aquarium-drunkard-sirius

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 355: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ David Bowie – Speed Of Life ++ Landline – Wire ++ The Fall – A Lot of Wind ++ Ought – Pleasant Heart ++ Ty Segall & White Fence – Scissor People ++ Jack Name – New Guitars ++ Jack Name – Pure Terror ++ King Tuff – Magic Mirror ++ David Vandervelde – Nothin’ No ++ Ty Segall – Tall Man Skinny Lady ++ Richard Swift – Lady Luck ++ Paul McCartney – Darkroom ++ Foxygen – How Can You Really ++ Jacco Gardner – Clear The Air ++ Gruff Rhys – Con Carino ++ Gap Dream – Fantastic Sam ++ Blossom Dearie – Somebody New ++ White Fence – Anger! Who Keeps You Under? ++ The Olivia Tremor Control – California Demise, Pt. 3 ++ Alex Chilton – Don’t Worry Baby (fragment) ++ Old Smile – Are You Still There? ++ The Beets – You Don’t Want Kids To Be Dead ++ The Allah-Las – Long Journey ++ The Beach Boys – Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine ++ Jeans Wilder – Sparkler ++ Sonny & The Sunsets – Death Cream ++ T. Rex – Explosive Mouth ++ David Bowie – Boys Keep Swinging ++ Cass McCombs – The Same Thing ++ Amen Dunes – Spirits Are Parted ++ Kevin Morby – Reign ++ Woods – Size Meets The Sound ++ Jonathan Rado – All The Jung Girls (Diane Coffee cover) ++ Woods – Size Meets The Sound ++ Jacques Dutronc – Les Métamorphoses ++ Eddie Ray – You Are Mine ++ Flo & Eddie – I Been Born Again ++ Modern Vices – Taller In The Sunshine

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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jennifercastle

Jennifer Castle has crafted one of the more beautiful records of the year. Hailing from Toronto, her voice recalls the energy of Laurel Canyon like some 40-year-old folk record might. But Pink City (No Quarter Records), Castle’s masterfully crafted new long player, is much more than a yesteryear retread.

On opener “Truth is the Freshest Fruit,” Castle sings about Golden Gates, San Francisco, letting your yellow hair down. A pastoral pairing of voice and guitar are joined by a symphony of strings and piano. The guitar takes on a repetitive cadence, as the piano lightly tap dances around Castle’s refrain, “Born at the end of the year…” before asking, “can anybody hear me?” Her lyrics can be cryptic and fleeting, lost in her fragile delivery and a voice that channels Buffy Saint Marie and Vashti Bunyan equally. “Working For The Man” is cinematic — all strings and piano — with Castle pleading to be taken away from the “job,” the “boss”. The story’s dry, working class conflict clashes with the song’s florid arrangement and shrouds Castle’s world in just enough mystery to force a closer look.

The more rollicking country tune “Sparta” is brilliantly augmented by flute and steel guitar interplay, while the piano-based ballad “Nature” breathes an airy surface noise in the mix, a song alone on a mid-winter beach. “Nature is happening without my goodwill,” she laments. “No family/no universe/no holy god/no mother earth.” It’s a bleak state of the union.

“Sailing Away,” vocally stunning and the record’s finest moment, is straightforward, but infectious and affirming: “I don’t need a home/don’t need a lover/I’ll be out on my own/Come hell or high water.” A rolling landscape of guitar, strings and conga sweep by until she finally sings, “I don’t need nothing.” She holds the note on “need,” and you are listening to the record’s most powerful moment.

The album’s closing title track floats along a hypnotic piano and a haunting, noir saxophone line. It follows Castle’s lead as she changes keys, moods and geography. “Bring your love, ever-changing,” she sings.  “I’m finding new romance, at last.” words / c depasquale

Jennifer Castle :: Sailing Away

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Christopher Denny’s If The Roses Don’t Kill Us is the kind of record that sounds as if it’s always existed: a sturdy, twangy blend of southern soul, country, and folk. Denny’s voice – a reedy, high and lonesome thing – is at once alien and familiar. The Arkansas songwriter wields it like a weapon, singing out vivid images drawn from his years of hard living. Following the release of his debut, Age Old Hunger, Denny fell off the grid, self-medicating his severe depression through intense drug use. In recent years, he’s gotten right, or at least more right, he explains, but If The Roses Don’t Kill Us bears Denny’s psychic scars. It’s also defined by his peculiar grace and humor. “I’ve got a song that’s happy and sad, part of it’s good and part of it’s bad,” he sings at the record’s open, and in many ways the lyric sums up Denny’s approach.

