Archive for the ‘Alejandro Escovedo’ Category

I occasionally play guitar and sing at the same time in The Falcon Band (as it has come to be known) on Friday nights. It used to be a regular occurrence but then we got a real singer, allowing me to concentrate on playing.  During my tenure as a singing guitar player, I discovered that attempting singing over anything more than  strummed cowboy chords made me realise why there is both a Keith and a Mick.  Drumming and singing at the same time takes matters to a whole other level.

Despite the fact that the dexterity required to practise their craft is akin to that required to fly a helicopter, drummers take all sorts of knocks from other musicians and are the brunt of many a joke (Q: How can you tell  a drummer is at the door? A: The knocking speeds up).   I have attempted to play the drums several times (usually in the darkness of night, with no one around) but have never even flirted with the idea of singing while pounding away. So my hat is off to drummers that sing. Here are my Top Five (not counting, of course, the Falcon Band drummer  John who sings from time to time).

Speaking of hats, here is a tip to Foremost for the topic and one of the links. Guess which one?

Next week:  Special Canada Day Edition:  Top Five Canadian Bands.

1. Levon Helm

Without hesitation, Levon is at the top of my list.  He may have even invented the singing drummer.  What I like about Levon is that both his singing and playing are so distinctive that I can’t envision The Band having done what they did without both of Levon’s voice and sticks.  Here is clip from a Band rehearsal in 1969, that is well worth watching despite the annoying watermark.

2. Karen Carpenter

Karen was not only a singing  drummer, but the double rarity of a female singing drummer.  With her brother Richard, the Carpenters proved to be a highly successful soft rock act in the early 1970’s  when mega bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were at their creative zeniths.  It is I think easy to be dismissive of the Carpenters in general and Karen’s abilities behind the kit in particular.  But watch this compilation. You may change your mind as I did.

3. Ringo Starr

Ringo is frequently dissed by non-drummers but his skills are praised by every drummer I have met,  and by  those who know what they are talking about when it comes to music, whether drummers or not. Ringo really didn’t sing much with The Beatles (about twelve songs plus backing vocals on another four or five) but his contributions stand out.  Here is my favourite.

4. Phil Collins

Phil was a drummer first (who coincidentally says Ringo was his greatest influence) and only started singing when Peter Gabriel left the proggish rock group Genesis to pursue a solo career.  After a hugely successful solo career himself, his latter output was less stellar and he became almost Elton John like in terms of writing pop music for the screen.  Here he is at is finest.  Does everyone remember the “Miami Vice” episode where Crockett and Tubbs were driving off in the Testarossa to get the bad guys, accompanied by this song?  I know, the general plot description really doesn’t narrow it down much does it?

5. Sheila E.

Another double winner, the “E” stands for Escovedo.  Sheila is the niece of Alejandro Escovedo who  I wrote about in my “Top Five Bands You Really Should Listen to if the Last Record You Bought is Led Zeppelin II” (you can find a link on the left).  Sheila is best known for her work with Prince and Ringo Starr, although she has enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist.  Here she is in 1984’s “Glamorous Life”, produced by Prince.

This week’s post comes about as a result of a friend’s observation that I have not been writing a whole lot (okay, nothing) about newer music. I am not quite sure why that is. While there is lots of music made in the last decade I don’t listen to, there are a large number of more or less contemporary artists whose music I enjoy. So here is a sampler. I would love to hear your choices.

Next week: Top Five Glam Rock Songs

1. My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket was formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998 by the truly charismatic singer, songwriter, guitarist and consummate front man Jim James. Their first album “Tennessee Fire” was released in 1999. A half dozen or so studio and a couple of live albums have followed since. I was first introduced to them in about 2004 or so when my friend Chris gave me a copy of “It Still Moves” which had been released a couple years prior. I loved them out of the gate, and became a card carrying convert when I saw them at The Commodore Ballroom around the same time. If venue is any measure of success, I saw them at the far larger and upscale Orpheum in Vancouver this spring.

