HowToFindTheBestMusic by Bill Realman Stella

Saturday, July 16, 2011
EAR PWR ~ "National Parks" ~ [video NSFW]
Posted by Bill Realman Stella  

  Synths still sound synthetic to me. After all these years, decades, hell, generations, I still have a tough time not dismissing, never mind preferring songs based largely in the naked, largely overtone-less bleats for which synths are known.

  But I'm happy to make exceptions. Hell, what makes me happiest is the exceptional in anything.

  All I know for now about the band EAR PWR is this one video of hippie-like creatures dancing and cavorting in the woods for their song "National Parks". (Twyla Tharp's choreography for "Hair" (The Movie) figures into the flavors of their dance.) Did I mention they're mostly naked? No, I didn't. Nearly nude, their bodies are sweet if not entirely innocent, yet watching I never felt they stooped so low (so high?) as to be "…but tasteful" [gak!].

   Treading the line between tasteful and titillating without overstepping either way? That's the kind of balancing act one can enjoy guiltlessly. Playing burbling synths to evoke just the naturally right tones for a song called "National Parks"? That's also a neat trick. 


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Thursday, July 14, 2011
The Axis of Awesome ~ "4 Chords" : Bringing The Funny
Posted by Bill Realman Stella  

They call themselves The Axis of Awesome: That's a big glaring clue right there, right?

The easy comparisons are to Jack Black and Kyle Gass as Tenacious D (the Hard Rock tributaries/parodists), for lovingly skewering every strand of Pop they too can lay their hands on, or to New Zealanders Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, better known as Flight of the Conchords (from HBO's "The Flight of the Conchords"), for being similarly funny musical Aussies.

The Axis of Awesome's "4 Chords" has been a viral video for months.

What can I say to introduce "4 Chords"? As little as possible. It's a song about 4 Chords. Go! Hear it now. It's track 14 (That's right, buried at 14!) streaming here until the end of this weekend. Also, it's an easy enough search for "The Axis of Awesome 4 chords" at YouTube -- that search will appear fast (before you finish typing it) in a list of choices, and will bring up dozens of videos: I'd go with one called The Axis of Awesome : 4 Chords (Live) posted by Cataphract, but explore for yourself. (Then, after you're done with "4 Chords", take a pass at "Birdplane" back at the AOL stream (track 4 - you'll understand why it's better to hear "Birdplane" second IF you listen to "4 Chords" first) and track 2 as well. Might as well shuffle them all together all at once. Although I can't recommend the entire album**, I'm happy to direct your attention to the best stuff, and point your way past the hazards.)

 

We'll check back here later. Listen! Now! We'll wait for you.

 

[... dum da doo doo doooo ... 

 

       hum hum hummmm... 

 

            ... whistling while I wait... ]

 

 

 

 

SPOILER WARNING: PLEASE DON'T READ THIS NEXT PART UNTIL AFTER YOU'VE HEARD 

"4 CHORDS"!

 

 

 

Everybody back? Alright, Settle down! Keep the giggling to a minimum!

It's a semi-brilliant bit of tour-de-force, isn't it?

Kinda breathtaking to hear all those songs piled up one on top of the next. It helps that they're all placed in the same key, of course, but I love that "4 Chords" gleefully skewers without prejudice, slicing through a swath of genres, and takes the wind out of all of those songs' respective sails — even the songs I love. Especially the songs I love! It's one chunk of overwrought seriousness relentlessly rendered ineffective one after another, must-avoid songs plunked down next to "Damn!, I *love* that song!" songs.

The album Animal Vehicle may not be a sighting of the future of rock comedy, but it contains a name-making schtick that, once experienced, will stick with you. Forever after, when you hear a pop hit, you'll think to ask yourself whether it has the formula 4 Chords.

**Warning Regarding Your Enjoyment Of Other Tracks On The Album: As is true about most "comedy albums", your mileage may vary.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Let's call what has gone before the "Soft Opening"
Posted by Bill Realman Stella  

Hi, and thanks for your patience!
Why the long stretch between posts? The short answer is I really need to find a paying job. The slightly longer list includes a long-planned visit with Portland OR friends (I didn't pay for... Yet.), and several SNAFUs around the house that took full priority over everything else. (Feel free to email me for details. I could use the opportunities to network. And to vent.)