Aquarium Drunkard spoke with Denny on the phone from Minneapolis, where he and his tour-managing wife checked in while on the road with Strand of Oaks. Denny explained his songwriting process, but also illuminated his personal concepts of God, love, and forgiveness, ideas that haunt and shade the songs of If the Roses Don’t Kill Us.

Aquarium Drunkard: What can you tell me about the years that separated Age Old Hunger (2007) and If The Roses Don’t Kill Us (2014)? It was a little bit of a stretch there.

Christopher Denny: Well, you know I’ll say this: things got a lot better when I got onto meds. You know, when I got onto anti-depressants and social anxiety medicine. It doesn’t matter really if you’re bipolar or you’re depressed — the symptoms of those can intertwine [but] once you get meds, and you’re on the right medicines, it doesn’t really matter to you what you are or what you’re called by a psychologist. It just matters that you know there’s something you can take that will make things easier.

The world isn’t really after me anymore, you know? I’m really happy for that. I realized I was trying to self-medicate, you know. I just needed some help. There’s all these things I could tell you [about those years], but then you’d just be writing the same piece everyone else is writing. To look at it from a different angle: I don’t really believe that the world is on my side, but I don’t necessarily believe it’s against me, either. That’s gone. All those years [I spent] shooting up drugs – meth, heroin, cocaine, anything that you could put into a needle and get inside your vein I would do it. I was homeless, all that stuff. I was funneling deeper into my disease. I realized it wasn’t as much addiction to alcohol [and drugs] as much as it was severe depression and paranoia.

AD: If someone asked me, “Hey, play me a Christopher Denny song,” I’d play them “Happy Sad.” I love the juxtaposition of those ideas – there’s some humor in your sadness, and there’s definitely some sadness in your humor.

CD: What’s funny is I was sitting on the back porch with my wife, it was right after we had gotten off methadone, when we got clean. We had just gotten off of that, and we were sitting outside, just getting back into smoking reefer. We’d smoked a bowl, and I was goofing around with that song. I wasn’t trying to make something, I just let it come out completely. It’s a subconscious thing, just letting it flow, not expecting it to go on the album. The original words were, “This part is sad, this part makes you cry like a little bitch. This part is happy, and it makes you wanna drink,” but we changed that. [Laughs] It’s just one of those things. Magic.

AD: Another one of favorite lyrics on the record is “God’s Height.” Where did the phrase come from? Is that an expression you’ve heard used?

CD: No, that was just something that came out. People seem to think I had to hear that somewhere, but honestly that wasn’t the case. I was dealing with some insecurity, about my divorce [from my first wife]. And you know, physically she was taller than me. Everything that comes out of me and is good happens when I get out of my own way and just let it go. I have an appreciation for the way the older generation talks. Nowadays people say things so blatantly and it sounds stupid. But to say something in a sly way, without being just an asshole, that’s when you’re succeeding. That’s where the lyrics come from, that place.

hamilton camp front

Summer is over. Prepare to open the windows and supplement that autumn feel with this mix of acoustic ballads, epic instrumentals and hypnotic covers.

MP3: September :: A Medley

UntitledTowards the end on the Nineties, everyone in the UK seemed to be suffering en masse from Oasis-burnout and Acid House comedowns. The coked-up fervor that had nurtured a startling variety of music from Suede to Blur, from Supergrass to Elastica, was now producing shark-jumping acts like Chumbawumba and Republica. The dancefloors were sticky, the houselights were about to go up, and something more subdued was needed. Enter a handful of bands like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, The Beta Band, Mojave 3, and Gomez—all of whom seemed to be working from a druggy, post-Radiohead template, but who could draw just as generously from English psychedelia of the Sixties (Pink Floyd or Canterbury Scensters like Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt). Debts to The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and Teenage Fanclub were also in evidence, yet the squalls of feedback and VU-cacophonies had ebbed away. It was time to get a tad more low-key.

