Friday, December 31, 2004

Top 10 albums of 2004 #1

Hey Soul Mates,
it's a tie of sorts:
#1 The Black Album... Jay-Z; The Grey Album... DJ Dangermouse.
Both of these discs feature vocals by Jay-Z. One features work by the cream of hip-hop producers from Rick Rubin, Timbaland, Eminem, Kanye West, the Neptunes, etc. The other features instrumentation by four guys named John, Paul, George & Ringo.

Swansongs aren't usually this focused or cohesive, but like Jordan's first retirement, we've already heard from Jay-Z since this record dropped. What's extraordinary is the dual nature of this pick. I read about the Grey Album and heard it prior to hearing the Black Album. It gave me a better appreciation of Jay-Z. I immediately ran out and bought the Black Album. Of course, the Grey Album doesn't really exist. DJ Dangermouse, as an exercise in production, sampled, looped and mashed the Beatles' White Album with Jay-Z's crooklyn flow. Thus White + Black = Grey. The Grey Album is not superior to the Black Album, make no mistake, but it is innovative and a companion piece nonetheless.

This was a big year in hip-hop, and Jay-Z's disc is the epicenter (apologies to Kanye West). It's loaded with great singles: Encore, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, Change Clothes and the utterly massive 99 Problems (more on that in a moment). Jigga calls it a "victory lap." Oh, yeah.

Change Clothes & Allure feature great production by the Neptunes on Black. Dangermouse backs them with samples of the baroque harpsichord of Piggies and a wild bit of Bungalow Bill, respectively. The genius of Grey is that each Jay-Z track is typically matched up with a single Beatles cut rather than a hodge-podge of samples. And Grey has its own track listing making it a completely separate listening experience, giving it a different flow.

Another standout is Encore. The Black features Kanye West's smoothed out R&B sample; Dangermouse makes it harder using Glass Onion and the horn flourish from Savoy Truffle to make Jay-Z sound even more agitated. John Lennon punctuates Jigga's rap with his patented "Oh, Yeah."

Finally, there is 99 Problems. This was my favorite single of the year. It's an ingenious lyric delivered wryly by Hova. His story telling skill is brutal and his rhyming impeccable. He runs through critics and the industry, golddiggers, and a DWB where Jigga plays himself and the officer: "Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?/Well, you was doin' 55 in a 54." On the Black, Rick Rubin supplies an old school track with a powerchord sample from Billy Squier that sounds right outta 1986. Heavy. But then Dangermouse ups the ante by using a manic loop of the proto-metal riff from Helter Skelter. This is easily the best mash up to date. Which do I prefer? Which one is playing?

The same could be said for the albums. If you get your ears on a copy of the Grey Album, especially if you are already familiar with the Beatles, you'll get a kick out of it. Since it's release, the Grey has spawned a multitude of mash-ups to varying degrees of success. Don't fear the future, Dangermouse just showed us a glimpse. I'm sure we haven't heard the last of Jay-Z either.

In review:
My top 10 for 2004:

#10 To The 5 Boroughs... The Beastie Boys
#9 This Is Not A Test... Missy Elliot
#8 College Dropout... Kanye West
#7 Astronaut... Duran Duran
#6 Diary Of Alicia Keys... Alicia Keys
#5 Musicology... Prince
#4 Kish Kash... Basement Jaxx
#3 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb... U2
#2 Think Tank... Blur
#1 The Black Album... Jay-Z; The Grey Album... DJ Dangermouse

Honorable mention: Alfie (OST, we're pulling for an Oscar for Mick!); Franz Ferdinand... Franz Ferdinand; Bright Idea... Orson; Hi-Fidelity Dub Sessions Chapter 5... Various Artists.

Love, Power, Peace

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Top 10 albums of 2004 #2

Hey Soul Mates,
#2 Think Tank... Blur.
This CD came out sometime in mid-2003, but it got lost in the shuffle. I didn't discover it until January and this is from one of my favorite bands. Think Tank is certainly the most difficult CD on my list. It takes several listens to get through the experimental layers and instrumentation. Pop albums usually don't employ Moroccan musicians or bedspring percussion. This is also the worst reviewed pick on my list and the one I figure the fewest of you have heard.

Hypnotic is the single word I'd use to describe Think Tank. The opening chant "I ain't got nothing to be scared of" from Ambulance signals lead singer Damon Albarn's m.o. As long as he has love and the ear of his listeners he's ready for the journey ahead. Formerly a quartet, Blur abruptly became a trio during recording Think Tank. Times of transition are often turbulent, I know. The result is a moody album that got me through a very moody period. The ballads Out Of Time (with it's exotic instrumentation and haunting chorus) & Sweet Song float in the brain pan. This is a headphone CD to be sure. Definitely my favorite melancholy late night listen.