My Morning Jacket’s music embraces rock, hard rock, folk, funk, gospel, pop, prog, psychedelia, country, alt-country and probably a couple other genres I missed. Their live shows are legendary, attaining almost mythical status after a four hour, thirty five song, two set performance at Bonnaroo in 2008. If everyone who says they were there were really was, it was an event bigger than Woodstock.

This track is from an appearance on the Letterman show in 2006 and will give you some sense of the musicality of the band in general and the presence of Jim James in particular.

2. Jack White

I was late to Jack White and first started listening when “Icky Thump” was released in 2007, ten years into the White Stripes’ career. It turns out this was their last album. The White Stripes consisted of Jack on guitar, keyboards and vocals and his then wife Meg on drums. Low fi and highly esthetic from the beginning, they took blues and rock motifs, stripped them down further and then blew the doors off them. It really is what he is still doing.

Jack has since become a producer of renown, winning a Grammy for his work with Loretta Lynn on the recent “Van Lear Rose” and reviving the career of Wanda Jackson. He is also the owner and operator of Third Man records, a drummer and occasional vocalist with Dead Weather, a guitarist and vocalist with The Raconteurs and most recently a solo artist. I saw him last week in Vancouver, with the all female version of one of his two touring bands, the other being all male. Jack wears his musical influences on his tailored sleeve, and they are “Americana eclectic”, a phrase I just made up but kind of like. Authentic rock and roll boys and girls, the kind you used to hear in garages around the land, albeit polished up a bit, but still with a wailing distorted guitar. Refreshing actually.

This is “Love Interruption” off Jack’s very first, very recent and very eclectic solo album. It is great song but what I really like is that you would be hard pressed to assign it to a decade if you were hearing it blind.

3. Alejandro Escovedo

My friend Evie turned me onto Alejandro Escovedo a couple years ago. I will be forever grateful. It turns out that although he is from and still resides in San Antonio, Texas, he also has roots in Vancouver, having been part of the local punk scene here in the early 1980’s. Punk influences still show through in his alt country tinged rock music. Playing in a succession of bands through the 1990’s (including a wonderful collaboration with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown in 1997) and two critically received solo releases, he has nevertheless remained below the radar. He has however been enormously well received by many musicians of note, including Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle.

My favourite Alejandro anecdote involves his song “Castanets”. At some point he heard that George W. Bush had the song on his favourite iPod playlist. It was dropped from live play, with explanation, until W left office.

Here is the offending song. More garage rock, except this time with a fiddler and a cellist. Outstanding really.

4. Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is singer/songwriter from Jacksonville, South Carolina. Originally part of the band Whiskeytown, Ryan’s first solo release was “Heartbreaker” in 2000, and featured prominently Gillian Welch and David Rawliings. He has recorded with several bands (including his death metal band Werewolph) , the finest being, in my opinion, The Cardinals. Ryan’s music-most of it-takes off directly from Gram Parsons. Usually labelled as alt-country, I like to think that it is “real” country, respectful of Hank and Johnny, not the pop music with a pedal steel guitar and a fiddle that you hear on the radio.

Ryan has hearing loss as a result of having contracted Meniere’s disease. He has said that this has contributed to his decision to quit the Cardinals, although he did tour solo last year, and is apparently currently recording two albums.

This clip, with the Cardinals, is from Letterman’s show in 2007.

5. Ron Sexsmith

Rox Sexsmith hails from St. Catharines, Ontario. Praised by the likes of Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Paul McCartney and Ray Davies, he has critical success that has not been matched commercially. I have seen him twice in very small venues (good for me, not so good for Ron) and both times have wondered aloud why I am not walking out of a place that seats thousands. His story (quest really) was very well told in a recent documentary called “Love Shines” which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2010, and is shown on HBO Canada from time to time.

Ron has many gifts, but the greatest is that of songwriting. His music is wonderfully expressive, intimate really, a word I think is overused when describing music but which I think is entirely appropriate here.

Here is Ron on Elvis’ show “Spectacle” in 2009. Watch the expressions on the faces of Jesse Winchester, Neko Case, Cheryl Crowe and Elvis, which say it all.