Archive for April 2012
Today we bring you our April mixtape for your listening pleasure. Stream it track-by-track below, or head over to our tumblr and download the whole thing. Enjoy!
L.V. Lopez is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist
For most of his life, Charles Bradley was a talented but obscure performer who sang at small bars and clubs as a James Brown impersonator dressed in a wig and cape and doing his best primal soul scream. Then in his 60’s he got a record deal, went on tour, landed a slot opening for Sharon Jones, another neo-soul late bloomer, and received international attention. This unlikely musical success story is the subject of the inspiring and heartwarming new documentary Soul of America, which premiered last month at South by Southwest and is now seeking distribution.
On screen, Bradley comes to life through fly on the wall reportage, footage of concerts, rehearsals, and recording sessions, interviews with his family, friends, and bandmates, and the stylistically incongruous reenactment of how he slept on the New York City subway as teen runaway. The glue that binds the movie is the music, and the music –from Bradley’s early gig as “James Brown Jr.” to his triumphant concerts under his own name—does not quit.
I’m basically a pro at fantasizing about lifestyles/careers/states of mind that I’m pretty sure I could never achieve. For example, I know I will never be quite zen enough to be a yogi, nor could I give up my nights and weekends to work in the restaurant business. And while I admire vegetarians, I couldn’t possibly denounce brisket for long enough to be one (although I did accomplish this for 6 impressive years in my youth). But the one fantasy I keep coming back to—the one that seems vaguely attainable—is the one in which I pick fresh berries from my garden at breakfast, then come back later to pick vegetables for dinner. All I see are open, fertile fields, and everything I eat comes from within 30 miles of my home. And I have a pet duck. (Lifelong aspiration.)
Last weekend, I met the people living my dream. Right down to the little quacker. Upstate in Columbia County, I visited family friends who have a growing operation in their backyard, somewhere between enormous garden and mini-farm. Their vegetables and strawberries grow in a greenhouse, asparagus stalks shoot straight up from the ground, and a dozen chickens cluck from within a pen. And then there’s Diddy, the duck, who will eventually lay eggs of her own but currently fits in the palm of a hand, soft and gentle as the children’s books would lead you to believe.
At this garden/farm, named Toad Hall by its owners, I picked crisp, sweet miner’s lettuce, thick and hearty spinach leaves, and the spiciest arugula I’ve ever tasted. I petted a chicken about to lay eggs, and I held a baby duck, who had imprinted on a human as her mother. I saw the mobile pen where the new meat chickens will be living come summer. And then I ate the veggies I had picked for dinner. They were objectively delicious and flavorful, but the added satisfaction came from knowing that I had pulled them from the ground earlier.
My experience—just a casual afternoon at Toad Hall—really got me thinking about farm-to-table and why it’s so appealing. We’re all vitally connected to food but without much concept of how it has made its way to us. I know I’m not the first person to pick up on this trend; eager 20-somethings flee from Brooklyn all the time to intern at various upstate NY farms, like Kinderhook, ready to birth lambs and shear sheep. But we can’t (and needn’t) all do that. Just spending a bit of time with farmers has shown me the dedication, care, and craftsmanship that goes into responsible farming, and that makes me feel good about eating what they’ve grown. I suppose my point is that it’s worth at least getting to know a farmer (or a master gardener). Seeing where truly good food comes from might change the way you think about what you eat. And in a world where pink slime was even conjured up, this seems to me something that our society must do.
I do believe that I could love small-scale farm life. And I’m certain it would be more work than I think. But at the very least it would be rewarding and delicious, and there isn’t much more one could ask for. (Except… wait for it… a duck.)
M. Ward seems to have a pretty good life. Over the last decade, the singer-songwriter’s output includes several solid solo albums, the Monsters of Folk project with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, and collaborations with a bevy of female singers, including Beth Orton, Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, and Zooey Deschanel (sigh). On his eighth studio album, Ward sticks to his successful formula that centers on his gravelly yet tuneful voice and strummy acoustic guitar. Although A Wasteland Companion is nothing revolutionary, the 12 songs deliver Ward’s reliable brand of indie adult contemporary music: a fusion of folk and blues with splashes of country and swing. While nominally a solo record, the personnel includes 17 other musicians, including Mogis and Deschanel, whose bright warbly voice balances Ward’s signature rasp.