I intend to make a habit to post at least twice a week from here on in. Every Monday or ASAP each week I'll post about the best new albums streaming online this week. Plus I'll add at least one more post during the week about other finds.


My natural focus of late has been on music by Out Gay musicians -- who I sometimes refer to as "Out musicians" or "Outmusicians", whether they are members of the OUTmusic organization or not. This focus will shift now, to include the full spectrum of music that impresses me, whether they're Outmusicians or not. That must seem a strange thing to have to point out, but I find that most music reviewers in Gay papers, websites and other media tend to write about, to put it in the most cliched form but the most frequently cited form possible, "Music Gay People Like". Meaning: Divas, Dance and Club Music, Broadway Show Tunes, the "American Songbook", lip service paid to the (Euro-)Classical Music form, and the occasional smattering of Out musicians, usually big established stars like George Michael or k. d. lang.
My take is different. I have little inclination, no inherent attraction "because you're Gay", to like most of the above styles. (I say "most" because the American Songbook is so undeniably and consistently brilliant that it influences my love of music generally, whatever the genre.)
I have a deep passion to explore every genre of music -- including those I don't typically get a kick from, because I've learned that exceptions to my expectations create exceptional music.And I want to share it all with you. Or, as much as I possibly can.

From now on I'll identify those Out Gay musicians I know of (as I have done all along). It's ridiculous to have to mention that, but that's the society we live in: a world that both denigrates and denies opportunities still to all but a select few Out musicians, and ghettoizes and special-cases those who do come out.

Blechh! I've been over the need to ghettoize from the start of my Out musician-seeking journey. When you read here that someone is Gay, I'm simply celebrating who they are, and often simply breaking the silence will do.
Meanwhile I've got coming up a batch of music from people who, so far as I know, don't identify as Gay, don't market to the Gay market (whatever the fuck that is), don't come up on my radar as anti-Gay, and make mighty good music. Same as anywhere else, people visiting websites for Gay folks should know about them -- and that is what I aim to do.

There's plenty of good stuff out there, in or out of the typical Gay genres, in places you least expect and places in plain view.
Let's hear all of it.
Here we go.
Full Start.


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George Thorogood & The Destroyers ~ 2120 South Michigan Avenue
Posted by Bill Realman Stella  

It has been over 30 years since Thorogood's second album forced its way anachronistically onto late 1970s radios. His latest isn't the blast of take-no-prisoners ground-staking "Move It On Over" (and its predecessor) was. This one hangs around 2120 South Michigan Ave, once home of Chess Records in Chicago. But it's a worthy set for the dedicated electric bluesman to unleash on fans and casual followers alike. His takes on blues standards are solid, reviving and re-masculating already meaty tracks such as "High Heel Sneakers" and "Spoonful".  For an album that's a tribute from start to finish, that lifts riffs unapologetically, that borrows freely from his heroes' inventions, small changes refreshen these songs in surprising ways. For instance, "Bo Diddley" arrives with a high-toned bongo popping in cahoots with the rhythm of the tom-tom, and growly reverb specifically assigned to some instruments adds a familiar but distinctive otherworldly atmosphere.

In fact 2120 South Michigan Avenue is so well-engineered it earns a phrase among those reserved for my highest praises: It doesn't draw attention to itself. If young ears now are anything like mine were, they take for granted that music is superbly well recorded (or that "lo-fi" is used for effect). A kind of muddiness was a constant characteristic of old Blues records; even revivals of the 70s and 80s sometimes chose to include some unseparated muddled sounds to evoke previous eras, even though by then it was easy enough to avoid. On 2120 South Michigan Avenue, every instrument is crystal clear, each is placed authoritatively in audio space, volumes are carefully balanced. This kind of attention to detail, the kind that is routinely taken for granted by young and old alike (— the kind that too often is not applied or abandoned on too many current albums where "experiment" is a euphemism for "inexperienced amateur" —) makes a huge difference in the enjoyment of sounds that depend on hundreds of unwritten variations and variables per song to express oneself, to provide heat and energy and passion.

2120 South Michigan Avenue is produced by Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, and features guests Buddy Guy and Charlie Musselwhite.

Thorogood frames the album with two OK originals, title track "2120 South Michigan Avenue" and "Going Back" (listen for the guitar squeal that pans across the stereo channels). Unfortunately they're just as needlessly nostalgic as they sound. And with "Going Back"'s line "Back when the Blues was king", his well-intentioned, authentic passion tips into inauthentic historical revisionism. But that's the only false note on a sizzling hot summer album.