Crazy Beat with it's Fatboy Slim production is son-of-Song 2 (you know, "woo-hoo!"), but more fun than it's predecessor. This is a great lost rock/dance track. I could've used a few more uptempo numbers on this album like it. The other Fatboy produced track is Gene By Gene with it's mattress and bicycle rhythm track. Inspired madness. The final track is Battery In Your Leg, which is beyond haunting, about how tiring performance can be and how addicted we become to it. The song is not mopey, just evocative.

To some, this CD probably feels indulgent. Albarn has already done experimental with his hip-hop side project Gorillaz; working with artists from Mali. Many of the tracks focus on mantra-like refrains and world beats. Why drag Blur into it? Without a lead guitarist and moving toward electronic music, this is a marvelously internal album with a lot of heart. To me Think Tank represents a group of mid-30s artists stretching to find inspiration in the 21st century world and presenting it on their terms. Blur may never be deemed as relevant or adventurous as U2 or Pink Floyd, but they have their charms and manage to keep things interesting.

Love, Power, Peace

Tuesday Morning Thoughts

Hey Soul Mates,
it's a very rainy day here in L.A. I'm battling a cold. Day 2. Not the flu, mind you.
I hope you all are doing well. Only a few days left in 2004. I'll be glad to see 2005. This is going to be a big year for all of us in RHS and those of you who have supported us. We plan to get out of town for some shows/festivals/music conferences, etc . There are recording dates with Richard Bosworth. Lots to look forward to.

I still have 2 more records to rank in my top 10. I will try to post #2 tonight. Ah, suspense.
Off into the squall.
Love, Power, Peace

p.s. Send some good energy to SE Asia. That tsunami was no joke.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Top 10 albums of 2004 #3

Hey Soul Mates, we have come to
#3 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb... U2. Like a fine wine, or a tired cliche, this band keeps making great music. Their first effort after 9/11, Atomic is a mid-tempo meditation on growing older and growing up.

The opening rave-up Vertigo is a bit of false advertising. Vertigo is a brilliant, swirling bit of arena-sized madness which starts with Bono counting in Spaniguese "One, Two, Three, Fourteen!" The recording is what I consider a perfect single. In less than 3 minutes, U2 jump in, shout their piece, shred through a guitar riff and spit you out the other end. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." Once again, U2 manage to capture the spirit of the moment. After that the disc smolders and sears into the brain.

Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own carries on the tradition of U2's longer than necessary song titles. But as usual, Sometimes is an effective ballad Bono wrote as a memorial to his father. Midtempo songs like Man and a Woman and Miracle Drug allow U2 to revisit the spiritual themes of classic LPs like Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree. In fact, this is U2's quietest album since Unforgettable.

All Because of You is prototypical U2, Bono's off-key vocals, the Edge's layered guitars and bedrock rhythm from Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton. This song is the one uptempo hiccup half-way through. It's sure to be a sing-a-long favorite on the U2 global tour in 2005.

The giant track on this CD is Original Of The Species. Grandiose and grand, it swells with strings and feeling like U2's best singles. Written for Bono's children or maybe his fan base that needs reassuring, this is U2 as comfort food. Nobody does it better. I was a U2 hater for their first decade. But as time goes on, I realize there is no more reliable recording act. You can buy their CDs without having heard a single track and get a solid listening experience. Just remember, this album does not rock you, but it may move you.

Love, Power, Peace

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Top 10 albums of 2004 #4

Hey Soul Mates,
#4 Kish Kash... Basement Jaxx.
I haven't been so attached to a dance album in years. Kish Kash is represents all that is right in the world of dance. The Basement Jaxx had the taste to bring guest singers on board and wring awesome performances from them. Based on his appearance on Kish Kash alone, I bought JC Chasez's solo debut (which flopped). But Plug It In, is one of the hottest tracks I heard in 2004. JC proved that with the right material and production he shines. Every time I hear Plug It In, it reminds me how indebted most artists are to classic Michael and how much promise JC has.

The album is crammed with the Basement Jaxx's hyper-hydraulic beats and usually female vocals from the likes of Siouxie Sioux, who rips through Cish Cash like a banshee. Kish Kash opens with the grammy nominated Good Luck and Right Here's The Spot (with MeShell N'dgeocello). MeShell also appears on the album's paisely electronica closer Feels Like Home. The cuts don't let up til after JC burns the dance floor with Plug It In.

