Monday, November 30, 2009

Raphael Saadiq: Love That Girl, 100 Yard Dash, Sure Hope You Mean It

NPR Tiny Desk Concert, September 28, 2009

I'm not sure how I expected Raphael Saadiq to translate his old-school soul and R&B to the acoustic confines of the Tiny Desk, but I know I hadn't imagined two acoustic guitars.

In the late '80s and '90s, under the name Raphael Wiggins, Saadiq played bass in the multi-platinum band Tony! Toni! Tone! More recently, he reinvented himself as a successful producer and released last year's Grammy-nominated solo album The Way I See It, which features collaborations with Joss Stone, Stevie Wonder and Jay-Z.

For his Tiny Desk Concert, Saadiq brought a remarkable accompanist in guitarist Rob Bacon. The two had just gotten off a plane, but in their impeccably tailored suits and their grand smiles, they looked fresh and played an inspired acoustic performance. As you watch, keep an eye on Saadiq's guitar work: You'll see how his years as a bassist influences many of his licks on his Taylor acoustic. You're in for a real treat.

[Bio by NPR's Bob Boilen]

NPR's small but just-as-good version of MTV Unplugged - really feeling these Tiny Desk Concerts.

K'naan: Take a Minute, Fatima, Wavin' Flag

Though his appearance at the NPR Music office qualifies as the first-ever hip-hop Tiny Desk Concert, Somali-born rapper K'naan isn't one to adhere to a single genre. Given that he released a song called "If Rap Gets Jealous" earlier this year (hear him perform it at SXSW here), it's no surprise that this show found him infusing his music with the sounds of soul, pop and reggae. With the help of a crack backing band, his three-song set — all drawing from this spring's marvelous Troubadour — exuded shimmery grace.

K'naan grew up in war-torn Mogadishu — he moved to Toronto at 13 and learned English with the help of Eric B & Rakim records — which helps lend grittiness to his storytelling. But in "Fatima," performed here, he tells the story of a lost childhood friend with gentle humor and a sober understanding of what our loved ones leave behind. That song is sandwiched between two magnificent inspirational anthems: "Wavin' Flag" and "Take a Minute," both of which are as uplifting as they are shot through with real-world perspective. Together, the three songs add up to a miniature concert that's sweet and stirring while backing up what we've been saying for months: K'naan has the makings of a global superstar who's as inspiring as his songs are infectious.

[Bio by NPR's Bob Boilen]

K'naan is a Bob Marley for the 21st Century, mixing hip-hop, reggae, soul and echoes of the music of his native Somalia.

Zee Avi: Honey Bee, First of the Gang, Just You and Me

NPR Tiny Desk Concert, November 23, 2009.

Malaysian-born singer-songwriter Zee Avi owes a large portion of her success to the Internet. Hers is an increasingly familiar but still noteworthy story: After posting a few songs on YouTube and MySpace, Avi was discovered by Patrick Keeler of the rock group The Raconteurs. Keeler, in turn, forwarded the songs to the manager of The White Stripes and The Shins. Within a month, Avi signed a deal with Brushfire Records, the label partially owned by singer Jack Johnson. She released her self-titled debut album earlier this year.

{Bio by NPR's Bob Boilen]

Zee's version of "First of the Gang" - best Morrissey cover ever.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Little Dragon: After the Rain

Bless Little Dragon for NOT disabling embedding of their videos!

Yukimi has a blog of her own with videos - check it out:

Weekend Players: Into the Sun

Seaching on YouTube for videos to upload is fast becoming a real treasure hunt, but without the fun element because so many labels, especially the majors have "disabled embedding". They're shooting themselves in the foot really, because what bloggers are doing essentially is giving a free spotlight and thereby free advertising to the artists/bands on these labels.

But on to the video below:

One of the best singers around, British Rachel Foster was the featured vocalist on Groove Armada man Andy Cato's side project The Weekend Players five years ago or so. The first album was flawless and there was supposed to be a second one, but it never happened for some reason. Maybe Andy decided to focus on Groove Armada with his buddy Tom.

Ike & Tina Turner: Proud Mary

Few can rock as hard as Tina. I feel like I just went to the gym - and that's from just watching her.

Dusty Springfield: Son of a Preacher Man

There'll never be another Dusty.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stevie Wonder: Superstition

From 1973. Had hoped to see Big Bird get down and funky, but the kid rockin' out on the stairs kinda makes up for it.

Mint Royale: Show Me

Never get tired of this song and video.

Van Hunt: Down Here in Hell (With You)

From his debut 2004 album. Still fresh.

Sam Sparro: Cottonmouth

Very fun-kay!

Little Dragon: Twice

Can't get enough of Gothenburg, Sweden electro-soul band Little Dragon.

The State of Floral Beings: Man You Owe Me

Starting today The Nightfly will be posting music videos on a regular basis. Remember when MTV focused on music videos, before the hideous baby monster known as Reality TV was born? Luckily we have the web. Sigh: so many videos, so little time.

State of Floral Beings aka TSOFB from Stockholm, Sweden: Mattias, Johan, Henrik, Oskar, Kiptar.

