Music Guides

Swing Sideways: Oakland’s Black Jazz Records


New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Fort Worth, Los Angeles… By the 70′s Jazz had gone through many form changes and developments, many defined by geographic location. Retrospect shows that these changes were refreshing; groups went electric or funky or free. But for many in the dark at the time, smaller developments unfortunately went overlooked as they veered ears toward Brubeck or Piven.

In Oakland, a small grouping of interesting musicians previously involved with Charlie Parker, Nat Adderly, Count Basie… is some fashion recorded a strange brew of music for Black Jazz Records, a small label set up by pianist Gene Russell. The label itself was one of the only active Jazz companies of the day run by African Americans. Like … Read more›

Factory Records: From The Hip


Like any first time infatuation, you tend to ignore the flaws in someone or something special and love a person or idea wholly, your affection unrequited… The Manchester label Factory Records was my all-time favorite while coming of age. And some releases from Factory just don’t quite have the staying power I thought they had a bit less than a decade ago.

The obvious issues (Martin Hannett’s unique but overrated production values, The Happy Mondays as a flagship band) are pretty well known by now. Thanks to the film “24 Hour Party People” and a number of books, the best of all being James Nice’s history-in-place-of-legend “Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records,” I can skip the flogged … Read more›

A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On:
A Guide to Rockabilly; Past and Present


For the uninitiated, the idea of discussing Rockabilly as an independent genre might seem unnecessary. Isn’t the word just a descriptor for early rock and roll, the remarkable if somewhat overplayed work of Rock’s founding fathers, the stuff that gave birth to all that came after? Isn’t it just “oldies”? In one sense, yes, those classic songs we all know, put out by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, are indeed Rockabilly, and formed the trunk of the rock and roll tree. But oldies? Ah, think again, Grasshopper. Though the sound that was early Rockabilly certainly did morph into all we’ve come to know as Rock, the core sound has remained alive and vital since its … Read more›

From A Whisper To A Scream: Allen Toussaint, The Meters, and the Funky Sound of New Orleans


Allen Toussaint is one of those names people know, but don’t know why. One of the enduring figures of the New Orleans music scene, he got his feet wet in the late ’50′s as a session man for the likes of Fats Domino, moving into production and ghostwriting in the ’60′s for soul luminaries like Lee Dorsey and Irma Thomas and penning many of the songs he is (or other people are) known for today. However, it wasn’t until the ’70′s that Toussaint really hit his artistic and creative stride, when he started consistently working with The Meters and releasing records under his own name. Despite penning and producing reams of classic tunes during this period, his name remains one … Read more›

Glass Palaces:
Navigating the Paisley Underground


Even by the fleeting standards of today’s internet-fueled micro-movements and trends, the Paisley Underground was a particularly short-lived musical moment. Springing forth from the Southern California suburbs in the early-’80′s, the movement eventually coalesced around Los Angeles. While most of the bands quickly splintered, or lost their spark under the influence of commercial pressure, their influence can be felt more acutely three decades down the line, coming home to roost in the contemporary indie underground’s renewed infatuation with all things psychedelic and of the ’80′s. While “psychedelic” bands with a Velvet Underground fetish or a Byrds fixation are as commonplace as yoga mats and kombucha in a Whole Foods re-usable tote today, they stuck out like a sore thumb in … Read more›

Re-examinin’ Jammin:
A Guide for the Reggae Reluctant


What is it about Reggae that inspires such polarized reactions? Scores of those who are otherwise musically well-versed and open-minded will register tangible expressions of apprehension when the irie sounds of Jamaica are mentioned. Reggae is a line in the sand for a lot of people, but I suspect that, as was the case for me, a lot of people have simply never had the right entry point – something beyond the ganja-huffing roommate who blasted Bob Marley’s “Legend” from dusk to dawn. Like the music of The Grateful Dead (read our guide), Reggae comes with a lot of baggage. Negative cultural associations abound, and the fact that at it’s root, it is a basically repetitive music sung … Read more›

Produced by Tom Wilson:
A Guide to a Forgotten Visionary


Ask your friendly neighborhood music nerd about the great producers of the ‘60s and you’ll hear some familiar names: Phil Spector. George Martin. Perhaps Barry Gordy. But Tom Wilson? Probably not. True, the output of this Zelig-like figure, though prolific, has very few distinguishing characteristics. There’s no “Wall of Sound”. No Abbey Road studio wizardry. No Funk Brothers. Yet despite this lack of an authorial stamp, Tom Wilson’s legacy is perhaps even more significant and far-reaching than those of any of his contemporaries.