This album plays like a great Prince protoge disc: all sexy beats and funked up lyrics. The album only stumbles when it slows down the party, but you have to admire a house act that is trying to stretch.
Love, Power, Peace

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Top 10 albums of 2004 #5

Hey Soul Mates,
#5 Musicology... Prince. The hottest live performance of the year was accompanied by the release of my #5 disc, Prince's Musicology. The shows on the Musicology tour were a tour-de-force. The album is brilliant too. It starts off with the old school blast Musicology where Prince name checks Earth, Wind & Fire, James & Sly. It's the funkiest groove of the year.

But this record ain't a party all the way through. Two ballads, the arena rocking A Million Days and sultry Call My Name, balance the funk of Life of the Party with its Diwali breakdown and hilarious story of Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance. Prince hits pop paydirt with Cinnamon Girl. Not the Neil Young song, this is a meditation on the life of a middle eastern kid driven to action in the post-9/11 world. The controversial video features Keisha Castle-Hughes from Whale Rider as the title character.

Musicology is not a comeback. Prince has been releasing album after album the last 25 years. It's just that the fans came back. This album goes a long way toward reviving Prince's relevance to pop music. It's a reminder of his prowess as a writer and performer. This album has been nominated for a half-dozen grammy awards. The most noms for Prince since Sign "O" The Times and probably his most solid disc since that 1987 groundbreaker.
Love, Power, Peace

Monday, December 20, 2004

Dr. King

Hey Soul Mates,
I'm in Atlanta visiting my Dad and brother for the holidays. Hotlanta is frigid. It was about 27 degrees outside. Still we made the trek downtown to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical Center. For those of you who have never been, it's quite moving. Dr. King was born in 1929 on Auburn street and the house he was born in is still there. Then down the street is the old Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached. And inbetween is his memorial. Dr. King's tomb is in a reflecting pool and even though it was arctic cold the sun blazed down upon it. There's also an eternal flame adjacent. I reflected on what Dr. King's accomplishments mean to me (what all of the civil right's movements participants did, frankly) . His message of love and nonviolence is as important now as it was in his lifetime.
There are only a few non-musicians that loom as largely as Dr. King as an influence on me. Another major one is Jackie Robinson. Both of them passed before my time, but without their impact on popular culture little of what I do would be possible. Theirs are tremendous stories of perseverance and a love for their beliefs and humanity.

Happy Holidays.
Love, Power, Peace.

Friday, December 17, 2004

TOP 10 of 2004

Hey Soul Mates,
here you go. These titles get my whole-hearted endorsement. You will be entertained, moved or energized by these albums. Each one is worth the price of admission. It's very hard to rank them beyond the top choice; any given day #8 could be #4, etc.
I will devote entire blog entries to the top 5. The "bottom 5" of the top ten are:

#10: To The 5 Boroughs... The Beastie Boys. This is a return to form with An Open Letter To NYC as the wonderous centerpiece. Ch-ch-ch-check it out.

#9. This Is Not A Test... Missy Elliot. Missy brings some wicked beats with Timbaland. A straight up danceable disc featuring Pass That Dutch and some hysterical raps in Toyz and Let Me Fix My Weave. I never would have guessed I would enjoy Missy E so much.

#8. College Dropout... Kanye West. If this were a vinyl album, it would be all about side one with All Falls Down and the rap reverie Spaceship. Plus, Kanye's got the funniest skits on record this year: "Gonna make 'em start jumpin up and down, sharin' candy and stuff!" If you can find the spoken word version of All Falls Down called Self-Conscious you'll be blown away by the poetry.

#7. Astronaut... Duran Duran. Comeback of the year ('cause Prince didn't "come back"). I saw D2 twice in 2003, playing Sunrise and What Happens Tomorrow. Fantastic material toward the end of the disc = this CD could have been programmed better. A small complaint. Make sure to stick around to hear Chains.

#6. Diary Of Alicia Keys... Alicia Keys. I know we complained about Fallin' 3 years ago. It got played out. But remember the first time you heard it? There was tons of promise there. Well, AK has delivered. This CD is superior to her debut. You Don't Know My Name is a perfect slice of Philly Soul. Even with the goofy spoken middle section, it's a contender for my favorite single of the year. It's like a song from my childhood (considering the affinity I have for the Jacksons, the O'Jays and the Spinners). There's a reason why Grammy has smiled upon this Soul Child. Check out If I Ain't Got You (that is if you've been miles away from radio this year) & So Simple (produced by Kanye West).