Man You Owe Me - The State Of Floral Beings

The State Of Floral Beings MySpace Music Videos

Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon

From left: Fredrik Wallin (vocals, bass), Håkan Wirenstrand (vocals, keyboards), Yukimi Nagano (vocals, percussion), Erik Bodin (vocals, drums).

Yukimi Nagano was a featured vocalist on fellow Swedes Koop's 2001 album "Waltz for Koop" as well as their 2006 "Koop Islands" release, but with her three Little Dragon band mates Fredrik, Håkan and Erik she seems to have found her true voice.

The Gothenburg quartet describes their music as electro-soul. Two full albums have been released so far on London based label Peacefrog: the self-titled album "Little Dragon" in 2007 and "Machine Dreams" in 2009. Their music videos are some of the most playful and interesting to come around in a long time - they don't adhere to any rules and neither does this genre-bending band.

Q & A with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon

The Nightfly: Gothenburg is known for its melodic death metal bands, but also artists/bands like Jens Lekman, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and Jose Gonzalez. Is the music scene there more diverse than in other cities in Sweden?
Yukimi: I think Sweden in general has a pretty diverse music scene, I guess especially in the main cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö.

The Nightfly: You were born and raised in Sweden to an American mother and a Japanese father. Do you consider yourself Swedish or more of a “citizen of the world”?
Yukimi: I feel quite Swedish more than anything else, but it's good to have more than one place to call home.

The Nightfly: You were a featured vocalist on Koop’s bestselling albums when you were just a teenager. How did you meet up with Magnus and Oscar and what was the most positive outcome of this collaboration for you personally?
Yukimi: I met them at a jazz club where I was singing in a band called Octagon Session at the time. After we had played, Magnus from Koop approached me and asked if I would be interested in singing on their album. It was great to tour with them and it gave me touring experience pretty early on.

The Nightfly: You have a very distinct voice and a wide range. Did you ever take formal lessons?
Yukimi: I went to a music high school and took some singing lessons there, but I was not very serious about it and never really liked my teachers.

The Nightfly: Your father is an accomplished visual artist and did the beautiful animation for the recent “Swimming” music video. How did that collaboration come about?
Yukimi: He wanted to make a video and we gave him free hands to do whatever he wanted. It was great to get his interpretation of the song.

The Nightfly: Little Dragon's music videos are highly creative. Does the band commission these very playful shorts from video artists/film makers that you like or do they usually approach the band?
Yukimi: It's been both. We contacted Johannes Nyholm who made our "Twice" video and also Hideyuki Katsumata who made our video for "Fortune".

The Nightfly: Who made the haunting shadow puppet music video for the track “Twice” and how do you personally interpret the story of the bird, the girl and the skeleton?
Yukimi: Johannes Nyholm. We were fans of his work and really happy about his interpretation. Even though we helped out a lot in making the video - moving the puppets, blowing wind, pulling down rain - we never really knew what he had in mind. I think we all have our own individual ideas about what the story means.

The Nightfly: On several tracks on both albums there is a strong influence of traditional Japanese music in your vocal phrasing and in the song arrangements. Did your father introduce you to music from Japan when you were growing up?
Yukimi: Interesting. No, I never really listened to Japanese music growing up, I just know some Japanese kids songs - my dad has always been into Western music. Yet when we played in China some people felt that my voice reminded them of Chinese opera from a certain region, so maybe I have an Asian expression, but I'm quite unaware of it.

The Nightfly: Little Dragon’s first album used elements of neo soul to great effect, especially on the sublime track “Forever” whereas the latest album adds more new wave to the mix. Was this a natural development that came from playing around with different sounds during the writing/rehearsal/recording process?
Yukimi: Yes, it all came about naturally. We just basically meet in the studio, make music in the moment and try to have fun.

The Nightfly: The four of you seem to be on a perfect creative wavelength. Do you attribute this to your friendship going back a decade?
Yukimi: I definitely think we have grown together and we know each other very well. It feels like a second family somehow.

The Nightfly: Do you change the song arrangements when you perform live?
Yukimi: Sometimes. We like to keep it a bit open and that usually leads to the arrangements changing and expanding.

The Nightfly: How has your U.S. tour been so far and what tour plans do you have lined up for 2010?
Yukimi: It's been great! We're so exited to play some of the cities we've never been to before. We will definitely be coming back to the U.S. in 2010.

The Nightfly: In which country or region do you have your biggest fan base?
Yukimi: Hard to say. We have a good fanbase in California.

The Nightfly: In the band bio on Peacefrog’s website you describe Little Dragon like a city of “blue traffic lights, fast food-signs, neon, love, loneliness, technology”. Could your music just as well have been created in a rural setting like the deep forests where Håkan grew up or is the sound of Little Dragon uniquely urban/metropolitan?
Yukimi: I think it could have been made anywhere - as long as we have our synths close by.

The Nightfly: Are you the primary lyricist in the band and where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Yukimi: Usually the guys start with an idea like a beat or some chords and I get really inspired. I would say their sounds and music are my big inspiration and also whatever is going on in my head - life, books, dreams, etc.

