew, his role as a bandleader, and his collaborations with the likes of Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner.

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People Hear What They See – Oddisee (2012)

Album artwork for People Hear What They See

Album artwork for People Hear What They See

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, then you may have noticed that there’s been something missing since its inception: hip hop music.  For a site that claims to support all styles equally, this certainly seems like a problem that needs to be addressed.  Well, I’ve finally gotten around to it, and today I present to you People Hear What They See, the latest from rapper/producer Oddisee.  This is a quintessential hip hop album.  It’s an incessant spark that adds to the bonfire of hip hop culture, and it’s a great use of 45 minutes for rap aficionados and novices alike.

Enjoying hip hop music has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I’m going to spin you a bit of a personal story here, but bear with me (I’ll try to keep it short).  Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciated the genre, but I’ve never quite been able to get into it.  I hold no confusion as to the reason – it’s a direct result of my instrumentally-focused musical foundation.  Progressive rock was the first style and subculture to kindle my love for music into a full-blown passion, and that’s about as far away as you can get from hip hop.  Thus, it’s in my nature to place less emphasis on the lyrical content of a song, which of course is a defining characteristic of rap music.

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Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3 – Kevin Coelho (2012)

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.

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Greater Than One – Dwele (2012)

Album artwork for Greater Than One

Album artwork for Greater Than One

“We don’t say swag no more, we say swank.”  Defining words, to be sure. These are lyrics from the confident, yet deeply emotional music created by Andwele Gardner, more commonly known by his stage name Dwele.  Contemporary R&B has always been known for its tight production and lush vocals, however despite having a very firm grasp of this concept, I was still unequivocally blown away when I listened to Greater Than One for the first time.  If you are not comfortable being seduced by a black man with an incredibly hypnotic voice, then you may be in the wrong place.  This album is packed full of beautiful vocals, thick chords, and sentimental lyrics.  Dwele features a selection of Detroit’s finest R&B artists and producers, including J. Tait, L’Renee, and Black Milk on “Must Be” and Monica Blaire on “Swank” and “PATrick RONald,” and the result is a brilliant portrayal of the city’s rich musical subculture.

Everything that you would expect to hear in an R&B album is present in Greater Than One. The keyboard sounds are to die for; nothing quite replaces that classic Fender Rhodes timbre.  There’s something about it that automatically makes every problem in the world seem insignificant.  On top of that, any musician who is looking to improve their grasp of musical harmony should make a point to study R&B.  The style definitely pulls heavily from the guidebook of jazz harmony, but implements it in a much hipper context.  What exactly makes it hip?  There are essentially two factors (in my opinion) that contribute to such a transformation: the lyrics and the beats.

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