Even Creation Records, that pioneer of Planet Brit-Pop, could see the light. On the verge of bankruptcy, the label decided to release a mini-album of quiet, ramshackle demos recorded (in a barn) by a band called Arnold. And for just a moment, the clubs sounded very far away indeed. Here, finally, was the musical equivalent of someone beating a retreat to the countryside while feeling as worn out as Withnail & I. You got rained on but the air was nice.

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Summer came and went, and as it now slips away, let the languid humidity of Old Smile carry you through these last few weeks. Riding a wave of lo-fi, bedroom psych pop akin to Ariel Pink, Conspiracy of Owls and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Are You Still There?” kicks of with a frenetic drum freestyle – an interestingly off-key compliment to the slow, narcotic vibe of the vocals and guitar. Let this one soak in and melt – it might become your end of summer jam. Grab one of 30 limited Steep Blue Hill cassettes, each with their own unique hand drawn cover. words / c depasquale

Old Smile :: Are You Still There?

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Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 354: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Pappy’s Haunted House – Dude ++ Jimmy Thomas – Springtime ++ The Paragons – Abba ++ Big Star – Back Of A Car ++ The Soul Inc. – Love Me When I’m Down ++ Billy Lamont – Sweet Thang ++ Donn Shinn & The Soul Agents – A Minor Explosion ++ T.L. Barrett And Youth For Christ Choir – Like A Ship ++ King Khan & The Shrines – Welfare Bread ++ Flash & The Dynamics – Electric Latin Soul ++ Donald Jenkins & The Delighters: Elephant Walk ++ Symphonic Four: Who Do You Think Youre Fooling ++ Milton Henry: Gypsy Woman ++ Bishop Perry Tills – I Pound a Solid Rock ++ Serge Gainsbourg – New Delire ++ Phil Upchurch – Sitar Soul ++ White Hinterland – Dreaming Of Plum Trees ++ Jan Hammer Group – Don’t You Know ++ Joe Valentine – I Can’t Stand To See You Go ++ Serge Gainsbourg – Requiem pour un con ++ The Three Degrees – Collage ++ Dion – Baby Let’s Stick Together ++ Margo Guryan – Sunday Morning ++ Robert Vanderbilt & the Foundation Of Souls – A Message Especially From God (AD edit) ++ Ned Doheny – I’ve Got Your Number (demo) ++ Daughn Gibson – Bad Guys ++ Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb ++ Jonathan Rado – Valentine’s Day (McCartney) ++ Paul McCartney – Arrow Through Me ++ Gil Scott-Heron – Message To The Messengers ++ Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread ++ Jerry & Jeff – Voodoo Medicine Man ++ Jack Nitzsche: The Lonely Surfer / Oscar Harris: Twinkle Stars Boo Galoo ++ Joe Bataan: Chick-a-boom ++ Jacques Dutronc: Les Cactus ++ The Shadows: Scotch On The Socks ++ Nancy Dupree – James Brown ++ Jackie Shane – Any Other Way ++ The Wallace Brothers – My Baby’s Gone ++ Alex Chilton – Don’t Worry Baby (fragment) ++ Harry Nilsson – Mother Nature’s Son ++ The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (Rehearsal) ++ The Beach Boys – California Girls (Rehearsal) ++ The Beach Boys – Surfer Girl (Rehearsal) ++ The Velvet Underground – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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LevonHelm1978

Uh huh.

Levon Helm :: Take Me To The River

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When soul music aficionados get together and start talking music, the inevitable question of preference between ‘Detroit vs Memphis’ almost always seems to arise, to which my response is ‘YES, both please! But don’t forget about Chicago’. The well of Chicago soul 45′s is practically bottomless, and the majority of the hundreds of records recorded in the windy city during the golden age of soul are at least very good, with many veering into the exceptional category, and very few falling into the ‘unsatisfying listening’ bin.