B+

You can listen to George Thorogood & the Destroyers' 2120 South Michigan Avenue here until the end of this week.
Please click here to buy 2120 South Michigan Avenue.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Gay singers *represent!* on The Voice
Posted by Bill Realman Stella  

In the event that this post catches readers before the 10am Wednesday 6/22 deadline (I know, not much time at all.... )

Voting has begun on the semi-final round of NBC's singing competition series The Voice.

The most noteworthy part of the show for LGBT's is that two Out performers have made it to the final 8.

Or maybe the most noteworthy part is that The Voice doesn't make a big deal of any kind about the fact that the show has had a Gay Man and a Lesbian burning their way through their competitors. NBC has treated who they are as simply true, giving Nakia's male companion and Beverly's female companion no less (and no more) attention than other "Family Members" received, especially in the earliest round when every singer's supporters were shown backstage cheering them on. It's a big deal that there's no "gay angle", that "gay" is not a big deal.

It just happens to also be true that the best singers on the show are a Gay Man and a Lesbian.

Nakia is a big man with a soulful voice, and the passion and spirit to match.

Beverly McClellan constantly defies the Melissa Etheridge-y, Lesbian Rocker bag she appears to be in at first glance.

Beverly McClellan made seriously choice interpretations during her performance of the B. B. King classic "The Thrill is Gone" tonight.

Nakia defied expectations on his own by taking on Adam Lambert's "Whataya Want From Me?" with power and charm.

I encourage you -- those of you who find this post in time, to vote at nbc.com/the-voice or find out at nbc.com/the-voice how you can vote by phone or through iTunes.

You can take my recommendation and just vote for Nakia and Beverly in a show of Q-Solidarity. Or don't take my word, and view videos of their performances at the same site.

This time, NBC is giving less than 12 hours for voting, and the deadline is 10am Eastern Time. So if you see this and can drop everything, do it: vote.

And Thanks.

By the way, since we - me, the new blogger, and you the new readers - don't know each other all that well, lemme just say, you won't find me rooting for competitors on a TV singing competition very often. Truth is, I have never done it before. None of the "reality" competitions (except ABDC) impress me one bit. That is, until now, until The Voice. (I've been trying to nail down why that is, and it's largely due to how the celebrities are coaches: They truly coach the contestants, and compelling dynamics develop between coach and team.)

THIS BLOG POST IS AN NJGAYLIFE.COM EXCLUSIVE -- Not cross-posted at HowToFindTheBestMusic.blogspot.com

©2011 Bill Stella. Dancing To Architecture™, HowToFindTheBestMusic™, Bill Realman Radio™, Highest Common Denominator™ by Bill Stella.    All ©, ® & ™ items included in the column for review purposes are ©, ® & ™ their respective owners.

Postscript, added June 22, 2011, ~ 1:30pm (3.5 hours after deadline): Did anyone see this entry and vote? Anyone who did, please add a comment! All I ask for is "I Voted!" -- but I won't discourage you from saying who you voted for, or whatever else you'd like.


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Martin Swinger In Concert in New Jersey in August!
And More About Martin!
Posted by Bill Realman Stella  

JUST ANNOUNCED!

Martin Swinger In Concert in New Jersey in August!

Especially excited to announce the August 15th performance at GAAMC!

Friday, August 12, 7 PM 

Front Porch House Concert
Martin Swinger solo show! Admission $15
308 Meadowbrook Rd. Robbinsville, NJ 08691
Contact Maggie Marshall 609-443-0577

Sunday, August 14, 5 PM

Carmel Retreat Center
Martin Swinger solo show! Admission $15
DINNER AND SHOW: $30!
1071 Ramapo Valley Rd, Mahwah, NJ 07430
Call 201-327-7090 to make reservations.

Monday, August 15, 7:30 PM

Morristown Unitarian Fellowship
Martin Swinger solo show for GAAMC ~
Gay Activist Alliance in Morris County! Donation $6!
21 Normandy Heights Rd, Morristown, NJ 07960
contact Info@GAAMC.org or call 973-285-1595.
 
More about Martin Swinger --

"Some songs are great to dance to, and some feel good to cry to, and others are fun to sing along to.
But sometimes you discover songs that simply invite you to stop and listen.

