Music

Various Artists: Looking into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne

A significant number of these 23 tracks were recorded by Lone Star artists. Texans understand the mirage of sunny skies and good times.


Various Artists

Looking into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne

Label: Music Road
US Release Date: 2014-04-01
UK Release Date: 2014-03-31
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Let’s be frank. Tribute albums are almost always a bad idea. If the original artist does a good job with the material, the cover versions will almost always be inferior. The most one can hope for is that the new renditions will have something different to offer, not necessarily something better. That’s largely the case here.

Jackson Browne is well known for his live performances and the quality of his recordings. That’s why he was inducted in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. The musicians who take on his catalogue have quite the challenge. The good news is that the roster includes some big names, such as Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa taking on the Mexican-tinged “Linda Paloma”, Don Henley with the indie folk band Blind Pilot gently adapting the introspective classic “These Days”, and Bonnie Raitt and David Lindley offering a reggae reinterpretation of “Everywhere I Go”. These musicians competently deliver the goods, which is only to be expected. While the fresh renderings are fine, nothing really exciting or unexpected happens. Springsteen, Henley, and Raitt are experienced and knowledgeable performers who could probably make the oeuvre of Justin Bieber sound righteous.

The involvement of these renowned rockers will bring attention to the release. But Music Road Records, who issued this double disc homage to Clyde (Jackson Brown’s real first name) is rooted in Texas, and this is responsible for what makes the collection so unusual and good. A significant number of the 23 tracks were recorded by Lone Star artists. That may seem odd as Browne is one of the quintessential southern California artists and is closely associated with the region. But the Texans understand the mirage of sunny skies and good times. Living in paradise is just as difficult as being anywhere else. No one is ever satisfied because existence is inherently fragile whether it’s the ecosystem where one dwells, one’s faith in god or each other, or the human heart that can never understand itself.

Austin musician Jimmy LaFave, who co-produced the album, turns “For Everyman” into a seven-minute monument to our shared dreams that turn to sand. Lyle Lovett covers two songs. He offers an earnest “Our Lady of the Well” and then celebrates the star-struck girl loved by a roadie, “Rosie”. The contrast between the cuts reveals both Browne’s diversity as a songwriter and Lovett’s ability to perform in different styles. Bob Schneider turns “Running on Empty” into a hymn to the steady rolling of the tires more than the howling of the wind and the false freedom the road suggests. Kevin Welch coaxes out the gospel roots of the title track and suggests the spirituality beneath Browne’s hard look at life. And Eliza Gilkyson brings out the dreamer in Browne with her paean to the future one must look to when the shit hits the fan on “Before the Deluge”.

There are several other noteworthy performances on the two-disc set, including Lucinda Williams' bluesy offering of “The Pretender”, Karla Bonoff’s quietly romantic “Something Fine”, Paul Thorn’s heartfelt but controlled take on “Doctor My Eyes”, and the oddly successful collaboration between Marc Cohn and Joan as Police Woman on the noirish “Too Many Angels”. No bad cuts stand out, although one might question whether every song is really necessary. A tighter presentation on a single disc might have been better.

However, my biggest quibble is the fact that the compilation lacks something: my favorite Browne song, the rollicking “Redneck Friend” (check out Dave Alvin’s hard rocking version sometime). Sure, one cannot capture every wonderful Browne composition created over the past 30-plus years. There’s no “Take It Easy”, “Boulevard”, “Somebody’s Baby”, “Lawyers in Love” and other important Browne tunes as well. One might argue with the programming and selection in a “should have” sort of way, but it is more beneficial to just appreciate the good stuff that’s here and give thanks to Texas as well as Jackson Browne for their respective contributions to music.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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