The axis of Chicago soul centers around several key players and record labels, as well as those who followed their influence and cut their own records under their shadow. Chicago was also a key record distribution hub, with S. Michigan Avenue housing what is known as ‘Record Row’. I’ll tell a version of their story based on what’s in the grooves of  a few of my favorite (lesser known) gems from this mighty, hard working city.

Gene Chandler :: Mr Big Shot

Sadly, Gene Chandler is thought to be a one hit wonder (“Duke Of Earl”) to those with scant knowledge of rock and soul history. Gene Chandler had MANY excellent R&B hits that are cherished by soul fanatics, though relatively unknown to the rest of the world, even though this man not only performed, but also wrote, produced and acted as an A&R liason/ talent scout. “Mr. Big Shot” (1966) is by far one of his most hard hitting soul records, and it sank without a trace, no thanks in part to Constellation Records (a label in which Gene co-founded) was on the verge of bankruptcy, making any type of distribution nearly impossible. A pity, as it is a superb record.

The Dells :: Wear It On Our Face

The Dells, the epitome of the male Chicago group sound, were formed while the group was still in high school (1952) during the early doo-wop years. Their first single was released as The El-Rays in 1954 (featuring the lineup of Marvin Junior, Mickey McGill, Lucius McGill, Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale, and Johnny Funches), and by 1955 they had renamed themselves the Dells and became a quintet after the departure of Lucius McGill. The group cut the exquisite “Oh What A Night” for Vee Jay Records in 1956 which became a million seller, and one of the most loved doo-wop songs in the history of the genre.

Follow-up singles didn’t hit, and the group was derailed temporarily after a serious 1958 car accident which involved Mickey McGill. The group put their career on hold until 1960, when Mickey recovered, but Johnny Funches had left (to be replaced with Johnny Carter). This lineup remained stable for FIFTY years until Johnny Carter passed away in 2009.

The Dells spent the early part of the ’60′s as studio singers (most notably singing the backups on Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger”; a performance which I rank as one of the all-time greats, both from Barbara Lewis and The Dells). The group cut several unsuccessful (but usually quite good) singles for Vee Jay during these years, but their career renaissance began when they were signed to Chess records and began working under the production and writing talent of Bobby Miller. The singles released by the group between ’66-’68 are some of the greatest ever, and the LP There Is, which collects some of these 45s and adds in a few more stellar tracks, is simply one of the greatest soul LP’s ever released.

“Wear It On Our Face” (1968) is one of my favorites from the mighty Dells; with its freaky but great steel drum/piano intro forward into the extraordinary lead vocal from Marvin Junior, the group harmonies and the power of the musicians take us to a place where time stops and the transcendence of music is all that matters.

Barbara Acklin :: Fool, Fool, Fool

“Fool, Fool, Fool” was Barbara Acklin’s debut 45 under her own name (an earlier release credited her as Barbara Allen on a tiny label), released on the Chicago soul powerhouse label Brunswick Records in 1967. Ms Acklin was born in Oakland, CA in 1943, and her family moved to Chicago in 1957. Her clear, soaring soprano was just the type of voice that was favored by the record makers of Chicago, yet Barbara also displayed a wide depth of range in her voice which is heard brilliantly here. The record is super cool, with a very appealing echo on the drums and fantastic call and response vocals. Super catchy, but it barely made a dent commercially, making for a very hard to find 45.

The Vontastics :: Never Let Your Love Grow Cold

Quite unusually, The Vontastics lead vocalist (Bobby Newsome) was also the chief songwriter for this groups’ excellent handful of 45’s. This stomper of a side from 1967 is one that has resonated deeply with me from the first time I’ve heard it, and it’s one that is ALWAYS in my DJ box. There may be moments where the group harmonies waver a bit out of tune, but to my ears it only adds to the power and soul of this righteous track.

Previously: Wax Wonders :: Chicago Soul, Part One

(Derek See is a Bay area based musician who plays guitar with The Bang Girl Group Revue, Joel Gion & Primary Colours, and occasionally makes records on his own with The Gentle Cycle.)