Martin Swinger sings Songs Worth Listening To.

M O O N has risen and shines just for you!      
MOON CD Teaser:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Awn3GIvdvSg

Order M O O N ($15 check) direct at:
Martin Swinger, 52 Green St., Augusta, ME 04330

OR at MartinSwinger.com

OR at www.cdbaby.com/Artist/MartinSwinger


Adult Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
www.MartinSwinger.com

Songwriting in schools or multi-generational settings and family entertainment:
www.SwingerSongwriter.com


Improvisational singing and workshops:
www.Improvox.com


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Friday, June 10, 2011
Martin Swinger ~ M O O N
Swinger's songs are among the strongest released in 2011
Posted by Bill Realman Stella  

Martin Swinger ~ M O O N

 

 It's Gay Pride Month here in New Jersey. Across the country and around much of the world, Pride is celebrated with partying, parades and festivals. But what else is available to us Queers — us Proud Gay Men & Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgendered and Intersexed — to celebrate? How about our culture! How about creativity! How about breaking out of the box of "gay music" to discover great music by great Gay/BGILT-Q musicians?

  Yeah. How about that?

   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~ 

  Martin Swinger, much to his own surprise, was the first to record a full-fledged album of music directed at an audience of Bears — and we hairy, often bearded, likely as not (how shall I put it?) meaty men have as a group, I'm afraid I must report, barely noticed. That CD, BearNAKED, arrived in 2000, often with a furry frame hand-glued to the edges of the case by Swinger and his husbear themselves.

  M O O N  arrives after years (since 2004) without a new CD from Swinger, partly due to that undeserved lack of notice. A true labor of love, the results transcend the limitations of producing a CD independently. I haven't room here to praise every wonderful song, but will expand on this review over the coming weeks at my new blog.

  "Little Plastic Part" starts as an amusing observational song: "I was cleaning, vacuuming the room…/ The motor faltered… I'd broken… some Little Plastic Part/ …that makes the whole thing work/ …It's never gonna start/ cause there is no replacement for that Little Plastic Part." Then comes a twist and — well, that would be telling. I wouldn't ruin it for you.

  "From Your Gravity" is as beautiful a song as you're bound to hear this year. And its video can be seen at my new Bill Realman Radio blog. According to Swinger himself, "Gravity [was] inspired on Route One driving from Houlton Maine to Presque Isle, following the large scale model of the solar system. And [by] a difficult phone call. My sweetie and I worked it out and are still together celebrating 25 years!"

  But "Gravity", in my not so humble opinion, is not even one of the three best songs on the album. That honor goes to the three songs that conclude M O O N — "Wooden Boy", "Betty Boop & Buddha" and "Music In The Rafters". Together those are the three strongest songs at the home stretch of any album I've heard in years.

  Swinger's website MartinSwinger.com features the story behind the song "Wooden Boy" (and much more). What inspired it is important, of course, but I'll allow you to discover that, too, for yourself. Because although most of us, we — you and I — are not ourselves likely to have suffered under the same condition as "Wooden Boy"'s inspiration, I can attest to knowing his same feelings as a child. Thinking back to at least as young as 8 years old, I felt a deep connection with Disney's Pinocchio, even becoming him for Halloween. Then in high school, nearly a decade before I took on the name Realman, among the ways I saw my life were two long poems I wrote titled "Real Life Stories" and "Real Life Dreams". I have seen my experience, my sense of hiding inside for some reason, some need, reflected in the people around me, in their quiet shyness, in their angry lashing out. It's tough enough for most people to express their loneliness and depression. Why it is practically taboo to admit deep disconnection from the world, I don't know. It's the universality of "Wooden Boy" that matters most, more than its origins. And I've not heard its like before.

  Martin Swinger is just as deft at having fun and being joyful as he is at expressing anything else. "Betty Boop & Buddha" has been delighting audiences in concert for years now. Friends, upon hearing it has arrived on CD at last, have confessed how eagerly they've awaited it, and how much they want M O O N  for it if nothing else. " One simply cannot help going from zero to happy when "Betty Boop & Buddha" plays. It's an inspired pairing, a romance for the ages, and you'll be tapping your extremities, wiggling your wiggleables, and committing every "Bop-bop-a-loo-bop" and "Boo-Boop-i-Do" to memory, as with each verse Nirvana comes closer to fruition.