The Nightfly: Which songs/albums/artists/bands have had the greatest impact on you?
Yukimi: So many. Prince, Kate Bush, etc.

The Nightfly: Which artists/bands are you currently into and how do you usually listen to music - CDs, iPod, web?
Yukimi: iPod mostly, but also just checking out blogs on the web. I listen to my playlists with everything from Salt-n-Pepa to LCD Soundsystem.

The Nightfly: You have stated that from time to time the members of Little Dragon have had to take regular jobs, but that “we would rather stay broke, so that we can concentrate on the band”. The “starving artist dilemma” is a familiar and frustrating one to most creative types. How do artists stay true to themselves?
Yukimi: I think just trying to spend as much time as possible on what you love will make you grow and get better and surely things will happen if you work hard.

The Nightfly: Like U2, the members of Little Dragon met in high school [about a decade ago]. Do you picture the band still playing together when you’re in your 40s and 50s?
Yukimi: Yep!

The Nightfly: If a company offered to make Little Dragon action figures what would you want them to look like?
Yukimi: One half-Japanese girl, one bearded blond guy, one tall lightly bearded guy, and one chubby bearded guy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Emma-Lee: "Feisty" Canadian

Like her fellow Canadian Feist, Toronto based singer/songwriter/guitarist Emma-Lee has an effortless and distinct voice. Unlike many singers, she can also deliver the goods live - on her sparse acoustic cover of "Moon River" she echoes Eva Cassidy. On other tracks there's a Neko Case quality.

It'd be sweet if Emma-Lee, Feist and Neko got together and recorded an album of covers along the lines of the stellar two "Trio" projects that Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris did in 1990 and in 1999.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Isn't It Obvious" - very "Feisty" sound, yet with a big, healthy dose of Emma-Lee herself.

Manic: One-Man Band

Creators of instrumental tracks have to work hard to grab the listener's attention - there are no vocals to rely on, no singer to belt out a chorus or croon a verse, just music - and in this case, beats.

San Fransisco Bay area based Manic makes stellar, mostly instrumental down tempo/ambient soundscapes and lists many influences. French classical composer/pianist Eric Satie (1866-1925) - generally recognized as the father of modern music - is not listed but were he alive today, he'd be playing around in his homestudio and coming up with something very much like what Manic is doing: the tracks "Premonition" and "Music for Film" sound like Satie collaborating with Massive Attack.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "L.A. Theory" with its distinct Groove Armada/Weekend Players feel and sound.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Blue Eyed Son: The Perfect Musical Wave

"Surf all day, play music all night long". Andrew Heilprin aka Blue Eyed Son does just that with his friends in Venice Beach, California. The former frontman for surf-punk band 40 Watt Domain released his album "West of Lincoln" this year - the production is stellar and showcases Andrew's Lennonesque vocals. Makes you wanna head out with your board before the sun sets.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Where Have I Been": John Lennon and Brian Wilson surfing a psychedelic wave.

Siderunners: Hoedown at CBGB

"Now available for children's parties" is the headline on Chicago band Siderunners' MySpace page and these guys would no doubt be a whole lotta more fun than a creepy clown doing magic tricks.

Their influences are Slayer and Hank Williams and the enegry level is high - this is a tight six-member band with great rock vocals from guitarist Sappy - they are meant to be heard live, but the tracks on their MySpace player will give you an excellent idea of what to expect if you decide to hire them for a punk music hoedown or a kiddie birthday bash.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "My Pistol My Love": Johnny Cash jamming with The Ramones, The Clash, and Slayer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Mac: The Jimi Hendrix of Painters

Painters have long been inspired by composers and vice versa - Eric Satie is a perfect example. (In his case it also led to heartbreak: in 1893 his lover, the painter Suzanne Valadon left him with "nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness." Ouch.)

29-year old Phoenix based The Mac/El Mac may well be America's finest living painter, a cosmopolitan Leonardo da Vinci for the 21st century who is gaining rabid new fans by the minute.

The Nightfly first came across The Mac's art three years ago in Los Angeles when walking up La Brea Avenue towards 3rd Street where one of his best public pieces can still be viewed: a close-up of a dark haired woman, in blue tones. The painting's beauty and his dazzling spray paint technique will take your breath away - don't forget to close your mouth as you stare in awe at his modern Mona Lisa.

The Mac/El Mac is the Jimi Hendrix of painters: a from-another-planet virtuoso with an ancient soul, creating timeless work with crazy-beautiful colors.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Richie Syrett: Back to the Future

Some people are lactose intolerant. I am nails-on-a-blackboard-vocals intolerant. Took me a while to get into Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and other unconventional voices - now they are among my favorites.

Richie Syrett, troubadour from Manchester, England doesn't take any getting used to. Like Chris Isaacs, his gorgeous voice - greatly aided by reverb galore - recalls singers like Roy Orbison and Ricky Nelson, but still manages to sound 21st century.

The Nightfly's favorite track: "Slipping": Richie hopping in the time machine and meeting up with Roy and Ricky.