October 02, 2015

Album Review: Nadia Kazmi - LAMB

Singer/songwriter Nadia Kazmi incites something fierce on her third release, LAMB, but truth be told she’s been brazen from the beginning.

On her 2010 debut, Arrival, Kazmi showcased a compelling sense of craft, her lyricism in particular bearing out the poetic language and rich cadences of formative influence Leonard Cohen. The very next year she devoted her follow-up, Strange Song, entirely to works by the legendary bard, taking strident liberties with rock-edged arrangements in ways that turned hallowed classics on their heads.

Which brings us back to LAMB, where Kazmi’s creative audacity manifests in striking moments of angst and often fuck-all defiance like “Kill The Monster” and the coiled-riffed “Father Knows Best,” the songs boasting punk’s brevity and swagger if not its most jarring sonic discord. Elsewhere in fact almost unsettling, tribal percussion simmers beneath verses that Kazmi delivers with the authority of a Patti Smith sermon, searing forth with unflinching grace and growl.

Further Reading: An Interview with Nadia Kazmi (2010)

September 03, 2015

The Last Goodbye's The Hardest One to Say: George Strait's Live Farewell Makes For Emotional DVD Presentation

When George Strait announced in late 2012 that he would retire from the road at the culmination of his forthcoming concert tour in 2014, the final gig on the schedule suddenly became a very big deal. 

How big? Well, the concert (held on June 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas) ultimately set a new North American indoor-concert attendance record — a distinction held by the Rolling Stones since 1981 — with nearly 105,000 fans packing into AT&T Stadium. Added to that was the gaggle of special guests (including Alan Jackson, Faith Hill, and Kenny Chesney) that showed up to salute and sing with Strait, with each artist helping out on a pair of songs each. Then, of course, there was King George himself, who over the past three and a half decades has garnered more Number One hit singles than any other artist in popular music, period.

What could not have been fully anticipated was the sheer emotion of the event, something which the new Eagle Rock DVD/Blu-ray release of The Cowboy Rides Away: Live From AT&T Stadium, so often conveys. 

Strait is an increasingly rare figure in modern country music, a traditionalist whose appeal and no-frills, “just the songs, thanks” live appearances have endeared him to mainstream audiences of all ages. In watching him perform hit and after hit here — from “Check Yes Or No” to “Amarillo By Morning” to “Unwound” — it’s not difficult to see why, either. 

For what it’s worth, the performance that garners the biggest ovation from the crowd is not even one of the all-star duets but rather an understated rendition of “The Chair,” which Strait delivers on his own with the elegant command and conviction of a seasoned actor on the stage. 

Whether or not the concert captured here proves to be the last of his career, it’s a fitting tribute to the timelessness of George Strait’s singular vintage of country music. 

August 30, 2015

DVD Review: 'Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued'

The task at hand was enough to make even the most self-assured songwriter wither in excruciating insecurity: Set to music assorted lyrics and poetry by Bob Dylan from 1967 — a box of the music legend’s handwritten texts dating back to his infamous refuge with The Band in Saugerties, New York had at long last been unearthed — and record the songs for a new album.

Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued tells the story. Directed by Sam Jones, the documentary (which premiered late last year on Showtime and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Eagle Rock Entertainment) chronicles and contextualizes the making of the 2014 LP, Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, for which producer T-Bone Burnett recruited a select group of artists — Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Rhiannon Giddens, and Elvis Costello — to rise to the challenge.

The backstory of The Basement Tapes is adeptly underscored throughout, not least of all with new and incisive commentary from Bob Dylan himself, whose reflections overshadow the documentary’s narrative much like his songwriting overshadows the efforts these musicians are shown to make in composing music to his words.

Indeed, what begins as a relatively informal songwriting workshop in due course evolves into an intense, often intimidating endeavor as everyone involved at some point finds their talents being tested beyond their comfort zones. The very idea of making an album that in any way shares some piece of history or perspective with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most mythologized episodes had to have thrown them all for a mind-boggling loop on some level. Even Burnett, whose own storied career includes a stint as guitarist on Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, acknowledges the surrealism at play. 

“The chance to collaborate with a 27-year-old Bob Dylan, now, with 50 years of hindsight,” he says with a modest, nervous grin, “was... interesting.” 

Whether the songs these artists brought to life compare to the insouciant, never-intended-for-release performances on The Basement Tapes is beside the point, really. The album has more than enough highlights — particularly from Giddens (“Lost on the River #20”) and James (“Down on the Bottom”) — to stand on its own.

