When a band called The National made its debut more than a decade ago, it was considered an underdog in a busy independent music scene. The lead singer's melancholy baritone and the lush instrumentation didn't always fit the irony-laden swagger of the aughts. The National has endured, and these days it has a hard-won following. It headlines big concert halls and late-night talk shows.
Wallace Daniel Pennington grew up singing. His father played guitar and his mother played piano, and by the age of 9, the young man had a guitar of his own. The family attended church on Sunday and Wednesday each week, and to this day, Dan Penn says he remembers the entire Methodist congregation belting out hymns.
The documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which explores the world of rock 'n' roll's backup singers, opens to the soundtrack of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." Reed sings half the refrain — "And the colored girls go, doo do doo do doo" — until a chorus of backup singers pick up the "Do doo" line. At first these women sound far away, but as the chorus progresses, their voices get louder, less produced and polished, more real and intimate.
Guys, did you hear? The '90s are back! By all means, don't let go — you've got the music in you — but as the nostalgia gap gets shorter every year, there's a fine line between homage and theft. That's why recent rock bands like Milk Music, Speedy Ortiz and Roomrunner get it right, ingesting bands that made 120 Minutes and the left side of the dial vital, while still demonstrating that there are still plenty of raucous hooks to mine.
Originally published on Wed June 12, 2013 11:14 am
Combining found sounds and toy instruments with electronics and orchestral instruments, the music of Puerto Rican-born composer Angélica Negrón crafts a sound that's at once futuristic and nostalgic. Her compositions draw from ambient music, found sound, visual art and the hidden potential of everyday objects, as well as the classical music tradition.
Clarinetist and saxophone player Don Byron has a way of homing in on a departed artist's legacy and transforming it with intelligence and adventure. Having already dedicated albums to klezmer clarinetist Mickey Katz, the great saxophonist Lester Young circa 1946 and R&B saxophonist Junior Walker, Byron and his latest project take after the legacy of classic gospel music, primarily that of composer Thomas A. Dorsey and singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Originally published on Wed September 25, 2013 5:53 pm
Low Cut Connie is a Philadelphia band led by piano player Adam Weiner, who's a born ham: an entertainer who will pound his piano (and his listeners) into submission. Low Cut Connie began when Weiner and his partner, Englishman Dan Finnemore, decided to team up.
In this installment of World Cafe, the band plays music from last year's Call Me Sylvia and tells the tale of bonding in a stuck freight elevator.