Stay tuned for my top 5!
Love, Power, Peace

Happy Holidays from Rush Hour Soul

Hey Soul Mates,
it's the holiday season and what better way to celebrate than to give out gifts. You will find our presents to you on the News page of our website. Follow the link above. Once you get there, look for the big box with the ribbon and open it up!

We have posted two very special performance videos from our last 2 shows. We hope you will enjoy them in the spirit of the season. They are streaming videos and only require you to click the song title.

My next post will be the first half of my top 10 for 2004. I promise. It's been a busy day on the website.
Love, Power, Peace.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Rock Hall Class of '05

Hey Soul Mates,
we figured it would be a no-brainer that U2 would make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; but how could the voters leave out Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five once they had been nominated. All along, I had thought that Run-DMC would be the first real hip-hop act inducted, but when GMF&F5 were named on the ballot, it felt like we'd see Melle Mel at the ceremony. Too bad. I'm kind of curious about the other inductees. The O'Jays are a clear choice (except they weren't announced in the press as being up for the honor, so surprise there). But I'm not certain that the Pretenders are more important than GMF. I love Chrissie Hynde and she deserves the honor, but not necessarily in the context of her group. Percy Slegde and Buddy Guy are well-deserving. They all are, frankly. The concert/induction ceremony should be a lot of fun next year. Much like this year, where Prince wowed the crowd with a contemporary show, U2 will be using the showcase to launch their Atomic world tour. Congratulations to the honorees.
Love, Power, Peace.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Top 10 of 2004 (intro)

Hey Soul Mates,
it's holiday season and the end of the year, you know what that means... Lists. So, over the next few weeks, I will be posting my Top 10 CDs of 2004. Sadly, the number 2 disc on the list has been hurt by a bad experience with the artist this week and has been dropped out of the Top 10. Still a great album, but sometimes you have to be principled. The number 1 disc is a two-parter, one spurring on the other. There is a major comeback for one entry. I've been waiting to hear the disc for over a year since hearing the group debut songs from the CD in 2003.
So, stay tuned and have a great Saturday.
Oh yeah, in Rush Hour Soul news, stickers are on the way. After a Bat Country sticker showed up in a photo in the New York Times Magazine in November, we had to do a "rush" order.
Love, Power, Peace.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Working Class Hero Is Something To Be

Hey Soul Mates,
hard to believe it's been 24 long years since we lost Johnny Ono aka Sir Winston O'Boogie. My music listening today began with A Hard Day's Night. I nearly cried singing along with Tell Me Why. That song has always been a favorite and one my first band played. It made me realize how much influence JOL had on my musical career. I can remember going to the Heights Public Library as a 7 year old and checking out A Hard Day's Night on vinyl. The worn, red covered American issue featured many hits and some instrumentals but it was Tell Me Why and the title track that made me dance about the living room. That first band I was in adored the Beatles. More that half our set would be their tunes or songs they covered. Any garage performer worth their salt wanted to be a Beatle once.

After that I listened to Lennon Legend. I transported myself to a time when the later singles were new and those days before Johnny was gone. No one could have guessed. I think if he was still around he'd be like Dylan without the shilling for Victoria's Secret. John would be producing an album every 5 years to unanimous acclaim. Dabbling in hip-hop and certainly he would have lead the musical charge during the past year's election. I think he would have loved the Grey Album.

Later, driving around this evening I had Magical Mystery Tour on. Always got chills from I Am The Walrus. Spooky emanations from the stereo. Otherworldly. That is dropping science, my friends.

Birthdays aren't always easy to remember. I suppose I should concentrate more on that, but when it comes to our cultural giants martyred, it's easier to have April 4 or December 8 in mind.
Birthdays are for celebrating. Memorials are for reflection on the spiritual vacuum created by the loss.

I've been to Strawberry Fields in central park and stood outside the Dakota wondering what it was like that crisp winter night, 24 years ago. 24 years. John would have been 64 this year, would we still need him? Would we still feed him? You bet. Most of the musical audience today has no memory of John Lennon as a contemporary figure. He's a mythical being, pushed further into the mist of the past.

It's already been 3 years since young George Harrison passed away. Soon we will be in a Beatle-less world and the planet will be a drearier place for it. So celebrate the best way possible, throw on She Loves You full blast or put on headphones to check out Norwegian Wood. Dec. 8 is just about over, but the music goes on forever. Without Johnny, I wouldn't be doing what I do on stage. Imagine.
Love, Power, Peace

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Phew. The video is finally on-line.

