Ryan Adams: Music in High Places: Live in Jamaica [DVD]

Tim Slowikowski

With the DVD release of Ryan Adams: Live in Jamaica for the Music in High Places series comes some serious anticipation for which personality has been committed to the digital video format.

Ryan Adams

Music in High Places: Live in Jamaica [DVD]

Label: Image Entertainment
US Release Date: 2003-04-15

It seems everyone has a "Ryan Adams live story" these days. There's the story of the concertgoer who decided to test Mr. Adams' patience with sarcasm. As the tale is told, the aforementioned concertgoer yelled requests for "Summer of '69" throughout a concert in Nashville, Tennessee. Problem was, this Adams wasn't named Bryan and didn't come equipped with the sense of humor that suffers lame spelling jokes with aplomb. So, Ryan accosted the concertgoer and said he wouldn't play another song until the young man was ushered out. Furthermore, Ryan even handed the young man $30 as a refund for the ticket. Headlines ensued, though not the kind Ryan wanted.

There's the story of a concert in Chicago in which Mr. Adams tested the patience of his audience with a heavy dose of incoherence. Much of the night, he read aloud from a jokebook and embarked on several unorganized monologues. Somewhere in there he managed to bring out a record player to spin Madonna's "Like a Virgin" while he played guitar. According to devotees, this experience was basically par for the course.

There's the story of certain United Kingdom gigs in which Mr. Adams performed covers of White Stripes songs, thereby incurring the candy-cane coated wrath of one Mr. Jack White, who claims to have not appreciated the arrangements. Adams shot back at White in NME and a cold war of the biggest hype in UK press history ensued.

Finally, there is the story this writer fondly tells of a Ryan Adams concert in Iowa City, Iowa-- home of "the Hawkeyes". In a show at the student union, Mr. Adams handed out bottles of Budweiser to the crowd from his personal "backstage stash". When informed by the powers-that-be that he wasn't allowed to perform the service of bartender, Mr. Adams asked the crowd to meet him at a bar after the show for drinks. In order to find the correct establishment for this foray, Adams simply took a suggestion from one audience member to meet up at "Gabe's". Sure enough, about an hour after the show, in walked Ryan Adams to the pre-selected watering hole. We stayed until the wee hours drinking pints and shaking hands as Adams proved to be quite the party-coordinator.

So, with the DVD release of Ryan Adams: Live in Jamaica for the Music in High Places series comes some serious anticipation for which personality has been committed to the digital video format.

Billing itself as "the ultimate international music and travel adventure series", Music in High Places prides itself on matching acoustic sounds with cultured scenes. In this case, a trip to the sands and streets of Jamaica is the backdrop for the tourist known as Ryan Adams (and three-piece band). The "Caucasian Rock Trip to Jamaica" is almost a cliché by this point, with the Clash and the Rolling Stones both putting in studio time in Kingston and thereabouts. But in this journey to the land of Marley, we get an entirely new look at the country and its relationship to the music from up north.

Sadly, we don't get any shots of Ryan hang-gliding over the ocean, for this DVD is more about the music than the "travel adventure" aspect. Nevertheless, the focus is where it needs to be. Showcasing loose renditions of eight tunes, Live in Jamaica brings out the best in Ryan Adams. There's not a hint of rock star posing as the setting of Jamaica collaborates with the innate modesty of the people to bring a certain amount of perspective to the young American songwriter. Most of the interviews with Adams focus on his happy reaction to the complete lack of pretension in the air. We follow him through a market in Port Antonio in which he purchases an umbrella, jewelry, shirts and the hat he showcases for much of the DVD. He converses easily with the locals and claims that, "there's just something about Jamaica that really chills you out".

Especially relaxed is the solo acoustic take on "You Will Always Be the Same", a dulcet ballad off of last year's Demolition. Adams sits on a stool in the middle of the shopping market, singing and strumming while life continues on around him. Surprisingly, there are no odd looks or befuddled statements like, "Who's the white boy?" Rather, the man with the guitar is just a piece of singing scenery. This sense of diffidence permeates otherwise bombastic songs like "The Rescue Blues" or "Touch, Feel & Lose", the latter of which provides the centerpiece of the DVD. The search and selection of the right backing vocals becomes the thrust for the bluesy song. Adams chooses wisely by enlisting the help of fifteen local children (dubbed "the Kingston Choir") to sing the simple chorus of "Cry, cry, cry". The performance is everything Music in High Places promises to deliver. It is indeed a portrait of music in the midst of the culture, history, and people of Jamaica. The setting is the "shanty-town", a collection of ramshackle houses that becomes an underdone stage for the band and children. Overhead, a sign advertises for Gloria's Rendezvous Bar and the promise of cold Red Stripe gives just the right atmosphere. Contributing to the playful vibe is a funny moment at the end of the song when the children yell out in unison, "Ryan is a nerd!" It's a moment that fully represents the off-the-cuff success of a seemingly odd pairing.

In the same vein, "New York, New York" gets a totally new spin when it is performed with local conga players along the beach. What was once uniformly associated with the avenues and architecture of New York City becomes an organic rhythm from the beaches of Jamaica. There's even a bit with a drunken donkey that you'll just have to see for yourself.

Finally, we witness the meeting of Adams and the legendary reggae bandleader Toots Hibbert (of Toots & the Maytals fame). An intimate recording session at Anchor Studios is followed up by a performance of "Hard Time Situation" at Nature's Paradise in Gamanas Bay. The worlds combine to make an impressive soup of what Bob Marley dubbed "roots, rock, reggae".

Overall, the look and sound throughout the DVD is expertly photographed and recorded. Long tracking shots allow the viewer to take in the scope of Jamaica and the band collective all at once. Each song is in its own way a perfect music video/commercial for Ryan Adams and Jamaica. And the sound really jumps within the might of the 5.1 Surround format.

Rounding out the DVD are two behind-the-scenes featurettes. "Jamaica - The Real Story" details the experience of the American crew in their attempts to capture the country. The second one, entitled "Ryan & Toots", is a further document of the twosome's time in the recording studio as they try to connect their distant backgrounds through the immediacy of music. This featurette is a successful template for the rest of the DVD in that its scope is broad yet intimate, all the while capturing an unfiltered look at one of the most promising musicians around, Ryan Adams.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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