A Little Light Supper Music

 

Y’all know how excited I get when I hear new artists, and this one gives me the same feeling I had when I heard Amy Winehouse for the first time.  Jamie Woon is a fairly new discovery of mine; he’s a pretty interesting hybrid of Maxwell/Pharrell/Jamiroquai, but uses his lower vocal register more.  It’s not quite r&b by the 2016 definition; he’s categorized as alternative, which I think is ridiculous, but I’m not sure what you would call it either.  Soul?  Pop with more thoughtful lyrics?

At any rate, his father is Chinese and his mother is the Scottish singer Mae McKenna, grew up in London, and has released two albums, Mirrorwriting and Making Time.  I’ve been pretty obsessed with Making Time (which was released last year), so I can’t comment on his debut just yet.  I’ve been listening to this at work a lot, but what it’s even better for is setting the stage for cooking for someone for the first time, when the sun is just starting to set, so the the light is just right, and you’ve poured that first glass of pinot grigio.  Trust me on this one, folks.

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The Low End Theory Was My Gateway Drug

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As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Phife Dawg from the trailblazing rap group A Tribe Called Quest passed away last week.  I had to take a few days and really think about what I wanted to say because this really hit home for me.  Growing up, I didn’t really listen to hip-hop; I  listened to pop music and watched Soul Train in grade school, and in high school I went through a really odd Daria from MTV/emo/grunge with a splash of preppy thrown in period; I even wore a watch with no hands because “time was meaningless.”  Don’t ask.  Anyway, I knew some rap songs, but it wasn’t really on my radar.

Fast forward to college, and in the student center, there was a used cd/tape store (yeah…I’m dating myself here), and I remember buying The Low End Theory on cassette, mainly because of the artwork.  Now, this album was released in 1991, but I didn’t get around to listening to it until maybe 1994 or so.  So I was WAY behind the curve.  I get home, put in the tape, and the first track, Excursions, came through the speakers.  Even now I’m not exactly sure what to say about it…first came the bass line, followed by Q-Tip’s voice.  It wasn’t like anything I had heard before; it was stripped down with drums, bass, and rhymes.  I started nodding my head to the beat, listened to the next few tracks, and thought, “yeah, this is good stuff.”  But then “Check the Rhime” came on.  I stopped reading whatever random book I was trying to take notes on, closed my eyes, and really listened to the lyrics.  Phife comes in and says:

Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am.
Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram.
I’m like an energizer ’cause, you see, I last long.
My crew is never ever wack because we stand strong.

Taken out of context, this sounds pretty simple, right?  But the way he was just in the pocket, and made it sound so effortless…it was brilliant.  I must’ve rewound that song ten times in a row, and I thought that was the apex of the album.  And in some ways, I suppose it could be…but then I heard “Jazz (We’ve Got)”, which for me, is THE ultimate Tribe song.

Stern firm and young with a laid-back tongue
The aim is to succeed and achieve at 21
Just like Ringling Brothers, I’ll daze and astound
Captivate the mass, cause the prose is profound

Do it for the strong, we do it for the meek
Boom it in your boom it in your boom it in your Jeep
Or your Honda or your Beemer or your Legend or your Benz
The rave of the town to your foes and your friends

So push it, along, trails, we blaze
Don’t deserve the gong, don’t deserve the praise
The tranquility will make ya unball your fist
For we put hip-hop on a brand new twist

A brand new twist with the homie-alistic
So low-key that ya probably missed it
And yet it’s so loud that it stands in the crowd
When the guy takes the beat, they bowed

So raise up squire, address your attire
We have no time to wallow in the mire
If you’re on a foreign path, then let me do the lead
Join in the essence of the cool-out breed

That’s just part of the first verse…the word play and the rhythm of how Q-Tip and Phife rhyme is beyond reproach.  And I would put this song against almost any hip hop song out now (hell, “Can I Kick It?”, “Award Tour”, and “Electric Relaxation” fits that bill as well).

This album turned me on to so many other groups, and opened up a whole world of music that quickly became a mainstay.  Queen Latifah, N.W.A., Biggie, Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim, MC Lyte…these were just a few rappers that I have become lifelong fans of, and because of Tribe, I discovered passionate lyricists who painted vivid images and made me appreciate wordplay on a level that was unexpected.  The $5 I paid for this cassette has provided me a wealth of memories over the past twenty years, and as Phife put it, “I take off my hat to other crews that intend to rock/But the Low End Theory’s here/ it’s time to wreck shop.”  And wreck shop they did.

 

 

When We Were Young

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The full video of Adele’s “When We Were Young” came online today, and when listening to it, the very first thing I thought about was my daughter. This past weekend we did a college day at the University of Virginia, and as she walked away from me to do a tour, it hit me that in about two years, she’s going to be away from home for the first time.  I was flooded with the most random thoughts; seeing her for the first time, sending her off to kindergarten, watching her tiny seven year old frame swim to the deep end alone for the first time in the pool, holding her hand during her first airplane ride…and for a moment, I teared up.  Of course logically I know she’s getting older and I’m excited about her future, but there is a fairly massive part of me that just wants to go back in time and relive those moments with her.  But I realize I have to force myself to take off the glasses I wear that makes me still see her in pigtails and a lunchbox.