Hey Soul Mates,
the Rush Hour Soul video for "Excommunication" is finally on-line. Visit our website and check it out. There are 3 types of video files to choose from. There are 2 to download: Real Media and Mpeg for Windows. And one to watch as a streaming video for Broadband. The streaming video is the closest in visual fidelity to the actual video, but it requires DSL/Cable or faster connection. Don't try it with dial-up unless you've got lots of time. The downloads should take around 3 minutes for DSL, the stream takes about 4 or 5 to register. But it is worth it!
There is also a hidden link on the info page to some stills on the old Magnavox. I will be posting pictures from our show at the Gig in a little while. I have to take a break from the computer. Maybe even eat!
Love, Power, Peace

A Night In The Life...

Hey Soul Mates,
it's been a busy 24 hours. I've spent most of the day working on the website. The music video is almost ready to post. There was lots of work to be done on the presentation. The video itself was compressed and re-constituted by our good friend, Dr. Rahuna. It looks great and is a different version from the one on the Commondeer site. This is the RHS cut.
Earlier this evening, we went to a new place called Good Microbrewery in Silverlake to see our friends, Ricky Tubb & Tom Richards from the
Waking Hours do an acoustic set. It's a nice space and the sound is appropriate. This time last night, I was at Ricky's for a gathering of musicians, friends and folks. Really good people. It's always a bonus to network and meet people that share common interests and goals. In this case, music. At one point we had a bit of a hootenany going on in one of the bedrooms with a small audience. Ricky & Tom, and Taylor Locke (lead guitarist for Rooney) and I were singing lots of Beatles' songs and pulling off four-part harmonies. That's always fun. Just 2 acoustics and 4 voices. Taylor was really busting loose on the guitar parts on And Your Bird Can Sing, Get Back and I Dig A Pony. I have always loved the Beatles and I think that's the first time I've had a chance to throw down with some really good harmonizers. The highlights were Tell Me Why, Please, Please Me, & Nowhere Man. I took the stratospheric high parts with Taylor. At one point, Carrick Gerety from Everybody Else joined in and the sound we created would've made even Brian Wilson weep. I think the handful of people who heard us were thrilled.

Be sure to check out the links in this blog. Those bands are very cool and make really good music. Back to work for me, so you can see our video later today.
Love, Power, Peace.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

After the show, it's the afterparty...

"Gather 'round children, gotta story to tell.
Once upon a time Rhythm and Blues had a baby and they named it Rock & Roll.
Well, tonight the prodigal child has come home and he sounds like this..."
-Me, Dec. 1, 2004

Hey Soul Mates,

last night's show was a hit! There were over 125 people at the Gig and most were there to see Rush Hour Soul. The night began with a screening of our video for Excommunication, which continues to get raves from our fans. Then we launched into Fall Out as the curtain rose. The set was Fall Out/The Isolation/Everyone's Ingenue/Done Lost My Mind/Excommunication/Hold On, I'm A Comin'/Sucka/Love Someone. The audience was great. I love it when they crowd toward the stage and start dancing. That gets us fired up.

For once, my bass went horribly out of tune (during Ingenue), but after that it was smooth playing. The mix was good enough to bring out our a cappella vamps on Ingenue, Love Someone and Done Lost My Mind. I had a lot of fun singing the newer material, esp. Sam & Dave, whom I adore. Hope I did right by you, gentlemen. But it's true. We are Comin', so Hold On!!! Help is on the way in the form of Rush Hour Soul.

Thanks to the Gig for having a cool venue and for letting us do our thing.
Thanks to Pat Kershaw who videotaped the proceedings and to Jo Trostle for taking pictures. We'll have video and photos up on the website in the next week.

The response from our fans was very positive. We are still our harshest critics. It was a night to overcome lots of obstacles including our two flu-ed out members and me running red lights (and smiling for the cameras) to get to sound check on time. Sadly, the merch didn't work out again. We hope to have some gear for you all soon.

Have a great Thursday. I am already.
Love, Power, Peace!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Showtime

Hey Soul Mates,
well here we are: 3 hours 'til showtime. Things are getting exciting. Here's the latest. 2 of the band have the flu. Doug & Dennis are zombies. At least Dennis is on the upswing. Doug however is going to battle through tonight!
The merchandise will be hot off the press. In about half an hour I will go to pick up the new shirts. It was touch and go, knock on wood, but we should have Tees galore.

Gotta print up the set lists and then shower, shave, dress and primp. Gotta be clean.
Love, Power, Peace!