  As if that one-two punch of the poignant and the joyful weren't enough, finally "Music In The Rafters" brings the album to its gentle, rousing conclusion. When I hear "Rafters" — and I can barely stop playing it — I am reminded of the finest performers in the American Folk tradition, of the Pete Seegers and Holly Nears, and of the finest songs, of the "Rainbow Race"s and "We Are A Gentle Angry People"s. Launched from the sight and sound of a bird's nest being built, from modest "…songs of hunger being answered / as little wings learn how to fly / and make music", a sweet wise plain philosophy takes flight in song.

  "Rafters" is filled with small inspired moments, little touches like the just-subtle-enough cymbal to illustrate "shimmering", the doubled flutters of strumming guitars not tethered to each others' strum, the pull of a sense of community with the addition of mandolin and handclaps for the final rounds of the chorus, the complex but understated lead vocal, the duet vocal by Kathy Slack and the vocal harmonies, enhanced, I'm told in the credits, by "ImproVox + Referendum = Hot Buttah!" It could all have turned out too precious, but feels found afresh. One can only imagine the depth of preparation it took to enable such spontaneity in the performances.

  If ever there was a song that epitomizes what I mean when I say "Music is the Highest Common Denominator," "Music In The Rafters" is it. "Rafters" is like a gift you didn't know you wanted but love dearly from the moment you've received it.

  I've been praising the hell out of M O O N  and especially "Rafters" and, until now, I've silenced the voice of restraint. I know the disappointment of raised hopes dashed. But I can't be dishonest about "Music In The Rafters": The recording itself is a great example of how to open up a great song with great arrangements, production and recording. (And kudos to all those credited in the liner notes whose names I can't fit here.) But scratch that, focus just on the melody and lyrics, and "Music In The Rafters" deserves to take a place of honor among the great songs of our lives.

  Unlike all the manipulative demands of contemporary Pop musicians to herd fans into acting "impulsively" ("Put Your Hands In The Air!" "Say 'Hey'!" "Dance!"), Swinger wants to reach you one-by-one, and one-on-one. Maybe once, twice a year, an album greets my ears with songs that often cause me to tear up in witness to their beauty. It's an intimacy I can't tell you of; it's up to you to put yourself in a place where your heart is open to be touched, to let the music touch you. I wouldn't casually encourage you to embrace such artistic intimacy. Embrace the M O O N, and let the M O O N  touch you. And, as requested in big, bold letters at the end of the lyric booklet:

 Please Sing!

 

©2011 Bill Stella. Dancing To Architecture™, HowToFindTheBestMusic™, Bill Realman Radio™, Highest Common Denominator™ by Bill Stella.    All ©, ® & ™ items included in the column for review purposes are ©, ® & ™ their respective owners.

JUST ANNOUNCED!

Martin Swinger In Concert in New Jersey in August!

Especially excited to announce the August 15th performance at GAAMC!

 Friday, August 12, 7 PM 

Front Porch House Concert:
Martin Swinger solo show! Admission $15
308 Meadowbrook Rd. Robbinsville, NJ 08691
Contact Maggie Marshall 609-443-0577 

Sunday, August 14, 5 PM

Carmel Retreat Center
Martin Swinger solo show! Admission $15
DINNER AND SHOW: $30!
1071 Ramapo Valley Rd, Mahwah, NJ 07430
Call 201-327-7090 to make reservations.

Monday, August 15, 7:30 PM

Morristown Unitarian Fellowship
Martin Swinger solo show for GAAMC ~
 Gay Activist Alliance in Morris County! Donation $6!
21 Normandy Heights Rd, Morristown, NJ 07960
contact Info@GAAMC.org or call 973-285-1595.
 
More about Martin Swinger --

"Some songs are great to dance to, and some feel good to cry to, and others are fun to sing along to.
But sometimes you discover songs that simply invite you to stop and listen.

Martin Swinger sings Songs Worth Listening To.

M O O N has risen and shines just for you!      
MOON CD Teaser:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Awn3GIvdvSg

Order M O O N ($15 check) direct at:
Martin Swinger, 52 Green St., Augusta, ME 04330  

OR at MartinSwinger.com

OR at www.cdbaby.com/Artist/MartinSwinger


Adult Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
www.MartinSwinger.com 

Songwriting in schools or multi-generational settings and family entertainment:
www.SwingerSongwriter.com


Improvisational singing and workshops:
www.Improvox.com


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