As in the past, Ward has his melancholy moments, such as the bluesy title track and the opener “Clean Slate,” on which he sings “When I was a younger man/I thought the pain of defeat would last forever” over fingerpicking reminiscent of Nick Drake. But despite these songs, the ominous album title, and spooky cover art with Ward silhouetted against a full moon, A Wasteland Companion is often a cheery record. “Sweetheart,” a duet with Deschanel, is a wholesome paean to chaste love, enlivened by handclaps, shoo-be-doo vocals, 50’s guitar arpeggios, and a swooping pedal steel. The song begins: “You have a sweet heart/Sweetheart/You have a nice smile/Baby/You drove me crazy/Down Lover’s Lane.”) In a similar vein, “I Get Ideas” centers on the sort of playful innuendo that may have seemed risque for Buddy Holly or the early Beatles, but in 2012 sounds almost quaint. And the last track, “Pure Joy,” is just that, reinforcing the notion that A Wasteland Companion is more idealistic and homespun than dark and apocalyptic, more Garrison Keillor than T.S. Elliot.
I was tempted to buy A Wasteland Companion on vinyl on Record Store Day, during which I hit four shops in New Jersey before and after a somewhat premature beach trip. Unfortunately, I gave my turntable to a friend two years ago, so I settled for the free digital stream. Still, for the retro sheen of Ward’s music and the crackly warmth of his voice, 33 1/3 RPM seems like the perfect speed.
Keith Meatto is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist, back this week after a post-SXSW hiatus. In May, he’s off to Philadelphia to see M. Ward at Union Transfer, Yards Brewery, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He bought A Very She and Him Christmas as a present for his mom and is an unapologetic fan of New Girl.
There’s a lot of be said for Polytheism. Sure, believing in a single all-powerful deity is comforting and all but, in the end, it’s just not very interesting. The Greeks had dozens of Gods; The Egyptians hundreds. The Hindus claim to have 330 million. How many do Americans have? One? Three if you’re Catholic? Where’s the fun in that?
Humans are varied creatures and we need a multiplicity of stories to explain our lives properly. For all their ridiculous amount of deities, Hinduism admits they are all a tiny fraction of Brahma but it is their lives, their legends which illuminate the totality. Take those legends away and we’re in the dark. Or, as has happened in the West, the culture will cobble together a pantheon from strange and jagged fields.
Witness: The Avengers, opening May 3rd in theatres everywhere. Hollywood has assembled an American Olympus, a collection of flawed, omni-powerful creatures who telegraph our hopes, fears, flaws and aspirations. These are our Gods, ladies and gentlemen, so let’s do a roll call:
This Saturday marks the return of Record Store Day, as you should have heard. There are many strong, exclusive releases coming out this year, all of which can be found over at their official website. While it is great to see the music industry rally together to support the merchandising arm, we must ask the obvious question: why only one day?
It’s no secret that people don’t buy music like they used to. New CDs are overpriced and useless, and the idea of purchasing files that you don’t really own for $10 when it’s just as easy (less so now) to download and share music without an iTunes account. Online streaming services put far more music in the ears of the people than ever before, and we couldn’t be more grateful. However, what isn’t said is that these services shouldn’t be a substitute for the neighborhood record store; rather they should supplement your music listening experience.
There are two ways to review THEESatisfaction’s debut LP: the easy way, and the hard way. The easy way involves using terms like “avant-rap” and “jazz-soul fusion,” making some references to outer space, and calling it a day. The hard way involves acknowledging that this is a record penned by a pair of romantically involved black lesbians and discussing this fact openly as it relates to the music. I have seen precisely none of the second type, a stunning fact considering that the record includes lines like “My melanin is relevant/it’s something to be had” and “The black Jesus/which means of course he’s white.”
I attempted to write that second type of review, spending hours attempting to decipher the political content of some seriously opaque lyrics. Whether because of inadequate intellect or lack of authorial courage, I failed in my efforts. But, if nothing else, I leave convinced that racial identity itself is the core of this record. One can hear this in the lyrics, but it’s reflected even more deeply in the musical content. Indeed, this album is one of the more perfect encapuslations of the history of black music in America I can recall hearing. Gladys Knight, Pharoah Sanders, Mos Def: they’re all on display here, blended into such a seamless mix that it’s hard to know what to call it. Is it R&B? Soul? Hip-hop?
One might argue that the record defies labels, but in my view this is a profound error. For this record labels itself openly: it is proudly, audaciously black, and it does not hesitate to make this clear. Indeed, what’s important here is not why the “melanin is relevant” but that it is relevant, that it is not to be diluted with euphamism, but rather to be embraced.
And it’s pretty damn funky, too.