I had a c-section, so I don’t really remember the first few days of my daughter’s life very well; between the pain and the medication, much of it is a blur.  But one moment I remember vividly is one night I was nursing her, and the nurse came in to remove my staples.  No one else was in the room, and I recall looking down at her tiny brown face and just repeating over and over again in my head, “We will get through this.  Everything will be fine.  We will get through this.”  Of course those words were more for me than for her because I was scared of how much it was going to hurt, but she looked directly into my eyes while it was happening, and barely blinked.  It could’ve been two minutes that passed or it could have been ten, but during that entire time, I felt that if I focused on her, it didn’t matter what was happening to me or around me, I would get through it.

Fast forward fifteen years, and she and I have gone through divorce, moving to another state, and losing the matriarch of our family, who was truly a touchstone for both of us.  And through all of it, I have learned that by focusing on her, things really will be okay.  Not easy, not necessarily happy all the time, but okay.

So to bring it back to Adele, listening to this song clearly took me right back to this weekend and how I feel about her.  And the lyrics are right…

Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized
We were sad of getting old
It made us restless
I’m so mad I’m getting old
It makes me reckless
It was just like a movie
It was just like a song
When we were young

Bad Blood

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In between my weekend binging on Adele’s new song, I discovered an artist that I think is going to explode soon.  While listening to her older EP’s (So Good and February 15), I thought about Groove Theory and Les Nubians (remember them?), and the new single, “Bad Blood”, is certainly no exception.  It’s modern and ’90s neosoul all at once.

It’s obvious that Nao has studied classic soul and r&b music; in an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, she said, “I was brought up in a big family, and our home was always filled with music. My brothers listened to lots of jungle and garage. My sister loved R&B. I really liked Prince, Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone—singers who wore their hearts on their sleeves. I don’t think my mum really got it. She’s from the Caribbean and she listened to Sam Cooke and stuff that was a bit lighter, but I was always into these dark, sort of painful songs. She would be like, “Why are you listening to this music?” That, in turn, got me listening to jazz: John Coltrane and Miles Davis.”

Take a listen.  Thank me later.

Closure.

As you might guess, I’ve been listening to the new Adele song “Hello” most of the past couple of days, and although I knew I was going to write about it, I have to admit there were several different directions this could have gone.  While I was sort of trying to figure this out yesterday, I had a conversation about this, and the point that I kept returning to was that I wanted to call my ex and really just say, “why?”  Why did you marry someone else while we were together?  Why did you lie to me for months after you did that?  Why didn’t you tell me you were seeing someone else?  Why did you marry her so quickly?  Why weren’t you man enough to end our relationship before starting a new one with someone else?  Why weren’t you brave enough to make us work?

But I realized yesterday that I will probably never get the answers to those questions; and at some point, I have to come to grips with that.  For nearly a year I have read scripture and self help books and talked ad nauseum about this to my friends and family, and I still don’t have an answer.  But at some point the answers don’t even matter anymore.  What matters is that I have to be able to move past this and be open to loving someone again.  Because isn’t that really the point…to learn lessons from what didn’t work in your life so that it doesn’t happen again?

What this song has given me is a giant step towards closure; or maybe it’s better to say that it’s gotten me one step closer to accepting that if I don’t get it, that needs to be okay too.

Hello…It’s Me

So a friend of mine messaged me on Facebook today and asked if I had seen the new Adele teaser that was aired in the UK this weekend, and I hadn’t heard anything about it.  She sends me the link, and then I checked on YouTube to hear it.  Per usual, it’s Adele’s signature stripped down vocals and a piano.

The images that went through my mind in this 30 second snippet came so fast and so furious that I had to take a moment to look out of the window and catch my breath.  A tear drenched and mascara smeared face.  Empty travel sized bottles of alcohol in a hotel room scattered on the floor.  Lying in a bedroom with the curtains shut, completely paralyzed with sorrow.  Digging out that photo of the two of you and holding the picture to your chest as if that will resuscitate your broken heart.  Staring at his contact info in your phone with a finger hovering over the delete button.

In these moments you really realize that the conditions of the human experience are truly universal; love, heartbreak, longing, lust, sadness, joy…at our core, people really are similar, and that is what makes music so powerful.  In 30 seconds, a 25 year old British woman I’ve never met has opened my journal and held up a mirror to that exact pain I felt a few months ago. This is stunning, and I don’t quite have the vocabulary to describe it.  You’ve got to listen for yourself.

Sam Smith and Disclosure Cover “Hotline Bling” on BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge

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Sam Smith is definitely coming back from his vocal surgery in a big way; he’s recorded the theme song to the upcoming James Bond movie, Spectre (which will be released on September 25), and earlier today BBC Radio 1 in the Live Lounge, he did a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” along with Disclosure.

“Drake and Kendrick [Lamar] are just absolutely killing it at the moment,” Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence said of the pick. “They’re like mine and Howard’s faves at the moment in that world, and it made sense to choose this song.”

As usual, Smith’s cover is flawless (remember his version of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?”), and perhaps…may be a bit better than Drake’s.  Take a listen.