Tom Wilson was an anomaly. Texas-born, Harvard-educated, and a card-carrying Republican, he also happened to be African-American. Such a distinction thankfully makes no difference in the music business today. But the fact is, back then, finding success … Read more›

The Antiquarian Ear:
A Guide to the British Folk Renaissance


The evolution of folk music in Britain and America in the early to mid-20th century can be viewed as two essentially parallel lines. In both increasingly mechanistic and bureaucratic societies, listeners connected with folk as a more authentic musical expression of being and as a link to the cultures to which their countries’ rapid modernization was laying waste . In late 50’s Britain, it could even be argued that American folk and blues eclipsed that of the British strain in popularity. Indeed, the British Invasion of the following decade could never have been mounted had it not been for skiffle, a hybrid of blues, folk, country, and other indigenous American musical forms embraced by millions of British teenagers—including four certain … Read more›

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?
A Rock Listener’s Guide to Exploring Jazz


Growing up with rock, I heard some of my favorite bands incorporate jazz into their sound. From The Stones’ heavy use of brass in the mid-seventies to the The Dead’s free-form improvisations and the jazz-infused rock of Zappa and Traffic, the influence of jazz was all around me. Meanwhile a bridge from the rock section to jazz remained elusive. I owned the prerequisite recordings: Miles’s Kind of Blue and Brubeck’s Take Five, along with a handfull of jazz-funk classics like Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. While these records served as a decent introduction, the real appeal of jazz still mystified me and free jazz made me cringe in terror. Ornette Coleman would have quickly send me running back to … Read more›

Denim and Leather: An Introduction 
to the New Wave of British Metal:


When asked about music in England in the late 70′s, most anyone will reply with Punk. The images of the Sex Pistols decked out in Vivienne Westwood gear, Ian Curtis on stage in the fits of a seizure, and the classic Kings Road punks with safety pins through their cheeks. The media sensation around the scene was such a whirlwind it seized that little chunk of pop cultural time and handed it over to the punks. Fair enough. But while all that ink has been spilled about punk and its mutant offshoots, there was another, equally as important scene running parallel around the same time, and in the same place. Kids who grew up on the hard rocking sounds of … Read more›

Stereo Laboratories: An Introduction to 
Sound Library & Production Music


Discovering library music is a fascinating thing. This is music that was initially created for commercial purposes (created to be sold or licensed to film, television or radio). Library production music can be the most liberating, genre-bending musical experience, due to its lack of constraints on creativity. It varies from straight orchestral fare, bossa nova pop, quirky electro, disco, demented and moody electro-acoustics, folk, and everything else in between.

There were numerous labels of all shapes and sizes, mostly from France, Italy, Germany and the UK (L’illustration Musicale, de Wolfe, Telemusic, KPM, Selected Sound, Musique Pour l’Image, and Bruton being among some of the larger, more reknown labels), some with wide distribution, and others relegated to obscure status almost immediately. … Read more›

Beyond Tropicália: MPB in the 1970’s


In order to contextualize some of the best Brazilian music of the 1970s, one must first understand tropicália (AKA tropicalismo). In order to do that, one must first look back to Brazil in the ‘60s, a nation at that time rife with contradictions. Despite intermittent political instability which culminated with a military coup in 1964, postwar Brazil simultaneously experienced unprecedented economic growth. A large portion of its population lived far below the poverty line, but its middle class grew exponentially, with many of its members now enjoying a standard of living that previous generations could only dream of. Not surprisingly, these changes began to manifest themselves in the music of Brazil. Bossa nova, in particular, enjoyed not only massive popularity … Read more›