That, in the end, is what this film illustrates and affirms the most.

August 18, 2015

The Temperance Movement: Ain't No Telling How Far They'll Go

The Temperance Movement had already opened for the Rolling Stones on a handful of dates last year, but when the nascent British-based band got the nod to do it again this past June at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, age-old anxieties emerged. Of the sold-out audience, for starters, Australian-born drummer Damon Wilson recently told Write on Music on the phone from his UK residence, recalling his speculations, “What kind of mood are they in? Are they sitting down? Are they drunk? Are they sober? Is it daytime? Is it nighttime? What’s going on out there? What’s the feeling? What [was] the main act’s soundcheck [like]? What are they gonna do? You’ve got to factor in quite a lot of things.”

As showtime loomed, however, Wilson was at least sure of one thing:

Nobody was coming to see his band.

“When you go to a Stones gig it’s all about the Stones,” he said, “probably more than any other band. They’re actually a bit of a challenge to open for because they don’t need any warming up. People are there and they’re ready to go.”

Since forming in 2011, the Temperance Movement (whose self-titled debut LP was originally issued on indie label Earache Records in 2013 and was re-released this past February on Fantasy/Concord Records) have built a burgeoning fan base all their own. Messengers of chiseled, rhythm-and-blues-soaked rock ‘n’ roll in the vein of The Faces and Humble Pie, they deliver rambunctious album standouts like “Midnight Black” and “Ain’t No Telling” with a swagger that comes from having hit the proverbial jackpot. For the band’s five members — besides Wilson the lineup includes frontman Phil Campbell, guitarists Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer, and bassist Nick Fyffe — that’s not too far from the truth.

In fact, as Wilson recalled, the band’s earliest rehearsals not only proved to be worthwhile for everyone involved but enlightening and inspiring as well.

“The sound came instantly,” he said, “so it was very clear that we weren’t a pop group. It was also clear we weren’t a death-metal band.

“If I was to make it really simplistic,” he continued, “I think we kind of jokingly said, ‘Let’s be the next Black Crowes.’ I guess. That’s kind of the dream for any musician, to be in a band that people respect the musicians and the music [of] but you also get played on the radio and you get to travel the world. I think that’s what most musicians want.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been any tentative moments in the band’s evolution thus far.

“For the first probably six months, I remember,” said Wilson, “when we did bits of recording, a handful of gigs, it was very part-time. But even as that was going, I knew what we were doing was brilliant. I just didn’t think that anyone else would think it’s brilliant.

“It’s not that we didn’t have any confidence,” he continued. “We had loads of confidence. I’d never really taken a band from nothing to as far as we’ve gone before.”

Greater success seems all but certain to follow. Performing their music to audiences at every opportunity, the Temperance Movement are currently touring across the United States and Canada — the band’s latest single, “Take It Back,” currently tops the Canadian Active Rock chart — and no doubt earning new fans each step of the way.

“It’s not necessarily how good the musicians are, because there are plenty of better musicians than us,” said Wilson. “It’s just that it works. That’s a really nice thing about music — that’s why people never get sick of new bands — because there’s something special that goes on that you can’t put your finger on, that at least one unique combination of people works.”

For more information, please visit the Temperance Movement online.

August 01, 2015

Album Review: Bill Wyman - Back to Basics

Although he officially retired from the Rolling Stones in 1993, founding bassist Bill Wyman hasn’t exactly led a quiet life of leisure in the meantime, having curated various pursuits in photography and prose while also leading a revolving cast of fellow trad-jazz and blues enthusiasts called the Rhythm Kings.

Apart from all that activity, however, Wyman’s solo efforts (beginning with 1974’s Monkey Grip) have been few and far between. Indeed his latest, Back to Basics, is his first in 33 years.

The album finds the 78-year-old rock legend embracing a stately, intimate mood throughout as if engaged in a confidential conversation or, in other moments, solitary reflection. Wyman’s singing voice, with its whispery resonance (which with age now sounds like a cross between Robbie Robertson and latter-day Nick Lowe), suits its twelve songs like a well-worn winter coat.

In light of Wyman’s primary instrument and in contrast to the strident pulses he once meted out on Stones classics like “Under My Thumb” and “Miss You,” it’s worth noting that the grooves he generates in the most rhythmic moments here are, while less-pronounced — such is the subtle thrust of “She’s Wonderful” and, especially, “Stuff (Can’t Get Enough)” — no less present. Overall, though, the emphasis is more on the stories these songs tell rather than on any particular displays of technical prowess or pageantry within them.